August 24, 2004

Digital Fluff

Hackers Play a Big Role in Crypto Novels,
But Dan Brown's Hackers Aren't Nearly As Cool
As Any of Neal Stephenson's Characters.

(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

Speaking of hackers, the spam flood on this site continues. I decided not to block IP's anymore but instead just pay close attention to MT-Blacklist's filtering and make sure it stays current. Since my post yesterday, MT-Blacklist is a perfect 122 out of 122 at blocking attempted spam comments. Most of the comments are advertising the same two or three sites, but they come at all times from all different IP's, so they must be some form of spyware/virus attaching themselves to Windows systems, I guess. Without a blacklist, I would have to shut down comments. Good thing Congress passed that great anti-spam law, eh?

Anyway, after finishing Covenant, I still have a couple of days left before classes start, so I burned through a Dan Brown book, "Digital Fortress", in a few hours. Boy am I glad I didn't buy this one (thanks, library!) because the price of best-selling paperbacks is just ridiculous these days. This one is listed at $7.99. Unreal.

Anyway, this book has a lot of the weaknesses of "The Da Vinci Code" (which I reviewed earlier) and few of the strengths. I can tell Brown has gotten a bit better with time (I think this may be his first novel, but I didn't care to do a detailed search of publishing dates). The plot here involves the National Security Agency trying to figure out what to do about claims of a new uncrackable code. They send one guy (a college professor, like in Da Vinci, but a different character) over to Spain to track down a code key, but he doesn't realize he's being tracked by an assassin. Back in the US, most of the book is spent in the lab as different characters try to figure out what's going on while various conflicting plots and claims are played out internally.

The Spain subplot was weird, because in the end it turned out to be pretty much completely pointless. I mean, in a way, that's good, because it surprised me. But then I wondered why the hell I had to go through *SO* much suspension of disbelief, so many ridiculous chases and unlikely coincidences, not least of which was a college professor outwitting and ultimately killing a supposedly flawless professional assassin (who apparently shoots like a Stormtrooper)? But the fact that it was all for nothing is completely dropped and forgotten about as soon as it is revealed because we have to move on to the next plot point and the timer is counting down, etc.

As techno-thrillers go, I'll take Michael Crichton over Dan Brown. Probably the main weakness in Brown's books that I've read so far is a total lack of character development. I mean, near the end of this book, I guess I'm supposed to be struck by how poignant one man's love is for the main female character, but it just feels contrived. Chrichton's character development is nothing to write home about, but his books are just more fun to read. There is a lot of intentional misdirection in the book to add to the twistiness of the plot, but I guess I've read too many of these kinds of books to be surprised.

I shouldn't completely bash it, though. It had enough stuff going on, and the pace was very quick, like his other book, so I finished it in a day. It's a perfect airplane book, but the problem is, I haven't been on an airplane in nearly three years.

Posted by Observer at August 24, 2004 10:41 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

It's also a good thing that Windows is so super secure.

But eh, I'd rather have spam than tax, so no need for laws.

Posted by: Polerand on August 24, 2004 03:58 PM

I have zero problem paying $8 for a paperback. Great size, awesome return on investment (in entertainment hours per dollar).

Posted by: Humbaba on August 26, 2004 09:56 AM

I tend to agree with Hummer myself but I understand the counter perspective... Why pay $8 when you could go to the library and pick up the same book for $0?

Personally, the answer for me is my own guilty pleasures. I can keep the book in better condition, not break the spine, etc. I have a copy any time I want to pull it down and read it, cite it, etc. I can use it as a source of ideas for my own projects (roleplaying or writing, etc.).

I also don't read so much that I would be spending $100 per week on books. Sometimes I think that Dr. Observer does read that much and so it makes for a different fiscal perspective.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on August 26, 2004 11:29 AM