For Dan Brown lovers, Origin does not fail to impress with its ‘save the world’ thriller intertwined with religion, symbolism and puzzles which come thick and fast as long as the Harvard symbolist Robert Langdon is involved. The fifth Langdon blockbuster has a fresh dose of intricate mystery, this time woven around in Spain, with the Spanish Church and religious leaders, clergy and the Spanish royalty in a tempestuous bind.
However, like his last two books, Brown becomes pretty predictable, with a man-woman team out to save the world theme much in the same pattern that one saw in his last book, Inferno (or in his breakout debut, The Da Vinci Code and later in Angels and Demons). In Origin too, Langdon is the hero who must save humanity from an atheist who is out to convince the world that creation happened sans god. His argument is that creation was a result of science and its unbridled march towards something new. And it is science, he says, that will complete a cleanup of mankind in the hands of technology as the latter will, in the next few decades, get control over humankind and result in a new species—a fusion between mankind and science.
The plot unfolds with the murder of the atheist Edmund Kirsch, who lays out an elaborate plan to announce the inevitability of science. The following pages are woven carefully to mask the actual perpetrator of the mystery, which unfolds at the end. In the age of digital prowess, Brown brings in a new element in his latest book, a position that has normally been taken in his other works by zealots, fanatics and fundamentalists who are out to protect religion against science—the crux in most of his books. In Origin he brings in Artificial Intelligence (or AI), which is the flavour of the season for scientific developments and is the buzzword in most of today’s forums. In a neatly crafted piece, Brown weaves the entire story around AI and carves out a character who is both the hero and the ultimate villain of this saga. The AI character both saves and destroys, creates situations and finds solutions to them and drives all characters throughout the story at its will. Yet, at the end, Brown justifies the actions as the ultimate inevitability of science and its consequences, which mankind is bound to face in coming years.
Brown unequivocally explains the possibilities of science and AI and where it can take over the world. He talks about how it has the capability to control us and the world as science progresses and mankind becomes a slave to science, as seen already through ubiquitous devices like computers and cellphones. He explains that soon we will reach a stage where we will not survive without the devices and how the devices will finally have full control over all our actions and even our thoughts.
Interestingly, India and Indians occur throughout Origin. The mention of Hindu, Sikh and Jain customs is strewn all over, while Brown also delves into Indian religious beliefs and the practice of religious sacrifice followed in ancient India, including human sacrifice. He also mentions the Grishneshwar Temple in which infants were believed to be dropped off a tower to seek divine favour, a practice that had continued till some time back at the temple, situated 35 kms from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. It is not only ancient India and its religions, to keep pace with where the country stands today even Bollywood gets a nod. To be politically correct, and to keep his millions of fans in India happy, Brown also tosses in an Indian software as digital expert, Suresh Bhalla, to man the proceedings at a crucial juncture and play a central part in the plot. Not surprising though, to do justice to the character of an Indian software expert, some-thing now famous all over the globe, Bhalla plays a central role in the story and is an intrinsic part of the plot that shows how AI moves a few paces above mankind.
Overall, Origin, like Brown’s other books, is gripping and is designed to keep readers on the edge till the end, when the final plot twist, as well as the real villain and his true intentions, are revealed. It may not go down as Brown’s best work, but it is a beginning towards the acceptance that science will, after all, play a central and dominating role in our lives in the near future.