Monday, 16 January 2012

The Lost Symbol and My Thoughts on Fiction

It's been a long time since its release but I finally got an opportunity to read The Lost Symbol. Now that I read it I don't think i missed out on much at all.

I was thoroughly unimpressed by the book. After "Angels and Demons" and "The Da Vinci" code this book was completely underwhelming. The plot was a bit weak and I felt none of the unexpected bursts of excitement that had made his previous books so difficult to put down.

About halfway through the book (at which point I was reading simply because I hate to leave a book unfinished) I realized something about why some novels seem so enjoyable while others make us cringe.

It's how believable the story is in its own "universe". The term fiction does not give a writer the freedom to put in whatever captures their fancy. For an example take Harry Potter. It is a story about magic. But in the very fist book the "scene" is set. So the reader gets an idea of the laws of nature (or magic) in the Harry Potter universe. The rest of the books follow the laws of the new reality very strictly. The same goes for  most of the good novels I can think of. The protagonist does not pull through whatever difficulty is presented due to string of coincidences bordering on unbelievable. But this is exactly what happens in The Lost Symbol.

Another mark of a good story is how it draws you in. Many books (like Eragon and Harry Potter) talk about worlds in which, deep inside, everyone wishes to live in. Reading them makes me want to live the book so badly that sometimes I can't help laying awake at night thinking of all the cool, amazing things I would do if I were in the place of the protagonist.

Dan Brown's take on Noetic Science also spoils the book somewhat. The book is supposed to be set in the real world but the book shamelessly represents this repackaged pseudoscience as the real thing. Noetic science tries tie in quantum phenomena with the problem of consciousness but with experiments that mainly involve trying to prove that low probability fluctuations in Random Number Generators are somehow related to focused intention of many people to produce this result which to me just sounds like Deepak Chopra 2.0.


Srikanth said...

And this is the problem of all Dan Brown books. If you keep this in mind and go over his last books you will see that they all have the same problem albeit to a lower degree.

An aside- A story set in a completely imaginary world is called High fantasy eg Eragon. A story set in the real world with a hidden 'world' built into it is mid fantasy Eg Narnia, Harry Potter. A story set in the real world with unusual elements is low fantasy. I know that you can't generalize but what kind do you like the most? Can you guess mine?

Ashwin Narayan said...

Angels and Demons and the Digital Fortress were relatively OK. Especially since it all turns out reasonable in the end. That's the point though. They're all set in the real world. In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown bends reality a little bit too much.

I don't mind mid fantasy like Harry Potter. I haven't read much High Fantasy other than Eragon so I can't tell you much about that. But I really admire writers who can do science fiction that is believable enough for people who are actively learning science to believe, people like H.G Wells and Jules Verne.

I also like "Out of the Silent Planet" by C.S Lewis despite some strong hints of religious content there.

So I think I always go for mid fantasy to low fantasy and for science fiction.

Srikanth said...

I am the creative lot...Reality is great but there is something about a well built alternate that gets to me. Science fiction and High Fantasy are thus my favorite.

And I do not differentiate books just because there is religious content in them. But when characters in books take our stand in religion, I like them a bit more for it- If you read the Inheritance cycle you'll see why I like it so much!

Low fantasy in my opinion is the author being too conservative with his imagination.