Dan Brown vs. the EFF

I’ve just updated my book list after neglecting it for a while.

I’m currently in the middle of Thomas Ligotti’s short fiction collection Noctuary and almost finished with Cyber Rights by Mike Godwin. I’ve only got about 30 pages left in that one, I’ll probably finish it tonight before bed. Next up is Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen, which is another one that wasn’t on the original list but I remembered about it recently (just tonight, in fact).

I read one book a few weeks ago that I hadn’t planned on reading, one I’m almost embarrassed to admit to: Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown. My god is this guy a hack. I read somewhere that this book pits the NSA against the EFF and portrays the NSA as the good guys, so when I found it at a thrift store for $1.25 I had to see it for myself.

In this book, which was obviously inspired by the Clipper Chip controversy in the mid-’90s, the NSA is trying to protect our freedom by covertly reading everyone’s encrypted internet traffic. To do this, they’re using a sooper sekret, three million processor supercomputer that can break any encryption, even ones it’s never seen before. The EFF are bad guys because they believe people have the right to not have the government reading their e-mail and sniffing their passwords and credit card numbers. The NSA spooks are constantly whining about how the EFF is making their job of spying on US citizens more difficult.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this book was rife with technical absurdities, everything from the aforementioned supercomputer to the NSA’s secret “e-mail tracer”, which is a program that can be mailed to someone and somehow be executed by the mail servers every step of the way in order to report where it’s being forwarded to back to the NSA. And then it deletes itself without a trace. This must be the same technology Bill Gates used when he paid people to forward e-mail. Anyone who understands even the most basic fundamentals of how e-mail works will know this is completely ridiculous.

Even without the numerous technical problems this book is so poorly written it’s laughable. Brown takes great pains to describe his protagonists not only as geniuses in their fields (of course), but also as being stunningly attractive, athletic, etc. The dialog was asinine and plot was shallow, predictable, and completely unbelievable. I could give a whole list of examples, but it would take more time and space than I’m willing to give it.

Despite all that, my biggest problem with this book is not that I’ll never get back the time I wasted reading it, but that it paints the EFF in such a bad light. I’m afraid that readers who were previously unaware of the EFF will immediately dismiss them as hackers or crackpots when they actually are a real organization that does a lot of good for people, and for society at large.

All of this reminds me, it’s time to renew my EFF membership.


kar3ning says:

I confess, I tried to read the Da Vinci Code. Tried, as in I borrowed it from my Mom, but hated it so much I couldn’t finish it. The plot is moronic (at least to this art student and Easter Catholic), the characters are one dimensional, and the dialogue sounds like it came from the Encyclopedia Brown School of Writing.

“Why, look! These cryptic symbols in the painting must be a message!”
“Symbols? In the painting?”
“Yes, symbols in the painting! And I know just what they mean!
** end of chapter **

I hear the Louvre is now offering Da Vinci Code tours to people that believe this crap. sigh I guess I won’t try to read any of his other books, either..

kchrist says:

I liked Da Vinci Code better when it was non-fiction (well, more or less) and called Holy Blood, Holy Grail. This seems to be where Brown got most of his background material with regard to the grail mythology.

Digital Fortress is the only book of his I’ve read and I intend to keep it that way. I knew he was a crap writer before I started it, but I just had to see it for myself. Excluding stuff like USA Today book reviews, I have yet to hear anything good about anything he’s written.

The characters and dialog in this were pretty much the same. The brilliant (and beautiful!) NSA mathematician with the 170 IQ was also astoundingly stupid at times, obviously so Brown could fit in explanations of his complicated concepts and language, such as the phrase “Who will watch the watchers”, which was apparently beyond her comprehension (and that of the average Dan Brown reader, I’m sure). I could feel myself getting dumber as I read it.