Origin (Penguin Random House, October 2017) is the latest installment of the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown, following bestsellers Angels & Demons, The DaVinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and Inferno. However, the books can more or less be read out of order, as each adventure is separate and none really build upon the others or upon Robert Langdon’s character.
Origin is a fast-paced techno-thriller starring our favorite Harvard symbology professor, Robert Langdon (who’s described in previous books as looking like Harrison Ford, but I just picture Tom Hanks from the films), this time on a dangerous escapade across Spain. (At this point, after 18 years, I’m hoping Brown will branch out of Western Europe and finally give us an installment someplace else – China? Africa? South America? Russia? The Middle East…? There; I just tweeted him about it.) However, I use the term “starring” loosely, as this is really a story about one of Robert’s former students, a fictional Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-esque tech mogul genius named Edmond Kirsch, who has just made a groundbreaking discovery about the origin of life, and the direction in which humanity is headed.
The pros about the books are, as usual with Brown’s novels, its un-put-down-able readablity, fun and intellectual banter between science vs. religion, and fast-moving plot that makes you feel like you’re watching a movie rather than reading a book. I LOVE THAT, and I love the tech, science, and ideas swimming through this novel, which are presented in a very accessible way. One of the joys of reading Brown – particularly his Robert Langdon series – is the fact that you will not only be entertained but will learn about art, history, literature, real secret societies, religion, philosophy, symbols, and more. But it’s not just a love letter to the humanities – just like his previous books, it contains the cutting-edge tech & science of the day.
However, although it’s a fast ride that kept me invested till the last page, be forewarned that the “big reveal,” when it finally comes, is anticlimactic, and many aspects of the plot (the identity of “The Regent,” who’s behind the assassination and why, etc.) is predictable from miles away. Kirsch’s “major” revelation – which is, of course, saved for the final chapters – is nothing groundbreaking that we haven’t heard from Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk already, or from various popular TED Talks. Sadly, I didn’t feel the theories proposed fulfilled Kirsch’s bold promise of debunking the world’s religions. (If anything, even if we understood how the laws of nature created life, the question remains…who, or what, created the laws of nature? And why?) Sorry if this is a little spoilery, but it’s important that, if you’re going to read this book, just read it to go along for the ride, but don’t expect anything earth-shattering in the end, even though that’s what’s promised throughout the book. This will save you the disappointment.
Lastly, I want to mention I enjoyed the Artificial Intelligence character of Winston; he reminded me of Jarvis from the Iron Man and Avengers movies (indeed, that’s whose voice I heard in my head when I read him). Although some writers may feel having a genius AI computer is kind of a cop-out method to provide otherwise impossible escapes, connections, and exposition, Winston’s character is actually one of the most – if not *the* most – significant parts of the overall plot and message. And, I find, his role opens up an even more fascinating discourse on human technology and ethics than any of the ‘religion vs. science’ discourses this story presents.
I recommend Origin to anyone who enjoyed the previous Robert Langdon books; those interested in the future of science, humanism, or the Singularity; or to someone looking for a fast/light techno-thriller with a philosophical edge.