Dan Brown’s Inferno: Interesting Points, Boringly Delivered


SPOILER ALERT:  This entry is only for those who have already read Brown’s novel or otherwise are okay with having it spoilt for them…

What I found most intriguing about Dan Brown’s novel Inferno was the presentation of the idea of just how easily the human population could be devastated.  It would difficult to wipe us out completely, but it is completely rational to expect that a pathogen– in these globally interconnected, fast-travelling times– will sooner or later wipe out 25 percent or more of us.  This is knowledge we all keep in the back of our heads.  It’s happened before.  It will happen again.  But the new twist to the old horror is that it is completely conceivable that some man or group will release such a pathogen ON PURPOSE.

The resources, technology, and skill will probably one day be relatively cheap to come by (if they are not already) to make such pathogens, and when that day arrives the situation will be similar in one way to the situation with poisons in the past… The ability of apothecaries, alchemists, and others to make simple poisons available to people showed emphatically that when poisons are available, some small percentage of the population will use them… most often against their own family members or lovers!

However, the situation with modern pathogen-technology is very different from the comparison with old poisons in one crucial way… Instead of only one or a few people suffering at the poisoner’s hands, millions– even billions– could be terribly sickened or excrutiatingly murdered.

And there’s another layer to this…  The pathogen could be aimed at certain nations or targeted at certain ethnic groups.  There are already in existence certain natural diseases which strike certain ethnicities harder than others– such as Cystic Fibrosis for those of Caucasian descent and Sickle Cell Anemia for those having progenitors from Central or Southern Africa.  Someone could simply copy some of these discerning mechanisms already in existence if he wanted to target a certain group.

And of course, we may not have to wait for some malevolent soul to inject the pathogen into our air or water…  Nature is quite capable of doing it, Herself.

As far as Dan Brown’s novel, itself… I didn’t much enjoy Inferno.

I loved Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and in fact it was influential upon one of my own novels.   However, Inferno was the most repetitive novel I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading.  Not only do the characters frequently repeat– to themselves or anyone who will listen– each and every clue they are hit over the head with– but the narrative is repetitive in another, even less forgiving way…  The narrator will tell us how a character feels about a certain situation– and then we have to suffer through the character demonstrating what the narrator just told us.  A typical example might read something like this..


He walks into the room, not understanding what is going on.

 What the hell is going on here?, he thinks.

—   —   —

It would be comical if it weren’t so annoying.

And for the love of God, there is a video in the story that is described in such detail so many times that I feel like I actually watched the damned thing on repeat– as if I was undergoing some sort of particularly harsh “enhanced” interrogation technique by my government, to which I responded:  I give up already!  Yes, I’ll stop promoting Anarchism.  Just please please– don’t make me read another Dan Brown novel!

Mister Brown spends a lot of time playing tour guide and art historian.  Doubtlessly, he has readers who appreciate this.  I am not one of them.  But I get it.  It’s like those readers of Tom Clancy who enjoy feeling like they’re getting a military technology lesson while their reading their story– perhaps they feel less guilty for reading a for-pleasure-book if they are also getting an education…  I have similar feelings sometimes myself.   And I did like that Brown brought out the unusual soundscape of Venice– which has far fewer big city sounds than any other city of a similar native-plus-tourist population.

The requisite plot twists toward the end of the novel were nauseatingly contrived and unconvincing.

This is a mystery book… but the business of solving the mystery is too boring to sustain a novel… Per the typical method, the main characters travel from place to place obtaining clues which send them scurrying on their way to the next clue, and so on… literally, ad nauseam.

And of course, Brown is enough of a bricklayer in his chosen genre to make sure that there are people chasing the people chasing clues.  This is how authors add tension to all the walking around looking at things and asking people questions.  But reading through the long double-chase left me not so much excited as bored, as if I were watching two old people have a walking-race on side-by-side treadmills.

All that said, Dan Brown always gives us something to think about.  In Inferno, it is human population growth– a problem– several generations old– that we seem unable — fundamentally, genetically– to address.  So many of our world’s problems stem directly or indirectly from population pressures, both local and worldwide.  Yet we as a race are unable to do anything but close our eyes to the situation.



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