Avoiding Dan Brown

A while ago, I was a little unclear on what to write about. “What to write, what to write,” I asked myself. Then Rilla suggested the following:

Angels and Demons: What you need to know about avoiding Dan Brown

The first thing you need to know to address this issue is that Dan Brown has been asking himself the same thing for the past five hundred years. Eventually, he settled on ‘thinly veiled fantasy adventure’. But all the *really good* fantasy adventure stories were being written by people who were much better writers than he was, so he had to go with ‘ridiculous conspiracy theory crackpot science alternate history fiction’ and hope the two-hundred-year-old scotch he’d sent his agent would do the rest.

And it has! The singular skill which I shall call marketing has made it possible for the author to peddle a previously-told story (“The DaVinci Code”) to super-stardom, and he does his best to make a go of it at being a semiotician. He is not a very good semiotician, however. A good one is Umberto Eco. In fact, I wonder if Dan Brown has even read Umberto Eco.

Sorry. I digress.

Let us pretend for a moment that the “plot” of Brown’s books could not have a Harrier flown through them, backwads, forwards, and sideways, and that his characters are actually self-actualised, realistic characters. Let us also accept that Brown is a writer of historical fiction rather than conspiracy th…okay, no, let’s don’t even try that presupposition. Let’s just say he pulls a lot of stuff out of his butt, which is often the hallmark of a good fiction writer. Particularly for science speculative fiction.

Okay. Got that in your mind? His stories right now are pretty good for pulp, campy drivel like you’d find in the bathroom at your massage therapist’s office. How, though, Dan Brown, can we even pretend to take seriously your claim that ANTI-MATTER is actually a good, cheap, and inexhaustible source of fuel!!?? Particularly when you, Dan Brown, can’t even figure out WHO INVENTED THE INTERNET!!??

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge sci-fi geek. I loves me teh Star Treks, with the phasers made from salt shakers, and the doors that go “shhhht”. I loves me some Firefly and Buck Rogers and Star Wars, with the space cowboys and the adventure. I *even* loves me some mystery and adventure! I also get my lovin’ on with some fantasy! But Dan Brown…ANTI-MATTER as a fuel source? You…do know that they didn’t get to this point with science until the TWENTY-FOURTH CENTURY, right? When they discovered warp drive?

Whatevs, as my ten-year-old would say (actually, he would say ‘all the cool kids say ‘whatev‘ now’ (but what THAT really means is “I alone say ‘whatev’ now, and I don’t give a rat’s arse what the cool kids do”).

What gets me about Dan Brown is that it’s kind of like Harry Potter for people in their “middle earlies”. Except without engaging characters. And plot. It’s mindless drivel that, for some ungodly reason, some people are taking as freaking gospel. Granted, they’re probably the same people who think the government cares enough about their telephone conversations to bother with bugging their apartments. But still.

Anyway, yeah. I’m pretty hard on Dan Brown.

The best way to avoid him is to read *good* historical mystery and semiotics. Read Umberto Eco. Read Rudyard Kipling. Read Dan Brown if you want, but Rilla wondered what you need to know to avoid Dan Brown. Here it is in point form:

  • one-sided, flat, boring characters
  • nonsensical plot (which can be a good thing, when you intend it to be nonsensical)
  • conspiracy theories taken from Cracker Jacks boxes
  • Bad science
  • Wrong facts
  • sluggish pace
  • asinine ‘action’

I mean, if Brown had presented this book as campy sci-fi, it might have been good. Better. More tolerable. Better than bad.





31 responses to “Avoiding Dan Brown”

  1. ozma Avatar

    I don’t want to be a slob but I am puzzled how anyone can read that stuff. The prose is so bad and it’s all so boring. What keeps you hanging out in the middle? Why not just skip to the end and see what happens?

    That’s what I don’t get.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Better yet, why not let other people read it, while you enjoy *good* literature? Any one title from someone like Coteau Books or Thistledown or Hagios Press or pretty much any small, independent literary publisher will not only be written and produced better, but will also be far more worthy and deserving of your money.

  2. Chris Avatar

    The first time I read the Da Vinci Code, I really liked it. There was something appealing about it’s craziness, even if the treatment if the protagonist was quite ridiculous. ( cue Willem Dafoe, doctor of nameology ). I tried to read it a second time and was shocked to discover how terrible it actually was. I can only conclude that the book belongs to that class of books that are enjoyable if one can turn off one’s objectivity for a few hours. Like those really earnest sci fi B movies we all love.

    Eco is another world. The list rich craziness of Foucalt’s Pendulum is masterful.

    I like the new look of the web log thingy. Is it wordpress? If so, any chance it might get the iPhone friendy add on installed?

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      It is WordPress, and I will look for the iPhone friendly add-on.

      And yes, “rich craziness” is a good way of putting it. Brown’s craziness is just …forced.

  3. rilla Avatar

    Huzzah! Now if only I could go back in time (possibly fueled by some anti-matter time machine) and prevent myself from reading it five years ago. You’re too late, Ceno… too late. :(

    BUT! I also recommended you discuss the awesomeness of Vaginas! Don’t forget!

  4. Coyote Avatar

    It almost seems redundant to post this, but I’ll share a couple things.

    Dan Brown’s conspiracy theory is from this FANTASTIC work of fiction parading as non-fiction called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. It has been proven to be a huge hoax but was quite pursued back when the book was published, even had a few T documentaries done in Britain about it. But you know it was a hoax cuz Nimoy never talked about it on Ancient Mysteries. :)

    That book is actually quite a nice work of paranoid delusion that has a plot that hangs together better than Brown’s literary wet paper bag.

    And I love vaginas. To talk about their awesomeness seems almost a waste. Instead I say just go out and treat one really really nice.

    1. Coyote Avatar

      Errr…. TV documentaries. Damn keyboard.

    2. cenobyte Avatar

      I thought the conspiracy theory was much older than that book. It goes back to manuscripts from the 1300s, doesn’t it? Not that Dan Brown would know that…he probably just cribbed the entire Holy Blood/Holy Grail book.

      1. Coyote Avatar

        The conspiracy theory goes back to JESUS! :) And yeah the entire book is based off the theory that Jesus had kids and that there have been organizations created throughout history to protect his blood line, ending with this squirrelly looking French dude who actually was interviewed by the folks who wrote the book I mentioned.

        1. cenobyte Avatar

          I think I watched the same documentary of which you speak.

          Didn’t that guy have a fabulous beard? And wasn’t one of the Bri’ish dudes’ names “Cocknobbler” or “Dickbender” or something like that? Anyway, yeah. That theory’s been around since the time of Christ, I think.

          Anyway. As long as a conspiracy theory has Jesus at its base it can’t be bad, right?


          1. Aelius Avatar

            For note, not that I actually think it’s good research. But his wife does ALL the research for his books. He doesn’t actually do any of that background stuff, he just writes with what his wife gives him.
            Not that I’m stating it’s right or any excuse.

            1. cenobyte Avatar

              If that’s the case, then I think he’s doing his wife a great disservice. I bet *her* books would be good.

  5. melistress Avatar

    Really I think it is a matter of taste. I could say the some of the same things about books that you might find brilliant. Say, Oryx and Crake. People seem to forget that not everyone reads a book the same way and that not everyone feels the need to disect a book. While I will give you that perhaps Dan Brown may not be a literary genius, his books are well liked among the general population, a population that has chosen to read instead of play video games or stare at the big black idiot box in their house. I think that is awesome.

    Incidentally, the idea that the Crakers can heal because Crake genetically programmed them with sound of the same frequency as an ultrasound is totally ludicrous because ultrasounds don’t heal, they diagnose. The Snowman in that book isn’t a terribly multi-dimensional character. Yet, no one would even dream of writing a similar blog about her books.

    I don’t endorse Dan Brown’s theory. But then again, I don’t really endorse the bible either. I think both are equally terrible works of fiction. I do think that it was an entertaining read for when I needed something entertaining to read. So was Oryx and Crake. So were most books.

    1. Chris Avatar

      I apologize in advance for the know it all ness of this comment, but I need to defend one of my favourite authors here :)

      The ultrasound thing isn’t actually totally out to lunch. It’s a good example of speculative fiction incorporating and effect that has been documented but not fully understood. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr

      physiotherapists seem to use this as a matter of course: they ultrasounded my knee every treatment when I was recovering from sugery, and when I expressed doubt they gave me some reading. While the science isn’t fully established, it does seem to have some clinical effects.

      1. cenobyte Avatar

        Also, ultrasound technology has been used to treat kidney stones for at least ten years – it breaks up the stones and is used as a method of treatment, not just of diagnosis.

        Nothing wrong with science fiction, is my point. Make up all the warp core generateors you want. But then don’t turn around and make rididulous (and incorrect) statements about the history of language, the Internet, and known science, if you want to be taken seriously. If you don’t care, then call your book ‘alternate reality’.

    2. cenobyte Avatar

      Uh. I would totally dream of saying the same things about Margaret Atwood’s books on my blog. There are quite a few of them that I can’t stand, and I would ABSOLUTELY critique her as harshly (on different levels).

      At least Atwood’s books are usually fairly well-written. And she is okay being known as a science fiction writer. Dan Brown would probably balk.

      Sure, it’s a difference of opinion. Nobody said it wasn’t. And my opinion is that Dan Brown’s books are crap, and that you shouldn’t waste your money on them. I feel the same way about “The Time Traveller’s Wife”. If you didn’t like reading my opinions, you wouldn’t come here, right?

      1. Melistress Avatar

        Sure I would. I love to troll your blog. ( @ Y @ )

      2. Erstwhile Avatar

        IS Atwood okay with being known as a sci-fi writer? I seem to recall her getting huffy with that characterization, arguing that her books didn’t have lasers and spaceships.

        Which I think is a shame. I defy anyone – ANYONE – to tell me that “The Robber Bride” wouldn’t have been umpteen times better with at least one spaceship. And preferably several laser guns.

        1. cenobyte Avatar

          Maybe not.

          Maybe ‘dystopic fiction writer’?

          “The Robber Bride” is one of the books I do like of hers, strangely enough.

          I think “The Edible Woman” would have been much better had a laser gun been used on it before publication, but maybe that’s just another one of my not-humble opinions.

  6. Smarty Pants Avatar
    Smarty Pants

    Eco is absolutely freekin brilliant.
    I dropped “Oryx & Crake” about half-way through – I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    Dan Brown, IMHO, is a script writer. I read “Da Vinci” and said to myself “Here’s somebody who really wants a movie deal.” And I actually liked the movie more than the book.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I watched the movie on the plane once.

      I didn’t much like it. Granted, I can’t stand the lead actor, and while some of the conspiracy theory was interesting, I found the writing and dialogue stilted and stodgy. Production on FX was okay, though.

      1. Smarty Pants Avatar
        Smarty Pants

        Which is kind of my point about how much I liked the book. :-)

  7. neuba Avatar

    After reading this post I’m left wondering about my taste in books and intelligence. I read the book about 5 years ago and really enjoyed it. In fact, I couldn’t put it down.

    Sometimes books (like movies) don’t need a lot of depth or need to be ‘perfectly’ written, having a plot that is logical and realistic and characters that are fully developed. Yes, it’s nice, but not always necessary.

    I’m with melistress – not every book needs to be dissected.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Like I said before; this is my opinion of Dan Brown.

      Some people also like Danielle Steele or …um…that guy who writes about stuff.

      I don’t.

      I don’t like Dan Brown, and I think his writing is trite, hackneyed, and populist. Other people think my favourite authors are elitist jerks (and maybe they are; I still like their stuff, though). I don’t like books that lead me by a hook through my nose through the plot, books that hit me over the head with cardboard cut-out characters…and this is my opinion of Dan Brown.

      It’s really the equivalent of me walking into your house and saying: “your favourite band sucks!”

      We can still be friends.

    2. cenobyte Avatar

      Also-too, I don’t think it’s an insult to your *intelligence* that you like his stuff. Just becuse *I* don’t find it fulfilling doesn’t mean it hasn’t any appeal at all.

  8. Depthless Muser Avatar
    Depthless Muser

    While they don’t have a lot to recommend them, Dan Brown’s books are an easy read and are moderately entertaining. I just don’t take them seriously; I read them like I would young adult novels. They do have a certain pull to the pacing (likely due to the lack of character development and extensive plot-lines) and once I started I wanted to read through to the end, even if any entertainment was tinged with some disappointment over the emptiness.

    I admit to twitching while reading the novels, but if those are the kind of books required to get adults reading then I approve of them. I couple that approval with hope that those readers will look for other novels to read and subsequently realise that there are books written with greater skill and depth which provide greater entertainment.

  9. Erstwhile Avatar

    With you 100% on Dan Brown…my only point of disagreement overall would be your contention that the Harry Potter books *have* engaging characters and plot. ;)

  10. Thunderhowl Avatar

    I almost never get insulted when someone makes fun of the movies I watch or the books I read. (I own Breakin’ AND Breakin’ 2, Electric Boogaloo fer cryin out loud!)
    That being said, make fun of ME for liking them and expect a punch in the nose. It’s a fine line, right Neuba? ^_^
    I haven’t ever tried to struggle through the Dan Brown novels, but I have read Twilight. Man it was bad. Oh so bad.
    So I ask you Ceno, which is worse? Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer?

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Ooooh. Hrm.

      Well, I think Stephanie Meyer’s work is sad and trite and…well…stupid, to be honest. I also think that the characters portray detrimental traits. In fact, Meyer’s characters are so bad, they make me angry. There’s a reason I hated high school. Meyer’s books make me feel like I’m still in high school, and might be there FOR EVER.

      Dan Brown is bad in a different way.

      Neither is worse. They’re both terrible, but in different ways. However, if I were trapped in an airport or a public washroom for a whole night with only Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer to read, I’d probably choose Dan Brown, and use the Twilight series as toilet paper.

  11. Coyote Avatar

    Meyer. Easily. Dan Brown is a script masquerading as a book, Meyer is bad fan fic.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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