Monday, February 22, 2010

Progress Report: 2/22/2010

Yes, well... working along, basically. That's the progress report.

Okay, I can give you a little more than that. Going from the comic version of Thunderstruck to a print incarnation is a very interesting experience. It's true that I lose the ability to tell the story through art, which gives you tools that prose doesn't have. By the same token, I have the opportunity to go deeper in a lot of other ways. Mapping the internal geography of each character is done more from the inside than the outside. By that I mean that the drawn Sharon can express herself through facial carriage and body language much more than the prose Sharon, while the prose Sharon can give you more of what's going on in her head. It's an interesting trade-off.

Another difference, though, is that the comic version is very literal, while the prose version gives me freedom to speak in metaphor. Comic artists have been trying to cope for this a while using visual metaphor, which is a technique I only use sparingly. Manga art has a whole vocabulary of visual metaphor. Still, nothing beats the written word. I can say something like: "the earth itself seems to rise Psyche’s feet as if it cannot bear to be separated from her." Without resorting to the unbearably clunky tool of the narrative balloon, that's not the sort of thing you can really do in a comic.

Okay, so while I'm here...

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Look, this one was an assignment for work. One of the authors we publish is Lynne McTaggart, who is cited as one of the main influences for The Lost Symbol. And since I handle the ad copy for Lynne McTaggart, it fell to me to know something about what was in Dan Brown's latest big book. After all, as The Da Vinci Code proved, his books can make a sale-influencing impact on other related material.

So I'll start with the good.

Hold on. Still thinking.


Okay, so there's something kind of compelling about the way Dan Brown writes, which is to say it carries you along in a reasonably good thriller fashion. The big mystery is why this should be the case, since there isn't an interesting or realistic character in the whole thing, and usually it's concern for the characters that allows tension to build. His research is interesting, though I would never take anything from a Dan Brown book as true or accurate until I looked it up myself (worst offender was his book called Digital Fortress from a decade or so ago, which I abandoned halfway through when it became clear to me that every single "fact" in the entire book was demonstrably wrong).

Hmm. I was trying to write "the good," and I seem to be throwing in caveats left and write. So let's get to "the bad."

There is much, much too much to cover in a mini-review on the topic of the bad. I'll just hit on a few points.

Brown writes with a sledgehammer. There's not a subtle moment in the whole thing. For someone who loves to talk about symbology and the multi-layered meanings of things, he's big on spelling everything out ad nauseum so even the thickest reader will get the point. One expression of this is his "astonishment moments." Something is revealed to the character, and they react with such utter bewildered surprise that they practically fall over. This happens all the time, often with things that are not, or should not be, even slightly startling.

There's a particular plot twist in The Lost Symbol that Dan Brown tries to set up, and his inability to do subtlety makes it painful to watch. He telegraphs the true identity of the villain pretty early in the book. And then he spends the entire book trying to conceal that identity, so he can reveal it in the final dramatic moment. It's like trying to watch a stage magician with cards spilling out of his sleeves still trying to pull off his trick. I ended up feeling sorry for the author, which is probably not the emotion he intended to evoke.

And then there's the reveal of the Big Secret. With Da Vinci Code, at least the secret was something interesting. In this case, though, it's a Ruby Slippers moment. By that I mean it's one of these "You had the answer with you all the time!" revelations, and boy, those are hard to pull off. The secret in The Lost Symbol is a big fat lot of nothing. The fact that our protagonist, who we are reminded constantly is a Harvard symbologist, finds this "incredible" obvious revelation to be the least bit surprising means they're letting any doofus teach at Harvard these days in Dan Brown's world. What's more, the whole book is spent with characters risking their lives, sanity, body parts, etc. trying to protect this deep dark secret, and nobody expresses the least shred of bitterness that it was all to protect a "mystery" that could be found in pretty much any bookstore in the world.

In short, it was a Dan Brown book. What did I expect?

1 comment:

Gillsing said...

"... so even the thickest reader will get the point."

Well, yes. That seems to be a good idea if you want to sell a lot of books, because roughly half the population has below average intelligence. And most of the rest might be willing to pretend if it makes reading the book more entertaining.

Don't aim for the treetops. Use a big gun and aim for the trunks, and you'll get a lot of lumber that you can sell for money. ;-)

(I've never read any of his books, but I liked the "Hudson Hawk" movie. It's got the Vatican as well, and some puzzles, so I'm sure it's comparable.)