Greg Cicio, The Seed of the Dogwood Tree (American Book Classics, 2002)

Rosemary's Baby, The Prophecy, The Omen, The Ninth Gate, The Seventh Sign, Stigmata, End of Days, and Lost Souls are just a few movies that occupy the same worldview as that expressed within the pages of Greg Cicio's The Seed of the Dogwood Tree. If you liked those movies, re-watch them. Don't subject yourself to this book unnecessarily. This book is a synthesis of folklore surrounding the dogwood tree and the Priory of Sion, one of those secret societies whose history becomes stranger the deeper you dig. In The Seed of the Dogwood Tree the Priory of Sion are seen as diabolical agents engineering the birth of another anti-Christ. Or perhaps they are busy trying to create another Christ through cloning. Either way, they are opposed by another secret society from within the Catholic church, the Order of St. Gregory the Watchman. I found myself wondering if this book grew out of a religious study Mr. Cicio undertook on the meaning of his first name.

Greg Cicio refers to himself as a radicalized Christian, and I assume from his reference to the U.N. as a bunch of barefoot bong-toking hippies that he is a rather conservative fellow. I believe that he feels this book has something to teach, and I patiently muddled through it as best I could, trying to absorb its lessons. While "omit needless words" is something I came away from this book comprehending more fully, without a doubt the most important lesson this book teaches is the importance of "showing, not telling" when composing fiction.

I get the overwhelming feeling that Greg Cicio has swiped chunks of conspiracy theory from the far right wing, and grafted it into what he feels is an apt allegory for understanding that a war between the fallen angels and God is currently being waged. He also finds an airport terminal to be an apt metaphor for life. He doesn't have any use for descriptive language, unfortunately. I wanted to know what things looked like. I wanted to know what color something was as I was reading ... anything. Any color. The colors black and red are both mentioned at one point that I recall, but that was it.

The hero of the story, one Michael Sinclair, is resoundingly dull, a dim-witted hormone-driven useful idiot sent drifting about through the plot. There aren't any guts to the story, no wild accusations directed at people in power like in other conspiracy novels, just thinly disguised evangelical Christianity masquerading as fiction.

Not that I find gnostic Christianity uninteresting. I did finish this book. I found that it does reach a genuinely exciting climax near the end, and the writing as a whole improves during the expository segments of the book. Perhaps this is because those sections which would have been dreadfully dull in any other book are here a fresh and welcome respite from the appalling dialogue. It was as if Mr. Cicio finds empathy a difficult and tedious process, avoiding it completely when constructing interaction between characters. Each character spoke in exactly the same manner, the same phrases, the same poor choice of concrete language.

Very little is ever directly said. Mr. Cicio seems to have selected from a random list of synonyms those words which have a meaning similar in function to the word "said." Thus we have one character scream, shout, and suggest all within the span of the first few paragraphs of chapter five. The inventive reimagined definition of the term "almost" would be equally annoying, but by the time I'd reached chapter eleven where I encountered "I could almost hear Liz as she responded, 'That's because black is not a color...'" I had become somewhat numbed to what the words I was reading actually meant.

By the time I reached the somewhat expected and predictable conclusion, I found myself exhausted, bored, and grateful that I have read so many other great books dealing with this elaborate and convoluted history as to be able to appreciate those sections in The Seed of the Dogwood Tree that actually were interesting. I would highly recommend Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, or any of Philip K. Dick's later novels such as Radio Free Albemuth in place of this particular piece of work.

[Wes Unruh]