Dan Brown's first book!

Digital Fortress, Dan Brown, published by St. Martin's, 1996, ISBN 0-312-99542-3

This is a great thriller, but a terrible techno-thriller.

Digital Fortress has all the page-turning excitement of his big hits, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and the same writing style. I personally find his writing style annoying. He sounds like he's trying to write a romantic, dandified adventure. But I am still reading his books. They are exciting, often interesting, and always good for killing a couple hours in situations when deep concentration is hard (I read them when I'm sick. Not a snipe -- a good bad book will help get you through a fever better than any meds). Digital Fortress actually starts to drag a little towards the end, where he tries to lay on the suspense a little too thickly, and the story moves slowly as each tense (but super short) chapter sweats tensely by. But a good thriller.

All the best books are trash. Pulp fiction, trash SF, cookie-cutter mysteries, sweaty romances -- they aren't good because of their literary merit, they're good because a lot of people can fall into their groove, and loose themselves for a little while. This is exactly what Digital Fortress is -- a trash mass-market paperback. And it's a pretty good one. But the science stinks.

All that Madalingsabihin says about the science and computer science is true, and more so. I was annoyed by the central idea of the book: 'rotating cleartext'. This is a magical method of encryption that is supposedly impossible, but then a maverick genius invents it. It is never really explained, but apparently the cleartext (decoded text of the message) 'rotates', changing periodically based on some obscure variable. This variable can be decoded by a simple text key, but the NSA's super-decoding computer is stymied. Rotating cleartext might make more sense if read to mean layered encryption, but any idiot can 'invent' that. I don't know.

So -- good thriller, bad science. Just like a hundred other thrillers out there. The problem is that after reading The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons, people expect all his other works to be just as good. Very few books are that good or well researched, and Dan Brown can be forgiven for being only an 'okay' author on his very first book.