Inferno

When my mom and sister started reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, I thought I’d join them and read it at the same time. I accidentally picked up my copy of Dan Brown’s Inferno instead, without realizing I was reading the wrong book. Whoops! 😛

So a decade after my last Dan Brown book, I finished Inferno last week.

Summary

InfernoInferno is Dan Brown’s 4th book about Harvard professor of symbology and iconology, Robert Langdon — this time, centered around Dante’s Inferno. The story begins with Robert waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with no knowledge of how he got there. His doctor, Sienna Brooks, tells him that he is suffering from amnesia after getting shot in the head the night before. When the assassin shows up to finish the job, Robert and Sienna flee and try to piece together what happened, leading them on a thrilling race against time.

Review

Thankfully, reading the Robert Langdon books out of order doesn’t matter, so there weren’t any problems with reading Inferno before The Lost Symbol.

The core idea of Inferno is that we are seeing rapid, unsustainable population growth and some argue that it is going to cause our extinction within 100 years if we don’t act now. That, coupled with the idea of transhumanism, made for a thought-provoking read. I was shocked to learn that half of US pregnancies are unintended.

I know Dan Brown gets a lot of criticism, but his stories are gripping and fun to read. One of the things I really like about his books is the blending of fact and fiction. I enjoy googling all of the art, buildings, and people he references in his books as I’m reading.

While I enjoyed reading Inferno, there was one thing that drove me nuts: I couldn’t understand why the antagonist left his series of clues. I get that there wouldn’t be much of a story without them, but I really would have appreciated a motive for doing so. The ending also felt a bit weak to me.

Oh, and I learned that “doge” refers to more than just the internet meme; it was also the title of Italian city-state rulers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. That made for some funny visualizations while I was reading. 😛

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and CrakeSummary

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood paints a bleak view of the future. The main character, who goes by the name Snowman, believes he might be the only human left alive after a biological disaster. He is barely getting by, living on the remnants of the now non-existent society: cans of sausages, broken sunglasses, and warm bottles of beer when he can find them. He tends to a small group of genetically-modified humanoids while living in a tree to avoid artificially-created hybrid animals.

As the story progresses, Snowman reveals what led to the destruction of mankind through a series of flashbacks. When he was a boy (he was “Jimmy” back then), he lived in a corporate compound with his emotionally-absent parents, where he met Crake, a brilliant boy who would become Jimmy’s best friend. Everything had become so desensitized that in addition to playing computer games together, Jimmy and Crake also watched child pornography and live tortures and executions online. One of their favorite games is called Extinctathon, a game that ranks you based on your knowledge of extinct plants and animals. While browsing the Internet, they come across Oryx, a mysterious girl who secretly intrigues both Jimmy and Crake.

Review

I know Oryx and Crake has a lot of fans, but I thought it was just so/so. Some of the ideas were intriguing: genetic engineering, transhumanism, corporate compounds, living in a post-apocalyptic world, etc.

My main problem with the book was its odd characters who were hard to sympathize with. Jimmy is kind of a mopey, pathetic guy who plays a fairly passive role in the story (though I did like his interest in old words no one uses anymore). Oryx is mysterious and frequently described as “wisp-like”… a hard character to understand. Crake is an aloof and brilliant scientist who has his own way of seeing things.

Overall, I liked the book and wanted to find out what had happened… I just didn’t love it. :-/ *Shrugs*

Sequels

I should also mention that Oryx and Crake is the first book in a trilogy. The Year of the Flood takes place at the same time as the events in Oryx and Crake, but from a different perspective. MaddAddam, which was released this summer, is a continuation of the two previous novels.