The Solublon® Bag

(This commentary contains spoilers with reference to Dan Brown’s Inferno).

There is a scene in Dan Brown’s Inferno where our hero, Robert Langdon, and the World Health Organization’s chief, Elizabeth Sinskey, view the eerie video created by the evil genius/would-be moral hero Zobrist. They discuss the specifics of the plastic bag under the water that appears to contain the Inferno virus and then zoom in on the registered trademark for Solublon. Sinskey tells Langdon, “We’ve been in touch with the manufacturer…they make dozens of different grades of this plastic, dissolving in anywhere from ten minutes to ten weeks…. Decay rates vary slightly based on water type and temperature…. This bag, we believe, will dissolve by–” and then the Provost—Zobrist’s facilitator who has recently had second thoughts about his client—adds the word Langdon is dreading: “tomorrow.”

It is the dissolution rate of this water soluble sac containing the virus that ostensibly becomes the ticking time bomb driving the final race to discover the location and get to the virus before it is released. (Spoiler alert: Of course, as it turns out, the virus appears to have been released several days earlier—and the rest of the actions of Langdon and the other characters will turn out to be pyrrhic in retrospect.)

As it turns out, Solublon is a real brand name in the field of water soluble films for packaging and medical applications. The parent company is Aicello, a Japanese firm that declares on its web site that it has “developed a diverse range of cold and hot water soluble PVA films to meet the specific industry requirements by listening to our clients. Each grade of our lineup was developed to address specific customer needs.”

One of the many, many flaws with Zobrist’s plan is the lack of redundancy. No serious technologist would allow for a single point of failure in a plan like this. If anyone had found the Solublon bag before it released its contents into the water, if the Solublon did not dissolve at the specified rate, if the virus could not be kept alive in a Solublon bag in the water for several days, if….if….if….dozens of other variables had not worked out perfectly, Zobrist would have killed himself in vain and everything he had worked for would have been aborted. The Solublon bag is a good case study in how Dan Brown weaves together mundane, hyper-real bits of the story with the hyper ridiculous and hyper impossible to give Inferno a certain baseline level of credibility.

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