Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Own Dan Brown Bestseller

Author Dan Brown unveiled his latest novel, The Lost Symbol, this week. The novel is a sequel to The Da Vinci Code and continues the adventures of Robert Langdon, the "professor of symbology" featured in both the aforementioned book and Angels and Demons. Have you ever wished that you could write your own Dan Brown bestseller? Well, now you can, thanks to modern technology. Slate introduces the Dan Brown Sequel Generator! Just select your city and a nefarious group up to no good and the computer does the rest. It's too bad that it only writes plot summaries, not full novels, since one well-received book of this sort can make an entire writing career, just like The Da Vinci Code did for Dan Brown. I've heard that prior to the media frenzy surrounding that particular novel none of Brown's books had sold more then ten thousand copies, but as we all know that one bestseller changed everything for him. His older books have now sold in the millions as well and Angels and Demons was made into a film. With its pre-Da Vinci sales numbers that never would have happened.

Years ago students at M.I.T. developed a romance novel generator, but I haven't heard anything about that particular technology in many years and am left wondering what became of it. Especially with today's more advanced computers it should be possible to build a much more complex program that could produce something akin to a Dan Brown novel. It's not as if the computer's fact base needs to be all that accurate - Slate also points out that there's no such thing as a "professor of symbology" and that the new novel set in Washington DC gets a lot of things wrong about the city. To be fair to Brown I did enjoy both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons for what they were, so it might be a bit of challenge to program a computer with the necessary language skills to build suspense and keep the story moving along at a brisk pace. As a writer I know there's a lot of nuance involved that very well might still test the limits of artificial intelligence, and as a software developer that strikes me as pretty compelling problem to solve.

By the way, is it just me or does the cover of The Lost Symbol look suspiciously similar to the cover of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret? If the resemblance isn't coincidental, maybe it's a teaser for Brown's next novel in which followers of The Secret and that What the Bleep? movie kidnap a famous quantum physicist and threaten to banish one fundamental particle from reality by the power of concentrated attention each hour unless the National Academy of Sciences issues a proclamation declaring that all objects in the universe are constructed from thought rather than matter. In the climactic scene, Robert Langdon could defeat the cultists by demonstrating that positive thinking can't stop a bullet fired at the group's leader and then taking advantage of the ensuing confusion to escape with the physicist and Marlee Matlin. Matlin could even play herself in the inevitable film, and maybe we could give Byrne and that "messages in water" guy bit parts.

Hey, that sounds like a winner to me! Now where's my royalty check?

UPDATE: I finally came across a review of The Lost Symbol that summarizes the plot, and it sounds like the teaser is for this novel, not the next one. The plot actually does have to with "water memory" and that What the Bleep? nonsense, except with Freemasons. So much for my great idea - but maybe they can still get Marlee Matlin to be in the movie.

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