All of the Jack Campbell books are good sci-fi fun. I could complain about some narrative weakness in that nothing ever really BAD happens to any of the characters...but it's nice to have some books that are on the lighter side every now and then and I don't think that makes them bad.
One thing I will say, though, is that these books have some of the worst covers in all of sci-fi literature. They're comically bad, actually. But if you just disregard them and get into the actual WRITING, which is all the author has any control over, they're great fun.
Inferno is a book that has, in my view, two major problems. First of all, there is never in the entire course of the book, a good reason given for WHY this art-history scavenger hunt is even happening in the first place. The villain in the story is just a big fan of Dante's inferno. The creation of an elaborate trail of clues leading people on a wild goose chase is really just an excuse for a Robert Langdon story. It doesn't really fit at all with the villain's motivations. His objectives would have been satisfied perfectly well by sending a letter or a press release and saying "hey, go here and look at this special surprise I left you all".
So that's problem number one. Problem number two, without divulging any spoilers as to the CONTENT of the ending, let me just say that the protagonist of the novel ultimately has NO IMPACT on the conclusion of events whatsoever. What happens at the end of the book would have happened regardless of whether Robert Langdon had been hauled out of storage for another adventure.
I really quite enjoyed Angels and Demons and The DaVinci code. The Lost Symbol suffered from many flaws of its own, but none of those books left me feeling like "What was the point of this....why is any of this even happening?"
The book is at least well paced, the art history elements are enjoyable and it's at least interesting to hear about the locations and works of art described, since Dan Brown does a pretty good job of remaining accurate in his descriptions of history and art, even though most of the rest of the story is basically science fiction.
The book digs in to the topic of population control pretty heavily. That's a contentious subject for many people. Dan Brown's view of the world seems to be that having too many people is a huge problem. And there's some truth to that. With so many people the world's resources stretch ever thinner.
But where he's terribly, terribly wrong is that this level of population growth will not continue forever. The world population is expected to peak at approximately 9-10 billion by around 2050 and then remain there or begin to drop. The earth's carrying capacity at current technology level is estimated at around 8-10 billion, with water as the major limiting factor. However, as technology improves so will water management and desalination techniques. So the premise that world population is a major problem that needs to be solved in a drastic and dramatic fashion is pure fiction.
The comparisons to Hitchhiker's Guide are unavoidable. The difference is that Rob Reid's "Refined League" is actually a semi-plausible rather than strictly absurdist. It's pretty absurd, don't get me wrong, but the idea that there is a ceiling on technological development, at which point cultures focus solely on the arts actually makes a little bit of sense.
I was surprised at how good Hodgman was at doing voices for the characters. You're never confused about who is speaking, and he's simply the best possible personality to narrate a book like this. John Hodgman narrating is what sold me on this book.
I think the performance might actually have made me like the book better than if I'd actually read the book. It's very rare that you get a narrator who can do so many distinct character voices and accents.
I definitely listened in long stretches, but at 20 hour recording is way too long for one sitting for most people. I mostly listen in the car for about an hour or two a day.
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