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Dante's Equation
Jane Jensen
Del Rey, 484 pages

Dante's Equation
Jane Jensen
Jane Jensen received a BA in Computer Science from Anderson University in Indiana and worked as a systems programmer for Hewlett-Packard. Her love of writing eventually led her into the computer gaming community where she established her reputation with Gabriel Knight. In 1996 she  published the first of her two novelizations of the Gabriel Knight games. Her first original novel, Millennium Rising, followed in 1999. She's currently working on a new adventure game series with The Adventure Company. All of Jensen's work incorporates her passions -- history, the occult, philosophy and religion. She lives in Seattle with her husband and step-daughter.

Jane Jensen's Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Del Rey: Millennium Rising
Jane Jensen Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

What do a weaselish tabloid journalist, an upright Torah scholar, a driven scientist, and a ruthless operative for the US government have in common? Not a lot, initially. Denton Wyle is investigating unexplained vanishings for his paper, Mysterious World. Aharon Handelman, rabbi and family man, works passionately at deciphering Torah code, mysterious messages hidden in the Hebrew text of the Torah. Jill Talcott, associate professor of physics at a large state university, is perfecting a wave mechanics equation that she believes will prove her energy pool theory: that all matter exists as energy waves in a higher dimension. Calder Ferris, agent for the Defense Sciences Office of the Department of Defense, is monitoring the scientific research community for new theories that possibly can be turned into weapons technology. Different people, different pursuits... yet in a short period of time, all find themselves on paths that point to a single individual: Yosef Kobinski, brilliant physicist and Kabbalah scholar, who, according to eyewitness reports, vanished fifty years earlier in a blaze of fire from the death camp at Auschwitz.

Kobinski left behind a manuscript, The Book of Torment. In it, mixing hard science with mysticism, he claimed to have discovered an actual physical law of good and evil -- a theory of space-time symbolically represented by the Kabbalah Tree of Life, which expresses the process through which God, the unknowable, descends to the material world via his ten emanations, or Sefirot. After World War II, Kobinski's manuscript was lost. But now it's starting to turn up, in bits and pieces. If the whole thing can be reconstructed, Kobinski's theories may lead to astonishing new technologies -- or catastrophically dangerous ones.

Jill Talcott does prove her equation, with the help of her research assistant, Nate; but the tests she conducts result in a deadly explosion, and she realizes that her breakthrough is far more hazardous than she suspected. The explosion draws the attention of Calder Ferris -- and also alerts Aharon Handelman, whose Torah code arrays have inexplicably begun to turn up not just Kobinski's name, but Jill's. Astonished to realize how uncannily their research prefigures Kobinski's, Jill and Nate head with Aharon for Poland, on the trail of The Book of Torment, which they hope will tell them more; they're also desperate to lose the intelligence agents who are now on their trail. But Calder Ferris isn't so easy to shake. Meanwhile Denton Wyle, doggedly researching Kobinski's vanishing, is also hunting for The Book of Torment. Precipitous events draw all of them to the clearing outside of Auschwitz where Kobinski disappeared -- where, as they find out, the force that took him is still waiting.

Dante's Equation (Dante is never mentioned in the book, but the context makes the reference obvious) has more the feel of a thriller than science fiction, complicated scientific theories and the characters' journeys to alien worlds notwithstanding. All the thriller ingredients are there: the scientist with the dangerous discovery, the scary government operative, the greedy powers that be, the desperate race to find/steal/contain the threat. But not many thrillers feature pompous Jewish rabbis as viewpoint characters, or so inventively mix science with mysticism. I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge the plausibility of Jill's energy pool theory or her one-minus-one universal wave; but the integration of Kabbalistic lore with these ideas is entirely convincing, producing a vision of a multiverse where the notion of good and evil isn't merely a philosophical or spiritual concept, but a reflection of the actual physical nature of existence. Jane Jensen is careful to make clear that "good" and "evil", with all their moral baggage, are subjective concepts, while the universal forces these ideas reflect are simply physical laws, devoid of moral weight. Also, for all the lavish employment of religious imagery, she is wise enough to leave relative the question of God. While Aharon finds in his experience a new and restored faith, to Jill it's all about science.

Not so many thrillers, either, are as character-driven as this one. Several of the viewpoint characters less than fully likeable, but all are vivid individuals, whose deftly-drawn failings and strengths believably drive their choices and shape the novel's action. The skillfulness of these characterizations becomes especially apparent in the second part of the book, when Aharon, Denton, Calder, and Jill with Nate in tow are whisked off to worlds that reflect their deepest natures in ways that only slowly become fully clear. This is very cleverly done -- a science fictional version of the sort of allegorical tale in which people get their just deserts. Again, though, everything's relative, for the worlds on the "good" or light side of the multiverse are just as negative in their way as the ones on the "bad" or dark side. And while the nature of the worlds and the societies that develop on them are inalterably dictated by their location in the multiverse, individuals aren't quite so constrained. In the face of physical laws and spiritual determinism, it's personal choice that makes all the difference.

A few of the plot turns seem a little forced -- Aharon's realization that Jill is the TLCTT he has seen in his Torah code arrays, for instance -- and there's some handwaving in the final section about exactly how Jill et al. return to Earth. But these are minor quibbles. Fast-paced, suspenseful, and intellectually engaging, Dante's Equation is thoroughly enjoyable reading. Anyone who was tempted to hurl Dan Brown's wooden and overhyped The Da Vinci Code across the room might want to give this book a try; if you're looking for a well-written thriller full of religious symbology and exciting action, this is the real thing.

Copyright © 2003 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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