08 March 2009

Learning from Van Lustbader Part 4- final

I've finished reading "The Testament" by Eric van Lustbader. He's a great storyteller and kept things moving. It was a pretty good read. I'm not sure what the final body count was. Somewhere in the vicinity of 20 or so - though I lost track of exactly how many about half-way through - most described in visceral detail. While I enjoyed the context of two rival religious orders, I have to believe that there is another way of writing a thriller other than "kill or be killed" at the end of each chapter.

Another issue for me, however, is that even though Brav's classical education and expertise in manuscripts gave him context for medieval history, it really didn't help himsolve the problems. He did that with his code-breaking skills and fists. And even with the code-breaking skills, it seems likely that Bravo would not have succeeded had his father not specifically written the clues based on his experiencess with his son.

In "Gutenberg's Other Book," we have a series of clues that were created five hundred years ago with the assumption that someday someone would make sense of it. The clues are embedded in rituals that have lost all current meaning. The protection of the cache itself is given to a completely separate organization that might not even know the clues exist. Normally that would require a scholar to sit in a library with dozens of reference books and manuscripts, puzzling over what is a clue and what isn't for a few years before anyone even got around to trying to decipher them. That has always been the mystery of "The Hypnerotomachia Poliphilli," for example. Does the book hold the clues to find a hidden treasure or not?

In this respect, then, G.O.B. more closely resembles "National Treasure or "Indiana Jones" than it does "The Testament" or "The DaVinci Code." The clues have all been here unchanged for five hundred years. They weren't designed for this person to decipher. Now without world domination at stake, nor the precious beliefs of a particular religious group threatened, what paints the urgency to find the cache on a daily basis. Why does it have to be found in a week or a month or a year?


Jason Black said...

Well in National Treasure's case, the "fierce urgency of now" was driven by Nicholas Cage's rivals also being on the same trail as he.

Effective, if done well, which I won't necessarily say that Nat'l Treasure was, mostly because the consequences of failing in the mission were not high stakes enough: Cage doesn't get rich (yawn) and a bunch of important artifacts will get sold to private collectors instead of being placed in scholorly institutions for study and public appreciation (also, yawn. I mean, _I_ would care about that, but I don't think Joe Sixpack will really find that to be breakout premise material).

Rival seekers, come to think of it, is more or less the same plot device as in the first Indy movie. Who gets the Ark first?

DaVinci used essentially the same formula, but with the twists about gradually discovering the enemy's identity, and with it, the enemy's real motivation. (The albino's motivation was decidedly not the same as the Teacher's underlying motivation, but both were compelling in pushing the protagonist onward.)