ZIG ZAG by Jose Carlos Somoza is one of the most unusual works I've read this year. Part thriller, part science fiction and part horror novel, it dips and swirls through and around these genres, creating a modern morality and cautionary tale.
Though in his acknowledgments Somoza denies wanting to write a scholarly work on string theory, he does such an excellent job of explaining this fascinating branch of physics that even someone like me, whose knowledge of that science is limited to the effects of gravity, can understand what's happening. What kept me reading, even through the occasional and relatively rare obtuse periods that run through the book, was the fact that, almost from the beginning, it scared the pants off me without producing a real live bogeyman until close to two-thirds of the way through.
ZIG ZAG moves back and forth in time, covering a 10-year period beginning in 2005 and ending in 2015. The focal point of the novel consists of a complicated but intriguing physics experiment dealing with time. Time travel to the past, at least at this point, is considered to be impossible. What a team of scientists attempts to do is to view events of the past in real time rather than visit them, utilizing the string theory. The experiment, known as Zig Zag, is financed by a somewhat shadowy, not entirely benevolent child of the so-called military-industrial complex, which is interested in the results for possible national security applications.
There is also a strong interest in keeping the scientists under observation because of the concern that viewing the past in real time may well result in some sort of unfortunate after-effect upon the observers. And indeed, that is exactly what happens, though not precisely for the reasons originally under consideration. The scientists implementing Zig Zag find themselves dealing with the sudden manifestation of a dark, deadly apparition of unknown origin.
Suffice to say that the members of the team suddenly and inexplicably find themselves marked for death. Over a 10-year period they are horrifically and, as we shall see, impossibly slaughtered one by one. Somoza perhaps is not a literary writer, but he is a riveting storyteller and his plot is the work of genius. Just when one thinks that things can't get worse, they do. And don't think for a minute that things are going to get better.
Somoza writes like the product of a mad collaboration between Shirley Jackson and Michael Crichton, with a bit of Thomas Harris thrown in for good measure. After reading ZIG ZAG, you won't know whether to sleep with the lights on or off. You won't know precisely what I mean by that until you read this tale of the ultimate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub