Let me start out with a warning in this piece. Do not read past the first paragraph, if you have not already read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown, but plan to read it at some point in your life. Personally, I preferred his first novel (Angels and Demons) over his much hyped sequel titled Da Vinci Code. I remember picking up the Da Vinci Code (written by an author I had never heard of!) simply because my Catholic School had put that book in the restricted section and none of the students had access to it (of course, there was also all that media hype about how the Christians were reacting to this book). Suffice to say, all the talk about this book, piqued my interest. It was a decent read, but what I liked best about Dan Brown’s writing was that, you could never really tell when the reality merged with mere conspiracy-theories. Angels and Demons was the second book by him that I came across, and he really got me into the whole ambigram-making hobby of mine in my Secondary-4 year (I even made ambigrams as a parting gift to few of my friends). If you are interested in reading Digital Fortress, get your copy from flipkart or amazon (or resort to the libraries in your locality). However, if you have already read the book and are aware of the plot, read on to see if your thoughts on it match mine…
The Digital Fortress is one of the few books that I picked up because my brother had read it and left it lying around at home (Mind you, some of those have been really interesting reads like the trilogy titled ‘His Dark Materials’). This was supposed to be finished during my train journey, but I was in the company of some really interesting people, and reading about people trying to crack an unbreakable code was not exactly high up on my list of priorities (if I ever had one!).
So, it was only two days ago that I managed to finish reading Digital Fortress. It was not as good a page-turner as the previous two I had read, but it was engaging enough. Of course, the idea of cracking an unbreakable code, the existence of a super computer and the murders involved to hunt down the key to the unbreakable code, was all a little surreal and seemed to push my curiosity just enough to keep me till the last 100 or so pages. After that it was pure frustration at the stupidity and dim-wittedness of people with an IQ of 170, that saw me read through till the very last page.
From the very beginning, you ask yourself, is such a code possible? I may not be a ‘Techie’, but I understand that no code can survive the brute-force method. Even with mutation strings, shouldn’t a super computer like TRANSLATR be able to figure out the key at some point within 23 hours? Initially, I was willing to accept my own lack of knowledge in the department and willed myself to accept what Commander Strathmore and the Head Cryptographer Susan Fletcher of the National Security Agency (Is the NSA really that big a secret? I thought everybody knows about it) had to say on the matter. Nevertheless, as it turns out, my suspicions were right. There was NO Digital Fortress! It was merely a virus (no, a worm, actually!) and our poor antagonist (whom I choose to look at as a martyr) Ensei Tankado, tricked the great minds of the NSA into bypassing their systems security check and putting it into the TRANSLATR. Now, it could dig into the United States’ classified information and make it available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
The next maddening bit was the fact that, for someone with an IQ of 170, Ms. Fletcher was rather slow in comprehending the things around her. I waited good 100-200 pages for her to accept the fact that Greg Hale (a fellow cryptographer) was not actually North Dakota, but Commander Strathmore was posing as North Dakota and had sent an assassin after Professor David Becker to eliminate everyone who comes in contact with the ring that the Professor is hunting for. Seriously, why would the NSA send a language specialist to Spain in order to retrieve a ring? Still, we wait till the last few pages when Ms. Fletcher reads the message on the pager stating that her fiancé has been ‘Terminated’.
Forget all this unnecessary drama, the climax clinched it for me. I waited 5 whole pages before the answer for the pass-key finally struck the NSA’s Head Cryptographer, although I was suspicious of that answer four pages before that! So, there you go. If you still have not figured out why I found the book exasperating, it is because it made me believe that the NSA is a hundred times less brilliant than what I assumed them to be and I frankly doubt that is the case!
Still, if you plan to actually read it on a train journey, it could be a pretty nice read!