Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Michael Bay of the Writing World

I was asked to say something about why I didn't like "The Da Vinci Code". Given that I also didn't like "Angels & Demons", I think I'll cover that as well.

The thing is, it's not that these books are badly written. You can see the list of books I've read in the last two years, and there's no denying that there's a load of dross on there. And Dan Brown's works aren't significantly worse than some of the others.

Besides, I do think that the comparison is apt: as with a Michael Bay film, a Dan Brown novel doesn't need to be well-written, provided he keeps the pace up, and fills it with enough exciting events to distract you from the vapid nonsense involved. And so everything happens at a hundred miles an hour (even the endless chapters talking about art or science). There are people running here and there, revelations on every page, secrets and lies, things being hinted at and not revealed until later...

It's exciting.

The problem is, I do have a brain, and it doesn't just switch off. And in both "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons", the idiocy reached a level that I couldn't just ignore.

As I've mentioned before, I don't like it when people in the church start talking about science. As a rule, they don't have the grounding to know what they're talking about, or if they do then they over-simplify things for their audience to a point where it stops being anything like real science.

I also don't like it when scientists start talking religion (e.g. Dawkins). Again, they too often don't really understand their topic, or perhaps deliberately get things wrong for effect (more on this later). Basically, if you're going to talk about both, you really need to understand a fair amount about both, and very few people do.

Dan Brown's works are filled with endless expositions on art, science, religion and history. But it's bad art, bad science, bad religion and bad history.

The scene that first brought this to the fore was in "Da Vinci...", where Langdon has gone to see his colleague Leigh Teabing to discuss the Holy Grail. Whereupon about three quarters of the plot of the book is laid out in a huge chunk of exposition. (Actually, about 100 pages of exposition - I'm amazed he got away with it.)

Anyway, we proceed to have these two supposed high-end academics laying out the secret history of Jesus' wife and children, the vilification of Mary Magdalene, her line marrying into the French royal line, and then becoming extinct, and the Holy Grail being a vagina, and...

And as we go, we repeatedly have these experts saying, "Of course, X and Y and Z..."

But the thing is, X is just wrong, Y is a lie, and Z is maybe true if you really stretch the known facts.

But because these are 'experts' (even if they're fictional characters, and even if at least one of them is an expert in an entirely fictional field), people who don't know better will simply believe them. After all, if an expert says it, it must be true, right? And he couldn't put it in his novel if it wasn't true, could he?

Or, better still, how about the scene in "Angels..." in which Langdon is told about an experiment that 'proves' Genesis could be possible. (Of course, that itself is a nonsense - if you assume an all-powerful creator God, then of course it is possible; if there is no such creator God then Genesis is irrelevant anyway.)

Anyway, to prove Genesis is possible, our scientist has created "something out of nothing". Fair enough.

So, he took a particle stream (um, isn't that 'matter'), and fired it along a particle accelerator at speed (um, isn't that 'energy'), and then fired another particle stream along the accelerator in the other direction (more 'matter' and 'energy'), and proceeded to collide them (more 'energy'). And the result was... matter was created.

Something out of nothing? Um, no. That would be "something out of something else". Which is well-understood scientific principle: E = mc^2, and all that. ("Angels & Demons" even gets the science wrong in the 'fact' section preceding the novel itself. At least "The Da Vinci Code" didn't manage to annoy me until the first word of the novel proper.)

Then there's the logic failure: a key part of the plot of "Da Vinci..." revolves aroung the search for the "sacred feminine", the female counterpart to God. Fair enough. It also posits that Jesus was just a man (albeit a prophet), who had children by Mary Magdalene. Also fair enough.

But then, when Langdon finds the bones of Mary Magdelene at the end of the book, he feels compelled to kneel and pray at the feet of the goddess.

Um, what?

Surely, if Jesus was just a man, then Mary was just a woman, and their children would be... well, children. And wondrous as all that is, where exactly is this supposed goddess?

Bit of a failure on the 'logic' front, there, I think.

And so it goes. On the surface, these books are a quick read, they're exciting, and they have a bit of 'smarts' to them. It's just that as soon as you scratch the surface that you find that, well, it's all surface.

At least "Revenge of the Fallen" only takes two and a half hours to get through.

No comments: