Thoughts on “Origin”

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

As usual, I welcome Dan Brown’s new novel with joy. I’ve been reading his work since The Da Vinci Code (and the lovely prequel, Angels and Demons). This time is no different. Origin is Brown’s newest novel.

I purchased one for my Kindle, and I devoured the novel in 6 something hours—cover to cover.

The story was meant to tell us about the origin and destiny of our life. Out from the longstanding debate about the role of religion in human life, who is supposed to be rational, the main character Robert Langdon’s good friend—a scientist who perhaps tried to be a bit Musk and Jobs at the same time, thought that he has found the answer, that is, before he was murdered.

Then, Langdon, the claustrophobic, user of Mickey Mouse watch, symbologist professor of Harvard bound for a journey across Spain with who was the future queen of Spain. The journey was to find a 47-character password to open a presentation file.

Only, different from Brown’s other novels, this one fell flat on me.

I still gave it four stars after finishing. Yes, the book remains gripping, and there is always that nice sense of adventure with a travelogue-like storytelling, from Barcelona to Madrid.

That’s there, though.

39C65797-9C1F-4FC7-80A8-ED4BBFAD2DBF.jpegThe reason I love Dan Brown’s works is because the books offer some problems that seem plausible to really happen, touched with riddles, puzzles, and Langdon’s simple brilliance and knowledge for history (for better or worse, fact or pseudo-fact). This very idea turns my head around when I journeyed intellectually through the walls of Vatican, under the Temple Church, the Library of Congress, the Palazzo Vecchio, and more.

Not now. Not in Origin.

The plot itself fell rather flat. While the general idea of science replacing religion is already as ancient as the telescope, Brown tried to wrap the same idea in a juncture between a scientist’s love for puzzle, an intelligent artificial intelligence (AI) assistant, and succession to the throne of one of Europe’s oldest monarchies. However, gone all the tense struggle for Langdon to find answers to multiple puzzles that forced him to go beyond history books. Remember the way Langdon discovered what word is used to unlock the cryptex? Or when Langdon tried to guess the Altars of Science in Rome? It only existed once in Origin, that was, to guess the 47-character poem line to unlock the presentation.

Even so, Langdon essentially cheated.

Langdon’s friend was a genius, and he created a “Siri-on-steroid” version named Winston. Continuously in contact with Langdon, Winston offered help from what possibly be a clever, omniscient search engine (probably better than Google). In many of the things that Langdon needed to understand throughout the story, he asked Winston, and the assistant will happily obliged to the request.

Even the puzzle itself was too silly. It was a poem indeed, but it was said that the answer was one character short—save for a wordplay put by Langdon’s good friend to prevent others from getting the answer—that was, before I took only three seconds to find the deception (read the book and guess if you can guess the answer correctly before Langdon did).

To make things worse, I did not understand the story of the Spanish succession presented here. The incumbent king, so the novel said, was ailing, and a successing crown prince was prepared to take over. The murder as stated above was then juxtaposed with the succession event.

Tell me again how this place contributed to the story?

However, as a plot engine, I could not understand its actual role and presence to the story. In some parts when the royal family was bickering, I could not even understand how the dynamics would help the murder’s circumstances. It could have constituted its own novel—about the royals fighting over themselves. Compared to many other Langdon books, this time, it was truly perplexing that the Spanish royal family was introduced for almost no real effect to the story’s tension.

In the end, I conceded—Close to the end of the book, I fell asleep. One, of course because I was physically tired. However, I also felt that the story became a bit lull at the end, just when Langdon, as predicted, found the presentation, and the book tried to retell the entire presentation through text (something that you would never, ever do in real life). I woke up the next morning finishing the remaining 10% of the book, and completed the entire novel in more than 6 hours.

In disappointment.

At the end of the day, I will let you judge the novel for what it is actually. It is still a gripping, action-packed book. Even so, the decline is too tangible to hide from Brown’s previous novels. Angels and Demons will still be the Prima Donna until now, and no for Origin.

My suggestion? Read it. Only, keep your expectation a bit lower this time.

Sorry, Dan. I really admire your works. This one, yes, but not so much.

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