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Name: Dave Leigh
Location: Union, South Carolina, United States

I was born too young. And when I die, I'll still be too young.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

REVIEW: Deception Point

Although it's yet another "intellectual thriller" -- this time involving NASA and US Presidential politics -- it's not stamped out of the same mold as every other Dan Brown book to date. That is perhaps the second-most incredible thing about it. The most incredible thing about this book is that I actually enjoyed it, against my better judgement.

But let's get the unpleasantries out of the way first. The book is about a startling NASA discovery in the arctic... one which can change the course of American politics. And of course there is a conspiracy to mis-direct the public regarding this discovery. With a name like "Deception Point" you can hardly expect anything else.

For a book that leans heavily on science, and which features A-list scientists in its cast, the science here is atrocious, beginning with the fact that Brown evidently can't do math. For the record, if you have a sphere of 10 feet in diameter, and its density is greater than that of water, then it is likely to weigh in excess of 15 tons, not 8. Brown also has great difficulty with geology, biology, astronomy, etc. Every bit of the "science" in this book is fraught with inaccuracies.

But you know what? It doesn't really matter that much. The inaccuracies that Brown introduces are cumulatively less aggregious than those in your average episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and they had a "science advisor"(!)). At least Brown didn't introduce magic gravity plating, FTL engines, and Transporters. So we can get past the bad science.

Unfortunately, the characterizations aren't much better. "NASA scientists" are biased and bad; "Civilian scientists" are good and honest and true. Politicians are either pure as the driven snow or are evil and corrupt. And Delta Force makes an appearance in this book, but apparently they were replaced at the last moment by the Keystone Kops in disguise, led by Inspector Clouseau. Much of the novel's momentum is driven by the repeated unlikely blunders of this "elite" fighting force.

But you know what? That doesn't matter so much, either. I enjoyed Westerns in my youth even though the same simplistic white hat/black hat dichotomies were present. I'm a little more miffed about the "NASA scientists" vs "civilian scientists" thing, but it actually made sense in the context of the story... the civilian scientists were there because they DIDN'T make the discovery. They were there to confirm, thus they were characterized as being unbiased.

The action in the book (and there's a lot of that) stretched the bounds of credibility beyond the breaking point. When dropped into arctic waters without a boat or survival gear, what are your chances of survival? When trapped in a disabled and sealed submarine in shark-infested waters sinking rapidly into a oceanic volcano, what are your chances of survival? When fired upon by a military helicopter with heat-seeking weapons, what are your chances of survival? Answer: pretty close to 100% if you're the protagonist in a Dan Brown novel.

But you know what? That doesn't matter so much, either! After all, the Anthropic Principle indicates that it's irrelevant how improbable any event is... if we're alive to wonder about it, it happened, the odds be damned. So we can put that behind us as well.

Also put behind us the improbability of Brown's portrayal of Presidential politics. Just last night we heard a State-of-the-Union address in which our president expended untold minutes extolling his plan for creating jobs through a "green energy" strategy which, if effective at all, will amount to a raindrop in the economic ocean. Politicians stress ridiculous things, so that can be put behind us as well.

Given that the plot, the sub-plot, the action, the characterizations, and the science all sucked, why did I enjoy the book? Probably because this is the fourth Dan Brown book I've read and it's the first that's different from the others in any significant way. At least it's not The Da Vinci Code. And once you've suspended disbelief and just decided to go along for the ride, it's actually fun, partially because you're intrigued to learn how Brown intends to resolve the next ludicrous cliff-hanger.

So I'm giving this a solid 3.5 stars simply because Dan Brown inadvertently wrote something that would make a great episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.


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