Origin Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere
Read It - It's Good for You
You can't say no to Mom. Even if you already have a crowded plate, when Mom says eat this it's good for you you make room, or risk being grounded. Wait a minute, these days being grounded is normal, we call it social distancing. Even so, she could still take away your X-box privileges.
Whatever type of maternal shaming your Mother will heap on your plate to get you to eat that, in the back of your head you know Mom is right, she is never going to feed you something that will get stuck in your craw or give you indigestion. Everything Mom gives you will go down smoothly. Too smoothly sometimes.
So when my beloved Mother gave me a copy of Origin, by Dan Brown of The DaVinci Code fame, and said Read this it's good for you, how could I say no? I'm 56 years old now, she can't send me to my room for misbehaving, but the specter of her parental discipline still looms over my soul like a warm, comfortable, but ultimately smothering blanket. Can you be asphyxiated by too much love? I don't know but Mom's still trying.
Lunchtime Lit Searches For Shade
Lunchtime Lit Book Reviews are currently on a quest for shade. Reviewer/Postman Mel Carriere recently changed routes, and has yet to find a cool, comfortable spot in which to indulge his reading habit. His last two Postal assignments were ugly routes with beautiful shade. His current gig is completely the opposite - a route that winds around Easy Street, where the mailboxes are all out by the roadway, meaning the worst that might happen is a crick in the elbow sticking his arm out the window. Unfortunately, Easy Street is perpetually bathed in sunshine, the shade there is spotty and unreliable.
Will Mel find a suitable shade tree, or will his brain and book reviews be baked by the naked sun in the cloudless California sky?
No matter where Mel does his Lunchtime reading, in searing sunshine or pleasant penumbra, the rule remains that all books be read only on his half hour lunchbreak.
Lunchtime Lit Year To Date Recap * **
Power In The Blood
A Suitable Boy
Death Is A Lonely Business
**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.
*Twenty-four other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,088,983 and 766 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.
Thanks Mom For The Da Vinci Code - Whoops I Mean Origin
To demonstrate my depths of appreciation for the copy of Dan Brown's Origin I found in my Christmas stocking, hung by the chimney with care, here is the Thank You letter I wrote to Mom.
I really appreciate you sending me this book instead of some flat, uninspiring book that might insult my intelligence, the way other Mothers would.
For instance, to keep their children from being exposed to impure thoughts and deeds, some mothers might send books with cardboard characters, both the villains and good guys being people without any sharply defined peculiarities that might be too weird for the impressionable mind. Oh but you have not done that here, dear mother of mine.
Many Mothers also believe it is their duty to protect their children from offensive language, so they will provide their children with literature that has very safe, stale dialogue. Hanna Barbera cartoon dialogue. Phrases like "We gotta solve this mystery Scoob." Usually the people in these books never disagree with each other. The good guys are always on the same page, of one accord, because in the motherly mind differences of opinion promote rude behavior. Exposure to arguing might make me want to smack my bratty sister in the back seat, because she keeps elbowing me and won't stay on her side. But I am ever oh so thankful there is nothing of that sort here, with Origin.
Because structure is so important for the developing psyche, oftentimes Mothers with the best of intentions will give you books that seem a lot like that author's other books. The good guy in these separate but equal books might be pursued by a villain from a secret fringe right wing Catholic organization. As an example, The Da Vinci Code had a bad guy who took his marching orders from Opus Dei, supposedly a crazy, murdering sect. But of course, my dear Mother, the crazy murdering Catholic sect in The Da Vinci Code is completely different from the crazy, murdering Catholic sect in Origin, because the crazy, murdering Catholics in Origin turn out not to be real Catholics after all. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in that. I will try to go to church sometime this year, to show my appreciation.
Some might also point to the fact that, in Origin, Robert Langdon once again has a foxy female sidekick to help him solve this groovy mystery, just like he did in The Da Vinci Code. Of course it is silly to consider that these two heroines are in any way similar, because one is French and the other Spanish. There is no danger of any illicit interaction among hero and heroine either. That is why protective mothers like their boys to read books featuring Harvard professor Robert Langdon, because he is the perfect gentleman. He never tries to steal a kiss or cop a feel off of these stunning Latin babes. Actually Mom, that might be one thing you share with those fuss budget mothers, wanting to prevent me from becoming titillated on my lunch break, as sometimes happens with bawdy, shameless thrillers these days. There is nothing at all even remotely titillating in this book, and I once again echo my thanks.
To repeat, Mother dearest, eternally in my heart and mind, I thank you for this Da Vinci Code, scratch that, I mean this Origin novel. It gave me 25 lunches full of cheap thrills without overly taxing my brain. I guess you know my mind is already overwhelmed by this mailman's job, trying to keep track of what letters go in what boxes and what not. I am really grateful you minimized any additional mental strain my lunchtime reading material might cause.
Signed your loving and devoted son,
It's The Thought that Counts
On we read because Mom requires it, muddling through 600 pages of damp dialogue and milquetoast personalities to get to the big payoff, the earth-shattering revelation that the secret murderous Catholic sect dispatched an assassin for, to keep us from learning.
The story line that gets us there is the same cookie-cutter template Dan Brown uses to stamp out all of his stories. To summarize, we have Edmund Kirsch, an Elon Musk styled Renaissance Man who is dead set on debunking religion. Kirsch has developed a cutting edge supercomputer to calculate the fate of mankind, at last answering the age old questions sages, holy men and philosophers have contemplated throughout human history - Where do we come from? Where are we going?
But evil conspiratorial forces lurking in the shadows fear the consequences to faith that will result from Kirsch's findings, scheduled to be revealed in a stunning presentation at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. On the very night of his grand disclosure Edmund Kirsch is murdered there by a member of one such secret sect. The rest of the novel then revolves around Robert Langdon and his female sidekick Ambra Vidal trying to hack Kirsch's phone password, so they can launch the discovery put on hold by the visionary's untimely death.
Much like John Galt's one hundred page harangue in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the 600 pages of fairly predictable action in Origin are merely a vehicle to get us to Kirsch's speech on the fate of humankind. Although interesting, our anxiously awaited answer to the riddle of life turns out a tad anticlimactic, not quite so momentous a discovery as its buildup would have us believe. I think most of us readers are left blandly shaking our heads, grumbling What's the big deal - I kind of knew that already.
The answer to Where do we come from? is actually the more captivating of the two, but I think I could have read the Wikipedia article on the subject and skipped the gooey brain candy I chewed on over the course of 25 lunches. This explanation revolves around the ideas of Jeremy England, a physicist working in the field of "quantum biology." England has developed a theory called "dissipation-driven adaptation," a concept that life developed from random groups of molecules organizing themselves to dissipate energy, in accordance with the strictures of entropy, the gradual but inevitable deterioration into disorder. In his speech, even Kirsch admits that dissipation-driven adaptation is an unproven theory, so we are brought back to square one - Where do we come from?
The second question is answered with much more certainty than the first, but it made me think to myself - Really? They murdered you for that?
Edmund Kirsch's response to Where are we going? is that humans will be absorbed by another group of organisms - Technium. We will, in fact, will become a hybrid species - a fusion of biology and technology. The technological gadgets we carry around with us will eventually be a part of us, making future people as different from modern humans as modern humans are from their Neanderthal predecessors.
Okay, all fine and good, I'll buy that, I say to myself as sandwich crumbs dribble down from my slack jaw into the creases of the paperback. But how does this idea debunk religion? Why is this concept so threatening to religious groups that they will send out fanatical killers to suppress it? Will humans who are mind-melded with their high-tech toys really be less inclined to believe in an invisible God? I think it more likely that organized religion will continue to exist in one form or another, carrying out those rites of passage that sanction human beings as a part of society, even in a future where we social monkeys become half-man, half machine.
So at the end of Origin I am feeling like Clark Griswold did in that movie, when he drove his family all the way across country to Wally World, only to find out when he got there that it was closed.
Thanks anyway, Mom. It's the thought that counts.
Does Dan Brown Dumb It Down?
So while we are on the topic of questions, my big question is whether Origin author Dan Brown deliberately dumbed this book down. Or could he be a not so smart guy that just lucked out big time, riding the wave of conspiracy theory fervor created by The Da Vinci Code a decade and a half ago?
I suspect that Dan is no dummy. His Dad was a university level Math teacher. His Mother was a trained musician. Damn good pedigree, Danny boy. Dan himself graduated from Amherst College, billed as the best liberal arts school in the land, a place where only ten percent of the applicants are accepted. I think this proves that Dan is only dumb by design, and the vapid dialogue and cookie cutter characters of Origin were planned that way on purpose.
Dan understands who his audience is - people who are trying to sound smart without putting a lot of effort into it. So he has taken on the role of baby nanny, taking hard to chew concepts and turning them into baby food, so you and I can digest them. Instead of sirloin, which can get a little bit tough if not cooked correctly, he gives us Gerbers.
It's hard to argue with his success. The man has sold 200 million books. On the other hand, my next Lunchtime Lit book is by JK Rowling, the queen of complex characters and lively, spirited dialogue. Dan Brown eats her dust - She has sold 600 million.
Either model works, I suppose, but if I had to pick one of these authors to copy it would be Ms. Rowling. Sure, I'm a sucker for brainy girls, but it would also be a lot more fun to write her style. Writing is a tedious, time consuming process. Who wants to bother with it if you're not writing in a way that is fun?
Of course, the ultimate arbiter of the dispute is Mom. My mother does not want me hanging out with free thinking ladies like little Miss Rowling, especially if they are dabbling in a bit of witchcraft and wizardry on the side.
So she got good old reliable but soft spoken Uncle Dan to babysit me for 25 days. Who else but Uncle Dan will chew your food for you, so you won't choke on your half hour Postal lunch break, especially while being vulnerable and exposed in your quest for that ever elusive shade.