Sunday, October 23, 2005

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

Author: Dan Brown
ISBN # 0552151696
510 pages

Wherever there are codes, there are code-breakers, & to be a good code-breaker, you need to have an understanding of code-writing or cryptography. The NSA employs the best of the best & they have built the ultimate code-breaking machine – TRANSLTR. But what happens if the ultimate in US computing intelligence comes across a code it can’t break? The world of law enforcement will lose its edge & the criminal underworld will be able to encrypt all correspondence to unfailingly hide their shady activities. The countdown has begun, & now the greatest cryptographers are working against the clock to do something impossible – they have to breach Digital Fortress before it is sold on the internet to the highest bidder… but who can they trust?

Digital Fortress sees Brown take a break from the Catholic religion, but carries on with the theme of codes & cryptography, this time in the confines of the NSA’s top-secret Crypto Development Division. The action takes place over a single weekend & is fast-paced, action-packed & filled with lightening-fast deductions, assumptions & dialogue.

Once again, the lead female character, Susan, could have been lifted directly out of either Da Vinci or Demons, except that this time she’s American rather than European: She’s frighteningly intelligent, fiercely loyal, extremely capable &, of course, devastatingly beautiful. (I think Mr Brown has an unwritten code that in his books, brainy women have to be beautiful too – you can’t have one without the other – she has to be the perfect woman.)

This time, the main character focus is on the woman, with the male characters playing second fiddle (although her fiancé, David, still does a fair bit of the running round & figuring out, but from another continent). There’s a lot of power-play here & it also highlights the struggle of women in male-dominated fields to get the recognition for which they work so hard, & the derision they receive when they get those well-deserved promotions. The message is clear – men like to be in charge, but sometimes a woman is better suited for the role.

This was a more well-rounded read than either Da Vinci or Demons, with none of the preposterously unbelievable stunts or revelations – this is purely technical & firmly set in reality. I’ve not yet read Deception Point, but I feel it will be hard pushed to best this.

Rating: 9/10


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