Origin, by Dan Brown, started off strong, but quickly became a lecture on the eventual replacement of religion by science. If you were looking to enjoy Robert Langdon solving puzzles and saving the day with intellect, you’ll have to dig in 300 pages before that happens.
The main character of the book is Edmond Kirsch, a blend of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Edmond wanted to reveal a discovery so damaging to the world’s religions that somebody was trying to kill him before he could reveal it. That sounds like a good premise for a Dan Brown novel, doesn’t it? When Kirsch is killed, his protege, Winston, leads the reader into the brave new world of artificial intelligence, theocratic politics, and secret organizations bent on protecting their metaphysical power over man. You could be excused for thinking you were in for a great read.
Instead, Brown literally lectured readers with an anti-religion polemic rant for 456 pages in Origin. The entire book was dedicated to Edmond Kirsch’s world–shattering presentation. Every carefully crafted word worthy of a college lecture was printed for the reader to slog through. Although Brown introduced fascinating concepts worthy of exploration, he forgot the cardinal rule of writing fiction: Show, don’t tell.
Michael Crichton also made biting commentary about science and society in his books, but at least he got the science right and never forgot to entertain. Brown wrote a work of fiction to convince people to abandon religion at his say-so, but is so technologically clueless, one of his characters hacks an iPhone using a real-life trick revealed on YouTube, but which was ultimately a clickbait hoax.
Another of the Origin‘s failings was that Langdon was the passenger in his own story, not the driver. This was a similar problem that The Lost Symbol suffered from. Brown wove a complicated web of intersecting characters, but I felt he had too many of them. While Langdon was battered about like flotsam in a river, everybody from security guards to IT experts got their moment in the spotlight.
Another problem was the book’s avalanche of exposition. Brown did extensive research on scientific concepts, Spanish locales, as well as the art of the area, but never let a moment go by without halting the narrative to expound indulgently on the history of each building the characters headed towards. Almost every character had a back story. Every new academic concept had a long lecture. Every painting and building had paragraphs of detail dedicated to it.
As a former art student, I loved how Brown brought Europe’s culture to life. I own all the illustrated editions of his books so that I can see the reproductions of the world Langdon moves through. I enjoyed this depth of detail in The DaVinci Code. In Origin, the copious details felt—at best—lifeless, and—at worst—suffocating.
Brown’s ability to write page-turning adventure served Origin well. The reader will be drawn along the story despite the heady science fiction concepts and metaphysical arguments. The story does bog down, but if you dislike religion, you may find something of worth here. On the other hand, if you are religious, Robert Langdon’s wise words on religion may please you, but Brown makes sure to undo that by the next page.
Release Date: October 3, 2017 (USA)
ISBNs: 0385514239 (9780385514231)
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (occasional, social)
Language: 3 (salty, a handful of f-words)
Sexuality: 0 (description)
Violence: 3 (gun violence, broken necks, a man falling to his death, very sedate compared to previous books)