by Jane Jensen
Review by Anthony Wagman
Del Rey Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0345430379
Date: July 2003 List Price £7.79 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
The new novel from Seattle author Jane Jensen is a difficult one to summarize. The author has taken an idea big enough for a trilogy and crammed it into a single. Each section is distinct in not only its background, but also in its depth, style of writing and its associated genre.
The central pillar (indeed the raison d'étre) of Dante's Equation is the mysterious science of wave mechanics -- approached from religious, governmental and technical aspects simultaneously. It is based on a principle of the fifth dimension as perceived through the Jewish mysticism of the Kabala, forces of good and/or evil and probability -- depending upon which chapter you are currently reading.
Introductions to the slightly stereotypical leading players occur early on. We meet - in no apparent order it seems, a pious Rabbi, a rich kid badly needing tuition in morals and ethics, an emotionless (but soon to be converted to the forces of good) ex-army secret service man, and finally a frowzy book worm lady professor (remove the specs and take the hair pins out &etc -- I'm sure you get the idea!) together with her "handsome but doesn't know it" assistant. The paths of these characters all converge upon a Holocaust survivor - living proof of the underlying scientific theory of the novel and a person pursued by intelligence agencies from various countries, all of whom wish to create the ultimate weapon with wave mechanics. Book one ends in a flash reminiscent of the Blake's Seven crew "transponding" to the nearest planet, with our four heroes plus one agent disappearing in a sudden flash to who knows where or when.
The characters of Dante's Equation are sent into various worlds and Jensen's use of clichéd personalities becomes ever more apparent as each of these destinations seems structured around the traits of the new arrival. She dips in and out of each world, giving the reader a taste of the political, ecological and anthropological set-up without driving the narrative into unsustainable depths. Each particularized environment reforms the occupant. Passé? Definitely - but certainly well written nonetheless.
The second section of the book lacks the tension of the first, largely due to the obvious practical problems encountered when an author attempts a story that builds four worlds in their entirety in only a couple of hundred pages. Unfortunately, Jensen seems to have put too much effort into the first two thirds of her book as the return to normality from the planets is weak (at best) and the summary leaves the reader feeling like they've run like crazy for the last train, only to find it doesn't leave the platform -ever ! As stated above, there's no doubt Dante's Equation is a well written work. Jensen has taken religion and science and blended them in a hugely creative fashion, allowing the reader to suspend disbelief, but at the same time assuming that the reader actually understands whatever it is they are supposed to be suspending their disbelief about! Clearly Jensen is a very clever lady indeed but my feeling is that she tends to overestimate the intelligence of the reader. Dante's Equation may be a rather complex novel, but this reviewer, obviously being highly intelligent, enjoyed it immensely!