*** SPOILER ALERT *** This post may contain a few spoilers for Dan Brown’s newest book, Inferno, which is the continuation of the Robert Langdon saga. Proceed at your own risk (unless of course you aren’t bothered by spoilers =) ).
I’ve had the wonderful chance to read Dan Brown’s latest and greatest Robert Langdon novel, Inferno. What a novel! Firstly, I’ve enjoyed all of the Robert Langdon adventures because on some scale, they’ve touched on issues or topics that I’ve never quite heard of and each one individually caters to the conspiracy theorist in me. I was super excited when I saw Brown was release another book and instant put my name on the waiting list for the novel at our local library.
Secondly, let me just say this, that Inferno wouldn’t be my favorite of the series, but it most certainly is a good read.
What I liked most about it, and what I’ll be jabbering about in this blog post, are two issue Dan Brown introduces–transhumanism and overpopulation. Confused? Well, it’s a great theory. Brown’s character, Robert Langdon, adventures throughout Italy chasing down a madman’s quest to solve the issue of overpopulation. Since this madman was a Dante fanatic, his challenge of finding this deadly answer to man’s most complex problem of overpopulation, he uses Dante’s Inferno as the foundation of his scavenger hunt. And this madman is a transhumanist.
I’ve never heard of “transhumanist” prior to this story, but I was somewhat familiar with the theory. After researching it a bit more on Wikipedia, the definition of transhumanist actually takes us to the word transhumanism, which means using current technology to enhance and fundamentally alter humans intellectually, physically, and psychologically. It pretty much means taking humans to the next evolution by genetically altering our DNA makeup.
Of course there were several things that popped into my head when I read this definition and throughout my reading of Inferno. I immediately thought of the Nazis. And maybe transhumansim doesn’t relate to the Nazis at all, but I couldn’t help but think that they were trying to create the perfect race and since Jews didn’t fit the bill, they started “purging” their race. After thinking of the Nazis, I immediately thought of X-Men. I know right? But it was one of my favorite cartoons growing up and I remember thinking, even at that young age, “what if mutation was the next step in evolution?”
But then, who are we to play Creator? And as it’s mentioned in Inferno, evolution takes time and for a good reason. You’re talking about messing with DNA here. The tinest mistake can have huge, negative consequences. I mean, have you ever watched the movie “Sound of Thunder,” where the hunters stepped on a butterfly and caused the world to devolve? That’s what I picture when I think of this theory. I understand that modern technology is more more advance and that a part of me can see the reasoning behind the transhumanist movement, but to what extent? When is enough enough and how do you know when you’ve crossed that invisible line?
One portion of the story really hit me and it’s the second issue that Brown brought up. The female protagonist, Sienna, explains to our hero, Robert Langdon, Zorbists’ theory about overpopulation and how humankind will overpopulate our environment unless something drastic happens. The text is subtle during her dialog, but it does raise the question “what would you do?” If the math is indisputable, we are overpopulating our world, what would you do to fix it? The ethics and morals Inferno forces us to consider is . . .well, unimaginable. Seriously, what would you do? I don’t have the book in front of me so I’m going by memory, but I think Sienna states that 1/3 of the population is the number that the Earth’s resources can safely provide for. It’s amazing, and at the same time, unsettling.
Quite honestly, I don’t think I play God, even if I know the numbers are indisputable and even if I did have a solution to “manage” the earth’s population. Who am I to decide the fate of the world? Who am I to decide whether you live or die? Don’t get me wrong, I understand it. As Sienna mentioned, if it were all logical and no heart, what Zorbist proposed is merciful, but is it right?
And here lies the conflicts of the Inferno and the reason why I love Dan Brown and his Robert Langdon stories. He always questions some sort of moral or ethics and makes you consider your position. I’ve read some reviews that called Inferno boring and that Brown should retire Langdon, but I tend to disagree. Sure, Brown sticks to the same Langdon M.O. but the issues he addresses and the way he presents them always fascinates me and I’ll continue to recommend them to everyone.