(Rated 5 stars for compelling prose, an interesting twist, and philosophical highlight on current issues facing mankind.)
Dan Brown’s latest release, Inferno, is another entry that fits perfectly in his Robert Langdon Series of novels. Reading it, the reader falls into the suspense rhythm that every Robert Langdon story contains. With vivid descriptions and fast-paced action sequences, it’s easy to visualize the theatrical presentation of this work. Inferno reads as a novelization of a heady suspense blockbuster.
On a technical level, the work is professional. Short, powerful chapters keep the reader engaged to the plot throughout the story. Certainly, there are expositions that could be cut, most notably Robert Langdon’s detailed accounts of various art and history. However, they are short, if not prolific, adding to the scene instead of distracting from it. In fact, aside from the occasional thought of “He’s just doing this to justify trips to Europe for ‘research,’ isn’t he?” the level of detail allows the reader to vicariously visit a number of historic places.
The plot is typically Langdon-esque with a few minor alterations, and anyone who has seen a Robert Langdon movie or read a previous book can identify the plot mechanics. Robert is called upon to decipher clues to prevent a calamity using symbolism and his knowledge of art, history, and architecture. Along with his younger, equally intelligent (if not differentially intelligent) sidekick woman, they tromp through important areas of Western culture, trying (and often failing at some point) to be ‘American’ in their treatment of antiquities (something important is always broken). There’s a pair of plot twists that end up making Langdon a hapless, unwitting victim of a conspiracy as the story climaxes. Then, the hero saves the day in a way that helps highlight some philosophical issue at heart.
NOTE: The cinematic ending is VASTLY different than the novel. The major plot deviates between these two in almost unrecognizable way. Needless to say, Hollywood avoided a number of things that the novel brings up, likely in order to appeal to a more general crowd.
This time, who the hero may vary. Depending on the reader’s personal beliefs, Robert Langdon can be an unwitting antagonist. In fact, this might be a novel where the main hero dies in the prologue, and the reader simply follows villains with varied systems of beliefs and rationales, each of them trying to stop what has already been set in motion by the hero of the story.
In fact, this might be a novel where the main hero dies in the prologue, and the reader simply follows villains with varied systems of beliefs and rationales, each of them trying to stop what has already been set in motion by the hero of the story.
Whether you read Robert Langdon as the protagonist or an well-meaning antagonist, thematically, transhumanism is front and center of the novel. As a writer of science fiction, transhumanism is something I touch on often. Needless to say, seeing its appearance in a normal suspense thriller is a welcome addition. (Transhumanism is not talked about at all in the theatrical release, and is simply replaced with bioterrorism)
Transhumanism is a group of philosophies that concerns itself with the future development of mankind. Quoting straight from the Wikipedia entry, “Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.” Transhumanism draws from all current and bleeding edge technological advancements, and eventually draws on science fiction, like cybernetics, to flesh out answers on the development of mankind beyond its current state. In essence, when one writes science fiction, the author must, at least subconsciously, answer many of the philosophical questions transhumanists seek to resolve.
Through the novel, Dan Brown treats transhumanism with a bit of kit gloves, in spite of a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the moral implications of taking drastic action. Upon reflection, transhumanism appears to be the greater hero in this novel, simultaneously solving a multitude of worldwide woes with a single, morally dubious, narcissistic, Machiavellian strike. The plan is so detailed, so well concealed that the villains, who represent various communal and selfish agendas that wish to maintain the status quo, that not even their combined efforts thwart it.
Personally, I want to believe that Occam’s Razor and logic is applicable to so many pieces of the human condition that a single solution can alleviate most of humanity’s current global crises. It feels like a religious belief in god, if I’m honest- a irrational knowing of this solution’s existence, in spite of a lack of concrete evidence to anyone applying the rigors of scientific scrutiny. Perhaps, the one underlying issue is us, humanity. Certainly, humanity is both the cause of my greatest pains and greatest joys; I worry more about humanity now than I ever have. These worries, along with thoughts of what might become of us, fuel what I write.
I also believe, darkly, that as a collective, the discourse of democracy thus far has failed to bring the fundamental changes needed to survive on this planet as a species. So, having an enlightened person take positive, empathetic action to ensure humanity’s advancement is also a welcome fantasy. I’m just too cynical to think that such a person exists without their own personal, selfish agenda. An agenda that will cost more than I’m willing to personally pay.
What I think Inferno does for us, we organisms bent on destroying our own environment, is highlight the importance that we are in crisis, we need answers, and we need to talk about how we should move forward and advance our race for the good of the entire planet. Dan Brown’s answer won’t sit well with all, but, hopefully, it begins a dialog that helps to piece out what a real, long-term solution looks like.