According to his author’s bio, Dr. Evan Cross originally wrote his original novel, The Ecyle Equation, back in 1964:
“…To warn his seven children of the evils of being racially prejudiced.”
This story certainly is daring for its time to have an African-American protagonist, FBI Agent Nathan Spears. It also has a bizarre conspiracy about world domination, demons and other evil spirits, and a supercomputer that can predict the future.
…Sorry, what does that have to do with racial prejudice again?
The Story: Bland Heroes Save The World From Cliche Villains!
Nathan Spears is a black FBI agent haunted figuratively by the death of his father and literally by mysterious sightings and glimpses of demonic creatures. Apparently, this qualifies as his link to the supernatural, which comes in handy as he and his partner Amanda Paige investigate a conspiracy run by the anti-government mastermind Robert Cohn. The conspiracy is bent on unleashing demonic forces all over the world through the power of hate, although hope comes in the form of a supercomputer that can predict the future, who says a true commitment to living by the Biblical verses Exodus 20:3-17 is the only way for mankind’s salvation.
And then it all turns out to be a dream. Or was it?!
The Cast: …I Refer You To The Previous Section Heading
Nathan Spears is the hero protagonist who wants to stop Cohn and his demonic allies. Amanda Paige is his partner and love interest. Irene Lowe is their section chief, who answers to Regional Director Dorothy Nichols, who answers to FBI Director Lydia Moss (all of whom make an appearance but I can’t tell one apart from the other by their dialogue or actions). And then there’s Robert Cohn, who spends every scene laughing maniacally and expositing about his grand plans for overthrowing hypocritical governments and gaining ultimate power through demonic blah blah blah…
The thing about the pace of this story is that I don’t really have any sense of these characters other than the roles they’re obviously assigned in this story. Nathan is the predictable hero, Amanda is the predictable heroine and girlfriend, the various FBI directors are women in authority, and Cohn is so cliche it’s painful (a swirly cape and mustache would’ve actually improved him).
The Style: Abusing That Poor Little Exclamation Mark!
The beginning of this story is pure exposition. No dialogue, no characters, no real immersion into the setting. Just exposition about the supercomputers that changed everything! and the corruption of Robert Cohn in prison by another fringe intellectual, whose powerful friends form an anti-government conspiracy with Cohn after his release. Then the story kicks into rapid action and semi-coherent thought tangents, although it’s hard to tell as sometimes the scenes change rapidly from one set of characters to another without proper transition.
Also, Dr. Cross has a tendency, when not writing dialogue involving questions, to have his characters finish the majority of their statements in exclamation marks. I’m sure they’re meant to be taken in context, such as the punchline to jokes or emphatic arguments, but after the twenty-sixth time, seeing the characters talk this way makes me think they’re less dramatic and just going through the motions of actual drama.
Final Verdict: Seriously, How Was This About Racism Again?
Although it’s pointed out at the beginning that Nathan Spears is black and later touched upon by certain villainous characters, nothing else about the story seems to have anything to do with his ethnicity. If this were a movie like In The Heat of the Night (which is fantastic), then I could actually see for myself how the hero has to struggle with being “colored.” But since this is literature, I could just as easily imagine Nathan as being white (or any other ethnicity for that matter) and it wouldn’t change anything else about his role in the story. I don’t have any other indications of how his race affects his job or his role in the fight against a demonic invasion (although, now that I think about it, this could also be an unfortunate use of the Magical Negro stereotype, given his “gift” of being able to see the demons).
But besides all that, even as a simple FBI Vs. Criminal Conspiracy tale, it’s not that exciting. The dialogue is forced, the characterization is minimal, and the action just happens more than builds up. The ending itself ticks me off, not just because of the story’s setup, but because it’s just really lazy writing.
You know, maybe I’ll let esteemed actor Jim Downey sum this up for me:
Thank you, Mr. Downey.
I received a complimentary copy of The Ecyle Equation as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.
Bibliography: Cross, Evan. The Ecyle Equation. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2002.