Saturday 19 January 2008

Dante's Equation by Jane Jensen

Aharon Handalman is a rabbi in modern Jerusalem who is fascinated by "Torah codes"; hunting for significant words in the patterns of letters in the book. One name which keeps recurring is that of Kobinski, a rabbi, philosopher and physicist who disappeared in Auschwitz. Denton Wyle is a vain and wealthy young American who amuses himself by researching mysterious disappearances for a magazine on popular mysteries. He too becomes intrigued by Kobinski, who apparently vanished without trace. Calder Farris is a USMC officer assigned to the Department of Defense in order to monitor scientific research for weapons potential. And Dr Jill Talcott, aided by her graduate student Nate Andros, is at a US university researching wave mechanics while pursuing an "energy pool" hypothesis, that all matter exists as energy waves in a higher dimension. The lives of these characters gradually converge as they realise that Kobinski may indeed have discovered something of great potential and that he left records which had become scattered across the world.

So far this seems to be just another modern mystery – if not mystic – thriller, but the perspective changes as the characters find out the hard way that the consequences of Kobinski's and Tallcott's work are very real. They find themselves in a series of worlds which differ radically from each other as a result of variations in the frequency of their energy waves, and their experiences fundamentally change them.

This is a very ambitious and original work by a writer best known for creating computer games. It is not only broad in scope, it is massive in length too, at nearly 700 pages. Regular readers of this blog will recall that I usually take a jaundiced view of very long SF novels, finding most of them to be either so padded as to be slow and tedious, or so packed with characters and incident that I lose track of who is doing what to whom and why. Jensen falls into neither trap: this is a well-paced and well-told story, using its length to develop the characters into distinctive and convincing individuals struggling to cope with the bizarre situations in which they find themselves - and with each other. The book engaged my attention from the start and built up into an impressive and satisfying climax. Well worth the time to read.

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