On high-tech thrillers and story telling

I have finished going trough my third Dan Brown novel , i was curious about these “high-tech thrillers” he is supposed to write , and what can i say , they are not plain , prety documented and mostly entertaining , but i am not sure Dan Brown is a writer , or at best that he has any grip with technology.

There is something about the story telling of Umberto Eco , Jules Verne , Stephen King etc. that leaves no room for doubt in the reader that they are good writers , they do not only have good ideas and vast research , but they also know how to tell a story , and i am not sure Dan Brown knows that.

One might say that the storytelling suffers from the technical nature of these high-tech novels , well i will go on exposing serious flaws in that technical side too.

The amount of misinterpretation , distortion and exaggeration of the high-tech side of these books would without a doubt offend and scandalise any techie or geek that actually has a idea or two about high-tech things , but the problem is that i think it will be a bit disturbing to any cultivated person too , and most certainly will induce gross misconceptions about technical issues.

For example at some point a program written in a given programming language is runned , and while it is running a personage needs to recall some syntax of that programming language in order to give some runtime commands to the program in that language. Well anyone with the least idea about what a programming language is knows that one writes the code of the program in a given programming language , any input the program will get at runtime will be nothing more than strings precompiled into the program , it is unthinkable to think the strings inputed at runtime would be in the syntax of the language the program is written in , only shell scripting comes close to that , and that is only when in the shell , hence while running the shell , not another program.

Further down the book , it is told about a file entering a bruteforce decryption cpu grid , and propagating from there into a databank , the firewall of the grid being named as the only protection, implying that what goes in the grid has a direct and unrestricted link to the databank .
Well a databank and a cpu grid can not have a single entry point hence something passing the firewall of the grid infecting the databank , because some processors and some hard disks , serving entirely different purposes and users, would not be parts of the same system , instead two autonomous systems , and the communications between such systems is done trough a network , a network with multiple entry points and firewalls.
It is unthinkable that a general purpose databank and the cryptoanalysts code breaking grid would be two parts of the same system , a system that , for example if the cryptoanalysts would crash , would be unable to serve any of the databank users , and all this in the most critical and advanced informatics system in America.

Even nontechnical things that are almost common sense are grosly missplaced in some places , for example it is told about a access stairway to the internals of a mainframe hall , and it is told about a body that falls from it into such a internal part hence shorting it out , and even more further down the functionality is restored just by removing the body from it. Now , who in the world would think that the internals of a multimillion high-tech equipment would be left exposed under a access stairway from which anything from dirt to accessories (and humans) can fall ?

And the examples could go on and on , especially in the book Digital Fortress that i just finished reading , and from which the above examples are all extracted.

Is is just the fault of the lack of the understanding from the author’s side ?
Is it really not a big deal that people will take such ravings for a fact ?
Is it normal for a high-tech novel to be like this , and does this not affect its quality ?

6 thoughts on “On high-tech thrillers and story telling

  1. Dan Brown’s novels are schlock of the most mediocre sort – as you say, anyone who’s going to write a novel about the here-and-now (or even more especially the there-and-then) has to research it exactingly, or it’s not going to be believable. Writing a novel allows the author to play fast and loose with the truth; but they need to be at least acquainted with the truth! Some of Brown’s technical gibberish is so off-base that it’d be as if Duma’s “Three Musketeers” packed .44 Magnum Desert Eagles alongside their Rapiers. Sure, it sounds good (if you’re utterly ignorant) and might even be entertaining. But, to the reader who is not ignorant, it’s just a slap in the face with a wet fish, “what the HELL!?” I had that reaction several times reading the 2 Dan Brown novels I’ve read so far.

    I’m not sure what bothers me more about Dan Brown’s novels: that he’d foist such schlock of on his readers (when just a bit more research would make them much better books) or the fact that his books are wildly popular and a lot of people believe them utterly. I was horrified when I got into a friendly conversation with a guy who thought DaVinci Code was a revelation of true deep secret stuff!! EEEK!

  2. I dissagree totally with Dan Brown’s writing. It is laughable at best and sickening at worst. I bought the book, “The Da Vinci Code”, and regretted ever opening the cover. I mean the reviews were so kicking and the plot was pretty cool, but I think it could have been better written by a middle school student. IMHO. His weak technical knowledge apparently spills over into general writing technique. In case I’m not clear, I will never waste my time, or money for that matter, on another Charlie Brown (opps Dan)novel again! Oh and Marcus- I enjoyed your computer securtiy class at Usenix in ’04! I still tell friends about that class!
    Nice post.

  3. What the hell? seems to be an Anti-Dan Brown squad over here. A book staying on the Top of bestsellers list for almost a year long definitely reflects the worth of a great author like Dan. Keep your opinions to yourself. if possible please come ahead an write a book better than Dan. I bet you will regret writing this stuff about Dan.

  4. His writing is not quality. I read the code and liked parts of it. I highly doubt I will regret writing any negative comments about his quality of writing. You must not be a U.S. citizen becuase over here many many people have come out against Dan Brown. Not only is his writing full of simple errors it is extremely blasphemous to any believer in Jesus Christ. He has the right to write such trash just like I have the right to speak out against it.

  5. I suppose I’m not qualified to comment on Dan Brown’s writing because I haven’t bothered to read his trash, nor will I.

    Nevertheless, I have read enough about the Da Vinci Code to know that it is riddled with errors of fact, relies on the testimony of a convicted French conman and is virulently anti-Catholic.

    Who could be bothered?

  6. I read all the Dan Brown books. They were OK, not great, but OK. Why are they best sellers? People need escapism and books are a harmless way of doing it. His appeal is that he delves into a conspiracies and dont we all love a conspiracy! NASA Moon Landing and UFO’s, these are all good stories, but only (conspiracy) stories.
    If I am watching a film, and something stupidly unbelievable occurs (James Bond jumping off a cliff and catching a plumetting Cessna), it ruins the whole damn movie. The same goes for books, and Dan Brown fell from great to mediocre in my eyes.

    Vinay, I dont have to be a tailor to appreciate a good suit. I feel if it fits well.

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