Digital Fortress, Dan Brown (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

Grade: Ζ — How did this get published?

 In brief:

An cyber-action thriller set within the confines of the NSA, this tale focuses on a beautiful and talented young woman whose rise in the intelligence community is seen with envy and suspicion by her colleagues.  When she discovers an unlikely plot, however, she must unravel the complex series of conspiracies in order to save the day… or rather in order for her boyfriend to save the day. 

Beyond the complete lack of technological understanding shown in this novel, this story suffers from a very sad form of sexism that is latent in Brown’s works.  The author tries to make for a strong female protagonist, but instead creates a character who is sexy but weak and plays into a stereo-type heroine who needs a man to do the physical stuff.

Setting:

NSA agents in modern day US and Europe.

 In Depth:

Whenever an author is popular, it becomes common place to trash him or her.  In this case, however, I will begin by praising Dan Brown.  He writes page turners like few others can.  They are wrought with poor research that pretends to be in depth knowledge, but he keeps you turning the pages in a way that few other writers can.  To that end, this book is no exception.

The problem is, I was pissed off the entire time.  We will ignore the vast lack of understanding of the technology upon which the story is based, and go to the more fatal flaw in the book: the characters.

The most irritating is the female protagonist: a beautiful and intelligent young women whose colleagues suspect she has only been promoted due to her looks.  She resents this, and it makes her work even harder to prove her worth, but in the end, it turns out her colleagues are right: she has only been promoted due to the attraction of others. Okay, she hasn’t been sleeping with people to move up the ladder, but without giving away the whole story, I will note that man or ugly woman in the same situation would not have succeeded to the same degree.

Added to this is the fact that 99% of the action in this book is conducted by her academic boyfriend who is off in Seville working for the NSA unbeknownst to our heroine. He faces chases, assassins and life-and-death situation while the protagonist is at NSA Headquarters working with colleagues and computers late at night. The rest of the action is either performed by her jealous male colleague or portrays her as a damsel in distress.

Now, I do believe that Brown really wanted her to be a strong female character — but despite his best efforts she comes off as a bit of cheesecake.  In part this is because her boyfriend, the non-professional non-spy has most of the action sequences (god forbid a woman might know how to handle herself in a life-threatening situation), and in part because at the end of the day, despite all comments to the opposite through the story, she really did only make it to where she was because she was an attractive woman. 

End result?  Second rate sexist crap.  Oh yeah… and by the way, the plot is see-through too.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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