Book Review #9












This will be a review of Dan Brown’s most recent book, Inferno – but first, a word from our author – as usual.

I am always leery of “Best Sellers.”  That just means that marketing has appealed to the lowest common denominator, including people who write things that I rant about and make fun of in my usage blogs.  Take out the prurient porn, and Fifty Shades of Grey is really just a shit piece of prose.

So, when The DaVinci Code burst on the scene, I waited till I got a few actual readers and professional reviewers who said it was worth the read, before I dived in.  Lots of action and suspense, it all took place in one, 24-hour period (cute gimmick, that).  I caught many of the background references, but felt there must be more.

A book-reading co-worker lent me his copy of The DaVinci Code Decoded, an explanatory companion volume.  Sure enough, page by page, hundreds of little details turned a rock concert poster into the Bayeux Tapestry.  For example, if you spoke Italian, you would know that Bishop Aringarosa’s last name translated into “red herring.”

I went back, and read his Digital Fortress, and Deception Point.  Not as frenetic as The Code, these were still good solid books.  Later, Angels and Demons had that “many things happening” feeling, while The Lost Symbol was less so, but very enjoyable.

The Book – Inferno

The Author – Dan Brown

The Review

This is another Carnival ride novel, beginning with that reliable old cliché, amnesia.  It all occurs in a couple of days, until returning memory flashes and characters’ comments show the hero (and us) how we got here over the previous three days.

As with The DaVinci Code, I felt that I could use a lot of explanation.  The bad guy is six foot–five, with vivid green eyes.  I thought Brown might be referring to Osama bin Laden, but he was long dead before this book was written, and he personally did not possess bio-engineering abilities.

The plot turns on overpopulation, and how society must collapse if we don’t control it.  It took until 1820, for the world population to reach one billion. In a hundred years, by 1920, the numbers had doubled, to two billion.  In only fifty years, by 1970, the numbers doubled again.  Not merely “added another billion”, but doubled, to four billion, and it appears that, after only another fifty years, 2020, we’ll be hip deep in eight billion of our “loving neighbors.”

Being restrained and “civilized” is all very nice but, if we don’t have a good war or two soon, we’re going to have a bad plague.  As I finished this book, the news spoke of 20,000 dead to Ebola.  You may not get to read this review.

Although Professor Langdon doesn’t remember it, he traveled without a passport from Boston to Florence, Italy.  He goes by train to Venice, and is flown to Istanbul for the grand finale.  The world-travelling author provides great descriptions of many beautiful buildings and locations.

Brown always keeps our mind spun around.  The hero’s amnesia – isn’t.  The “good guys” aren’t always good.  The “bad guys” aren’t really bad.  The perils are only imagined, and the quiet, safe periods often have an avalanche bearing down on them.

one shot








Concurrent with this book, I was simultaneously reading Lee Child’s, One Shot, and remarked upon the difference of construction.  While far from plodding, Child’s books move in one direction till that plot point is achieved.  Chapters end on one page, and a new one begins on the next page.  They can be 30, 40, 50 pages long, taxing my attention span.

Dan Brown flits and flutters from thought to thought to thought – the hero, the villains, the damsel, the cavalry, the Blue Mosque, and then back around again, perfect for my Adult ADD.  Chapters end where they end – and the next one begins two lines below.  They are often only a few pages in length.  One chapter began on line 40 of the left-hand page, and ended on line 20 of the right-hand page, an entire chapter, less than a complete page long.

The plot-line centers around Dante’s Inferno trilogy poem, and a couple of well-known paintings which illustrate it.  The action and suspense are well built.  While nothing in the book is really what it seems, it still feels believable.  As many good books do, it describes a social problem, and causes the reader to think about both large-scale, and personal solutions to it.

If you haven’t read it already – and this literary Smoothie hasn’t ruined it for you – I suggest you give this book a try.

A Penny For Your Thoughts


Quick!  Take the offer!  The penny won’t be around too much longer­.

BrainRants did a post about a week ago, about the American government considering stopping production of the penny.  Like the flying cars that we would all be driving, I’ve heard that story every six months or so, since the late 1950s.  I got so used to it never happening, that the announcement in the paper, that the Canadian government had actually made the decision, came as a complete surprise.  Look to the Americans following suit soon.  Perhaps they’ll even try replacing the one-dollar bill with a coin.

In Wednesday’s paper, it was front-page, front-section News.  There was a photo of 30 or 40 pennies.  Side by side were a 1978 penny, and a new, shiny 2012 penny.  As a coin collector, I haven’t even seen one of the ‘12s yet.  I occasionally get pennies older than 1978 in my change.  Very occasionally I still get the odd, pre-1952 penny, with the head of Elizabeth’s father, George.  I haven’t seen a penny in change with his father, Edward, for 15/20 years.  The 1978 to 2012 range was fairly representative of what’s out there.

By Saturday’s paper it was just a business story, with another, different photo.  This one shows only eight pennies, but interestingly, two of them are American.  I’d have thought to check the pile, but then I’m a numismatist, Plus, I can think.  A local company had a quarter-page ad a while back.  Save big bucks with us, with a picture of a fan of bills, all of them American.  I called them up and suggested that the next time they pulled something off the internet; they might try harder to make it Canadian.

There’s another difference between Canadians and Americans.  American coins circulate with Canadian, probably about one in fifty.  Two, in a pile of eight, is a little heavy.  Canadians will accept American bills, almost anywhere, close to the border or not.  They might not allow the same rate of exchange as a bank, but they will let Americans spend them.  Americans, even those in border cities, still react as if we were trying to spread Ebola.

I went into a little shop in Kissimmee, and saw two pennies sitting on the edge of the cash register.  Looking closer, I realised that they were Canadian.  I thought perhaps someone was saving them, but the almost-hysterical clerk insisted that somebody had STUCK them with these two man-eating monsters, and nobody wanted them.  I offered to exchange them for two American pennies, but she wouldn’t even have that.  I should please, just take them away.

In my youth, I had a summer friend from Windsor.  He and three of his buddies wanted to bar-hop with some Americans they’d played baseball with.  Back then there were no debit cards, so they went to the bank, stocked up on U.S. cash and crossed the bridge.  At the end of the evening they wanted to have one for the road, but he’d run out of American money.  He asked the bartender if he could pay with a Canadian five, and the guy agreed.  I mean, he could almost see his house, across the river.  Just as he was finishing, he got a hand on his shoulder.  The bartender had called the cops.  Not merely a local Smoky, this was state trooper.

Tall, dark and retarded wanted to charge him with COUNTERFEITING.  Even if the bill had been a counterfeit, it would have been a Canadian counterfeit, produced in a foreign country.  A case of fraud might have been applicable, but not counterfeiting.  Without “resisting arrest”, he argued with the trooper for over fifteen minutes.  The guy’s hat was on so tight, he just didn’t get it.  Finally my friend insisted that he call his Sergeant, who finally arrived and set both the trooper, and the bartender straight.  I could see this reaction in Arizona, or even Kentucky, but, Detroit??

Zero tolerance also means zero thought applied, zero consideration, zero actual work done and one hundred percent cover-your-ass.  Establish a policy and hide behind it, and you’ll be able to piss customers off without ever having to make a decision again.

A Canadian man returned from a trip to Mexico.  He had promised to get his eight-year-old daughter a present, but had forgotten to do so before he left.  He had to land in Toronto, and take a connecting flight to Nova Scotia. While he was in the airport, he went to the gift shop and purchased a horse-shaped piñata.  When he attempted to board his plane, an Air Canada flight attendant confiscated the piñata, claiming it was a security violation.

The piñata was bought inside the secure area of the airport.  The attendant claimed that it had been soaked in kerosene.  Kerosene is what fuels the plane; piñatas are papier-mâché, newspaper and glue, just like the newspapers or books on the plane.  An Air Canada spokesman, in charge of Cover-Your-Ass, announced that airline personnel consider passenger safety first, when carrying out their jobs.  I don’t think any consideration at all was given in this case.  I think a PMS Princess, angry at her boyfriend for forgetting her birthday, took it out on the first convenient passenger, and instead of admitting that maybe someone had made an error, or been a little over-zealous, Air Canada just started waving the Passenger Safety banner.  Feel safe yet??!