Dan Brown polished his act before his blockbuster book, The Da Vinci Code. Digital Fortress is Brown preparing for his biggest hit.

A good story if a reader is into technology; a bore if one is into character development, relationship dynamics and social conflicts.

Digital Fortress
Dan Brown

The synopsis
Before the multi-million, runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown set his razor-sharp research and storytelling skills on the most powerful intelligence organization on earth–the National Security Agency (NSA), an ultra-secret, multibillion-dollar agency many times more powerful than the CIA.

When the NSA’s invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage…not by guns or bombs, but by a code so ingeniously complex that if released it would cripple U.S. intelligence.

Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Susan Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.

From the underground hallways of power to the skyscrapers of Tokyo to the towering cathedrals of Spain, a desperate race unfolds. It is a battle for survival–a crucial bid to destroy a creation of inconceivable genius…an impregnable code-writing formula that threatens to obliterate the post-cold war balance of power. Forever.

Richard’s comments
The publisher’s profile of the book is far more breath snatching than the actual story is itself. Buyer beware is a cautionary warning for readers of this book.

Computer programming, in other words, is writing code, writing indiscernible lines of text which seem to be gibberish but which when entered into a computer can result in incredible outcomes. Computer programmers are writers of code, of ‘gibberish’ which makes sense to other programmers and the computers into which they are entered. But the code remains gibberish to the majority of people, a message which they cannot understand until they learn the language or decipher the meaning of the code.

The same can be said of code used in espionage. In fact, that is what most people understand code to mean, messages which cannot be understood without the key unlocks or breaks the code. In computers, programming code can be good or bad, depending on what happens when the code is executed or run. Hackers write programs or code. They first must break into the computer they wish to attack, hack into it by breaking the code which the computer currently runs. Then the hacker inserts his own bit of code which has malicious or malevolent intent, stealing data from the host computer, destroying information on the host machine or causing the host computer to stop operating or even do something destructive itself. This is the underlying basis of Brown’s book.

In the story, the USA has built a computer so powerful, it stores every piece of data pertaining to everything controlled, built or operated by the government. This computer needs defensive mechanisms of the highest order, barriers which are unbreakable. However, one of the directors of the department managing the system has authored a code-breaking computer which seems to be able to break any code in existence. Its intent had been to be a protective wall to thwart any attacks on computers which store crucial information to the military, economy and political institutions of the United States. Our antagonist in the story sees through the code-breaking machine’s intent. He sees it as the USA having the power to ‘read’ anyone’s computer, anyone’s technology. The defence for this would be that the security and safety of the nation are at stake. This antagonist, however, sees it as the destruction and invasion of all personal privacy.

Brown’s story has that existential conflict between surveillance for security and privacy at all costs as its underlying basis and his story revolves around the age-old question of whether the ends justify the means. Our antagonist believes it does not. Our director protagonist argues that it does, though his deeper motives for defending the Digital Fortress lie in his quest for more or even complete power. He who controls the Digital Fortress controls the world, the age-old goal of every autocrat.

Recommended if you like technology
If you like technology, this book is a smorgasbord of technology feed; if not, the story will bore you completely.

The story has tension and suspense. It has murder and an ongoing chase with a lot of trapped, followed by incredible escapes. It is a fun ride at times.

Brown also confirms his extensive research with descriptions of Caesar’s use  of code, the Enigma code used by the Germans during WWII, and analysis of code breaking processes. This too is enjoyable, provided you are technologically bent.

Then Brown lays out the puzzle, what needs to be solved, also giving the reader the information in which the solution can be found. It takes less effort than one expects to solve the puzzle and to avoid spoiling the story, enough said here.

The pleasure one can find from this book comes from comparing it to The Da Vinci code. Brown’s use of historical fact, his posing a puzzle for the reader to solve and his laying out all the necessary information for finding a solution is great entertainment. However, the story has too many obvious results, too many expected events. There are few surprises in the story and more expected results.

Still Dan Brown writes well. He knows how to tell a good story and this book shows the author is polishing his prose, readying it for the arguably great book that he was about to write, The Da Vinci Code.

Digital Fortress . . .   3 1/2 out of 4.



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