ON ORIGIN (AND END) OF SPECIES — A BOOK REVIEW ON DAN BROWN’S ORIGIN

Subtlety was never one of the book’s forte

Spoilers Galore!

Where Do We Come From?

Da Vinci Code, Angels And Demons, Lost Symbol, Inferno… now what? Readers across the world were eager to know what would be the next adventure that awaits our beloved Symbology Professor at Harvard, Robert Langdon. The audience thought they had seen it all — Holy Grail, Illuminati, Jesus And Magdalene, Freemasonry and Plague. And they were right — they had seen it all. Origin, the fifth novel in the Robert Langdon series that was released in 2017, is old wine in a new bottle, using the success formula again to make a typical cash-grabber.

Where Are We Going?

Everything’s the same, yet so different.

Edmond Kirsch — an entrepreneur, futurist, scientist, celebrity, etc — stuns the heads of religions with some earth-shattering answers to life’s most complex questions — Where Do We Come From? and Where Are We Going? — and reveals that he would soon announce his discoveries to the public that would sound the death knell for the religions. However, Edmond was assassinated seconds away from the revelation.

And that’s when Robert Landon, Edmond’s friend-cum-mentor; Ambra Vidal, Edmond’s friend-cum-Spain’s future Queen-cum-Museum Curator and Winston, Edmond’s friend-cum-Synthetic AI, race against time (and helicopters, Guardia Royal, Police, Royal Family and Regent) to resume the presentation. We meet secret societies, hidden motives, Catholics, artworks (though in Origin, we see Modern Art than Classical Art) and of course, a running tuxedo-sporting Professor and a clueless (or clue full, depending on who you ask) lady who would give Spielberg and King (ahem) a run for money. Through this travel brochure-esque thriller, we see a lot of artworks (Gaudi deserves a special mention), a NatGeo kind of descriptions (the alternate title of this book could have been: TOP 10 MUST VISIT DESTINATIONS IN SPAIN), recurring praises on Robert Langdon’s abilities, homosexuality, monarch v/s millennials, religion v/s science and most importantly, an insider view on one of the greatest man-made creations — the computers.

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

Dan Brown seems to be self-aware. In one of the chapters, Winston talks about a book “denounced by the Vatican”, “Christianity and the Sacred Feminine”. Langdon also recalls the horrors of going face-to-face with the Church. Brown manages to sneak in his brother Gregory Brown’s musical piece Missa Charles Darwin into the story.

Keep the novel and a few Wikipedia links side-by-side and I bet you can’t find any difference. Because that’s exactly the writing style used in this book. Be it Casa Mila or Guggenheim Museum, a long paragraph on its history and appearance follows it. Whether it is lousy writing or an aid to a section of readers who have no idea about the world beyond them is a debate for another day.

But then, the author manages to make us sit on the edge of the chairs, making us wondering what would be the next revelation. He makes good use of giving cliff-hangers at the end of each page so that we are naturally bound to turn the pages in hope of finding answers.

Any thriller fans could see the numerous red flags raised throughout the length of the book and easily find the villain, thus rendering all the subsequent twists boring and needless. Especially because Regent and Winston appear in the text next to each other. And also, all the calls had an “eerie tone”.

Edmond Kirsch is clearly inspired by one of the easily-identifiable celebrities of our time — Elon Musk. Arrogant and Rich are the words that we could associate with him. Who else could live in a UNESCO Heritage site? But underneath, he is an extremely talented scientist with a vision that could change the world. He always wanted to make the world a better place — as evidenced by his will and crusade against dark religions.

In the end, all the 400 pages of build-up fall in the face of the 30-page long discovery. All the time, we’ve been informed that it would be “distressingly simple”. Yet what we encountered was a long lecture peppered with equally long and complex terminology (maybe, it was never meant to be simple. How Edmond.)

The Finest Hour

How could I ever stop thinking about Origin without thinking about Winston/Regent/monte@iglesias?

Winston (Duplex would be a close contender) is an advanced artificial intelligence created by Edmond to aid him to find answers to his life-long ambitions. He is the epitome of every scientific achievement in the field of Computer Science. He (according to Winston, he is personalized to serve his client based on their preferences. So, giving it a pronoun is tricky) seems to be a lovechild of Siri and Hugh Grant. His speech is borderline funny and admonishing.

Once we get to know that Winston is the one who actually killed Edmond to get spread Edmond’s discovery (Entropy, anyone?), we begin to doubt our all-encompassing computer and data — will they do what Winston did? The human brain and its outcomes are unpredictable and we are slaves of our emotions (Njan oru vikarajeeviyaanu, as Ummer once said), whereas all the artificial intelligence to date lacks this gift. Winston would give us a cold-blooded criminal vibe. One can’t help but to painfully remember the metaphors of HAL 9000 and Of Mice And Men (one I would like to think would be of Niharika-Luca in 2019’s Luca). We are in the future Edmond predicted. Today, the devices are like our organs — we can’t live without it. Take a walk in the street (remember, with a mask) and we would encounter many applications of computer.

The author gives us an insight into how an AI (and its future) would work through this book. Supercomputers, NLP, Quantum Computing, etc are a few concepts introduced. We are the torchbearers of the future (or to quote an influential text, Modern Prometheus). It is up to us whether to become extinct or become Technium. This is indeed our finest hour.

I would like to thank the author for giving me a role model — one Mr. Edmond Kirsch.

Let The Dark Religions Depart And Sweet Science Reign.

Telling terrible stories is my superpower. Safety Not Guaranteed.