Book review: Decipher

When I was a teenager, specifically, when I was 13 back in 2002 I had a tendency to fall through books. They became an obvious Christmas or birthday gift and that year my grandmother gave me Decipher by Stel Pavlou, reasoning that, given its length, it should keep me busy for a while. Somehow, in this chunky hardback edition, its 624 pages look more like 1000 and, even as a teenager I was a bit intimidated. It sat on my shelf until July 2017 when I finally decided that enough was enough and opened it.

Decipher by Stel Pavlou

I would never have guessed that Decipher would turn out to deal with so many physics and engineering concepts. Things like gravitational waves, solar minima and maxima and CERN all crop up and I think I can detect inspiration here from people who really exist in some of these fields (surely Rip Thorne is a tribute to Prof Kip Thorne, one of the scientists who might just snag a Nobel prize for LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves?) While the science is sometimes fairly flimsy, I can’t help feeling that, first year undergraduates in physics would get a kick out of this – you could even ask them to critique it as a method of learning more accurate descriptions.

It’s not all hard science, though. The book is kind of sci-fi, fantasy and mostly deals with attempts to find the lost city of Atlantis before a major global catastrophe wipes out the human race. To do this they don’t just need physicists and engineers, but also experts in linguistics as well as theologians. If you need to decipher the hidden messages left behind by an ancient civilisation, you’re going to need a fairly diverse team.

I think to properly enjoy the novel you need to be ready to suspend disbelief and to not dig too deeply into whether or not the science would really work like that (it wouldn’t). Unfortunately, you also have to forgive a couple of awkward plot holes and the mechanisms that are then employed to get around them. Some characters are quite well rounded and realistic, others are less believable and sometimes I’m not sure why they’re there but, with all that said, it is an entertaining read and those 624 pages went by much faster than I expected. I think this is the kind of book Dan Brown would like to be able to write, if he had any good ideas and if he could write about twice as well as he currently does.


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