Sunday, August 28, 2005

Deception Point by Dan Brown:

Deception Point by Dan Brown:

I have one advice to readers who follow Dan Brown. Never read his books back to back. Even if you think a little hard you can see disturbing similarity in the plots. All the 3 books I have read have a hero with an academic incline, a heroine in a powerful position in the government trying to unearth a deadly conspiracy of utmost importance. In both Digital Fortress and this book, the leading lady has a boss whom she adores and whom she completely believes in. Towards the end, both of them die still thinking what they did was in the best interest of the nation. In Digital Fortress it was NSA and here it was NRO. But for that, both the plots have predictable surprises.

I am disappointed at the lack of innovation. Seriously... the novel may keep you guessing what’s in the next page. But after reading his other two book, there is hardly any prize for predicting what's in store in the last few pages of the book. The only welcome addition to the plot (compared to Digital Fortress) is Senator Sexton - who is running for the Presidency. However, he is shown in very bad light to glorify the office of the president of USA. He is amoral, disgusting and finally also a fool who kills his own career. Dan conveniently has omitted how Gabrielle managed to pull the trick (of switching the envelopes) off. I was also disappointed with the vague description of the action sequences. To Dan's defense, I have not read any novel that has done justice to "Action", which has always been a visual thing - better seen than read about.

But, If this is your first Dan Brown novel - then this is a definitely a novel that has pace. Gripping. More so, if you like the concept of conspiracy like any average American.

I am shifting my focus from thriller novels to comedy... and who better to start with than PG Woodhouse

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown:

3. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown:

After Da Vinci Code, I was curious about this book by Dan. Subhash suggested this book and said that a very simple funda of double encryption had been used to create an un-breakable code. Inspired by my interest in security I started reading it and very quickly found lots of similarity between the previous book (The Da Vinci Code) and this one. Looks like our friend Dan, is a little short of ideas and even words (repeated use of words like gibberish) … The habit of creating un-necessary trivial suspense continues in this book also.

Anagrams, Ceasar’s n^2 cipher also make into this book… pretty strongly too. Why did he have to use the same techniques in two books in spite of having two esteemed ex-employees of NSA helping him with the plot?? Any way, the book was not all that interesting as it was expected to be… Telling two stories in parallel is old wine. They finally converging into one and finally realizing that they were beating round the bush for the entire 100 odd pages is old wine in old bottle. Especially the lousy way that Tankado encrypts “3” as a vague difference between U235 and U238 is laughable… I tried to imagine the firewalls falling one by one… as some sort of concentric ellipses that dissolve slowly… that’s comedy… hopelessly misplaced though.

It makes sense if a pro killer like the deaf guy starts killing indiscriminately… But Hale, and the SysSec guy die needlessly in the plot… I don’t know which came first this book or Mercury Rising the movie starring Bruce Willis with a autistic kid… obviously the one that came later is definitely inspired by the first. Strathmore – hero for the first 100 pages suddenly turns villainous and finally dies… Like Alec Baldwin in the movie… both posses the “Kill anybody to keep the nation secure” ideology. There also, a chain of murders are commited to silence any body who could have come close to the code. Repeatedly the author mentions about protecting agents in the field (obviously insprired by MI) and war time communication (enigma). Dan Browm makes no mystery about his inspirations and sources.

In summary… I did not enjoy the book. I always hoped there would be some real excitement in the next few pages… the hope never materialized… My judgment may have been clouded by the fact that I have some knowledge of encryption, system security and computers… and the author’s lack of it. I hope Deception Point will be better.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:

Is there any one yet to read this book? Vinod asked me this. I think the answer is no… or may be there are a few people in this world still waiting for the movie to come out. Tom Hanks plays Langdon. Should be interesting… but is already under a lot of controversy. It seems, they were not allowed to shoot at Westminster Abbey where Newton is laid to rest. Coming back to the book, it was gripping… just as Andy had told it would be. I know two people at least, who say they have read only half of it… how did they manage to stop it in the middle?? Forget about Christ… his wife or his kid or the conspiracy theory that church re-wrote the Bible… Even if you take out all of them and replace with any other secret worth guarding (like the NOC list of Mission Impossible or the Enigma) the story is still equally potent. Yes, all over the world this book is famous for throwing light on other wise murky questionable history of the Roman Catholic Church. But I would say it would be equally potent just as a thriller. There are a few things that seem to be only in the author’s imagination. Was Fibonacci (an Austrian born) ever involved with the Priory?

But the style of writing becomes pretty frustrating… It’s like those sops where the chapter ends in a clue that is left un-explained. When it happens in every chapter, it gets to you. How many times there was a reference to the secret societies’ ritual before Sophie spilled the beans about what she saw… Yes, if it frustrated her, it had to be sexual but it gets confirmed only at the end of the novel… There are many such occurrences where Dan has tried to sneak in an element of surprise where there was no need for one. Yes, you can never know who is friends with whom until the last few pages… yet, it does not seem to be a total surprise either.

A word of caution for all those who raise their expectation about this best seller…

  • the codes and puzzles are not even as tough as the INFY puzzles let alone MSFT of GOOGLE. It only requires you to be a European History major
  • You need to have access to some of the paintings mentioned thru some other means (www of course) to appreciate the theory... But lack of it does not deminish your pleasure of reading... as I said earlier Christ or otherwise, the book is interesting.
  • Does not answer you questions about Mona Lisa.
  • You can never know who is right??

It was a wonderful suspense thriller that I liked more for the plot rather than the secret being protected… However both of them turned out to be a big anti climax…

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

B.A. - Bachelor of Arts

Since last time, I read 3 books... each different in its own way...

1. B.A. - Bachelor of Arts by R.K.Narayan :

This really connects me to the India my grand parents lived in. Most of the customs and situations happen even today in my village. Things have changed but not by much.

The story (if there is one) is set in pre-independent India in Malgudi (which is almost real Mysore + Coimbatore + Chennai) where our hero - Chandran finishes his graduation and is forced into this world. In India even today, arranged marriages are a norm. It serves as a Insurance cover for those who are hopeful of finding a perfect soul mate themselves but (for some reason) not able to. Chandran likes a girl without knowing pretty much anything about the girl. The most daring thing he can imagine to do is ask his parents to "arrange" his marriage with that beautiful girl he names her Lakshmi. However, the ever notorious horoscope does not permit him that privilege. I find it hard not to wonder how many times I have heard of this episode...

There is an episode where Chandran’s mother cribs about somebody stealing the flowers from her garden… My mother does that. To catch the thief Chandran’s father stays guard from 4AM one day. My father did that once. Finally when mother learns that a sadhu was stealing flowers only to be offered to God, she forgives him… goes a step further by approving of him stealing for a noble cause… just like my mother… I could not relate to any other episode in the book more than this.

Time is one thing people of that era had in plenty... Chandran spends some years of his life reading books... and doing nothing else... can any body do it now?? He wanders into a aimless journey and lives on the streets for almost an year and nobody thinks it’s awkward or disrespectful... In fact it is the contrary.

Students of that age were devoid of any peer pressure. Narayan himself completed his degree in the second attempt (so I read). Chandran proclaimed that he would go to London for studies and become a professor to who ever listened… finally did nothing of that sorts… but no shame… no guilt… Where had that society gone??

Narayan has very vividly described India in 1930 without mentioning any thing about the political turmoil of the time. Its both good and bad… good because his story line is not contaminated… bad because, it makes it a complete fiction even though you can relate to it.

Chandran, his friends, his obsession with Lakshmi, his younger brother, his family values are all timeless… Some things have changed from then and now. Unfortunately they have only worsened… some where in the meanwhile India becoming independent is the only positive.

Suggestion: Definitely worth a read. Inspires you to read the rest of Malgudi series.