Friday, April 3, 2009

O D. Brown, D. Brown! wherefore art thou such and idiot?

Well, here I will explain just why. And I must say I do it with a nearly physical sensation of pleasure at the mere thought of this. I'd describe myself as tingly (can't help the little Whedon ref. ^_^)

While of course not being the perfectionist when it comes to the use of the English language, or any language for that matter, at least I get my linguistic facts straight (about the only thing about me that is, you know, quote-unquote straight)

But let's start with the issue in question, Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (Published in 1998 by St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-26312-0), pages 11-12:

For two hours, Becker interpreted an endless stream of Mandarin symbols. But each time he gave them a translation, the cryptographers shook their heads in despair. Apparently the code was not making sense. Eager to help, Becker pointed out that all the characters they'd shown him had a common trait-they were also part of the Kanji language. Instantly the bustle in the room fell silent. The man in charge, a lanky chain-smoker named Morante, turned to Becker in disbelief.

"You mean these symbols have multiple meanings?"

Becker nodded. He explained that Kanji was a Japanese language [apparently this was revised to read "writing system" in later editions; "Kanji language", above, remained - ed.] based on modified Chinese characters. He'd been giving Mandarin translations because that's what they'd asked for.

"Jesus Christ." Morante coughed. "Let's try the Kanji."

Like magic, everything fell into place.

The cryptographers were duly impressed, but nonetheless, they still made Becker work on the characters out of sequence. "It's for your own safety" Morante said. "This way, you won't know what you're translating."

Becker laughed. Then he noticed nobody else was laughing.

Not only Becker laughed of course... but so did I and every person with even a grain of sense of Chinese characters in them. Naturally both hanzismatter and linguaphiles on livejournal have utterly ridiculed this already. Since the book has been out for more than 10 years, well I'm sure others have as well. Nonetheless, please just continue ridiculing it for no other reason than that Mr. D. Brown deserves it.

Now you would expect someone with an interest in Cryptography to know for a fact that there is no such thing as a Kanji language, doesn't exist. It's like diet friendly chocolate... idiotic to say the least. Of course there is no such thing as Mandarin symbols either, doesn't exist. Like the easter bunny humping snowwhite, it is... well you get the picture.

Just for those not understanding: Kanji are Chinese characters in use in Japan, they are simplified in some cases (not in all), and are one of the three writing systems used to write Japanese. Mandarin is a spoken oral dialect in China (a full fledged language in my opinion) and does not refer to the characters used to write it, those are called Hanzi (aka Chinese characters).

Now appart from that these characters cannot be read alone out of sequence. Neither is it possible to translate them character-by-character out of context, because Chinese, Japanese and Korean (the major languages that use them) have many characters that have multiple meanings or are used in compounds.

Apart from that D. Brown is just a bad writer. Not necessarily referring here to his stories alone, I find his writing style just... "poor" is the best word that comes in mind.

So questionable writing style, less than correct cryptography (read: idiotic), and stories that well... I know that fiction means fiction, but still.

Well maybe Mary Magdalene was really married to Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe they had a hundred fat children, who knows. Or maybe not, maybe Mary was actually Sharon, the assistant of the all-round family entertainer: Amazing Jesus (unfortunately he doesn't do children's parties) on his tour Changing Water Into Wine... At least, some do seem to think ^_^