Zig Zag: A Novel Hardcover – Mar 29 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Somoza (The Art of Murder) combines elements of SF, horror and suspense in an ingenious novel with an original intellectual premise that delivers a megaton of action and adventure. In 2015, Madrid physics teacher Elisa Robledo receives a phone call that plunges her back 10 years to a time when she worked with famous Spanish physicist David Blanes. Blanes theorizes that by using quantum physics and string theory he can build a machine that will enable researchers to see the past. Elisa joins Blanes and a small team of scientists on New Nelson, a mysterious island where they realize all of Blanes's theories. After intriguing glimpses of dinosaurs and Jerusalem during Jesus' lifetime, the project begins to go seriously awry. People die, the lab explodes and in the end everyone is taken away and ordered never to speak to each other again. Then things get really bad. While not quite up to Michael Crichton standard, this page-turner is sure to please thrillers fans. (Apr.)
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“It never occurred to me that playing with time could have such terrifying consequences. This novel reveals them all.” (Javier Sierra, author of New York Times Bestselling The Secret Supper)
“Literate, savvy, tense, and thoughtful with plenty of atmosphere. It’s a pleasure to read a Jose Carlos Somoza novel.” (--Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Templar Legacy and The Third Secret)
“Slices like a serrated dagger. Relentlessly paced, fiercely narrated, brilliantly clever,here is a thriller for the new millennium.” (--James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of Map of Bones and Black Order --James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of Map of Bones and Black Order)
“Magnificent…belongs on every thriller fan’s must-read list.” (Booklist (starred review))
“An ornate rumination on the razor-thin line between satisfying one’s scientific curiosity and violating the laws of nature.” (Booklist (starred review))
“...A scrupulously researched and terrifying scientific thriller...it’s impossible not to be hooked.” (Miami Herald)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
A non-stop, adrenaline-rushing novel from start to finish. The book gravitates around physics, but does not require any knowledge of supersymmetry, branes, or any other terms you are probably not accustomed with. The details are in the book, and the details are mouth-watering. The implications the characters face are serious. Extraordinary, even. Zig Zag is translated from the Spanish, but you would not guess it. The writing is superb and spot on. The suspense is mind-numbing. The 500+ pages are gone before you know it. Fortunately, it's a novel that will stay with you. Once you close the book, you'll smile knowing that Zig Zag is one you're going to be recommending.
Then the horror aspect of the book kicks in and we spend too much time reading about the imminent danger the characters are in but get no payoff, even a small one, to keep us interested. This situation repeats over and over again, danger is coming, tension builds, and then we get something like "...and then things went terribly wrong." We have to wait a while to get to any of it. This way of building suspense just didn't work for me after a while.
I have to also agree with the criticism of the use of the "italic" font. It's not a good choice and hard to read.
Overall the concept of Time Strings is fantastic and it would have been great to explore it more, but the constant references to the main character's "hotness" and the constant "cliffhangers" every time the action picks up just made want to find out the mystery of the story and move on.
Ah, the titillation. It comes in the form of Elisa, a young, beautiful physicist. Somoza describes her as having 'long, wavy black hair and the face and body of a model.' That doesn't exactly tell us what she looks like, but it's all we are given to work with. All throughout the novel, Somoza has Elisa strip down to her panties, showing off her 'hourglass figure', or she becomes naked - often without realising it! Yes, it is the tragedy of Somoza's world that all of the beautiful, hyper-intelligent females tend to remove all of their clothes without actually realising they ever intended to become naked. Did I say tragedy? Excuse me. Coupled to that are constant references to her own 'hotness', a shocking level of examination on the status of her breasts and thighs, and, unbelievably, in the last third of the novel, three of the female characters actually become short skirt and tight dress wearing, heavy makeup using, fast talking nymphomaniacs who spend each and every night preparing themselves (without wearing underwear, no less!) to 'serve' the unknown killer in his every sexual fantasy and desire. Readers, I only wish I was making this up.
To the plot. Elisa is, as noted, a brilliant physicist. She and others have been selected to travel to a remote island with David Blanes, world famous physicist whose mathematical and theoretical constructs about string theory are so far above everyone else's head he is simply stratospheric. They learn, to their amazement, that Blanes' string theory allows the ability to watch events that have happened from another time. The implications of this are very interesting, but unfortunately, Somoza seems afraid to explore the possibilities. Very briefly, the concept of watching the Crucifixion surface amongst the assembled island-goers, but something very strange happens when the attempt to view Jerusalem, and from there, everything goes haywire.
It seems that when something from the past is observed, not all of the 'strings' that make up a person's spatial and temporal (that's space and time, folks) definition is able to come along for the ride into the future. Thus, we have a flat plain cratered like the moon, or a woman's face rotted and collapsed, without a mouth or nose. Even worse, it seems that once a person has observed an item from the past, that item seems to stay with them, to hover randomly in front of their vision. The harrowing implication of this is - what happens when you look back in time to someone who is still alive, say, and they start to appear in front of your eyes?
Somoza answers this, though he answers none of the other million questions which spring from such a fabulous premise. Consider the range of possibilities that could be done with a device that sees back in time, but also carries with it difficult moral weight. Now consider that Somoza turns Zig Zag into a standard, run of the mill murder mystery, and that it runs along for over half a thousand pages.
Throughout, Somoza repeats two techniques, one of which is irritating, one of which is really quite good. The former is a technique whereby we are privy to all of the information contained within a character's minds, and everything they experience, except for the very thing which allows us to remain in suspense. We may be traveling inside Elisa's mind, learning of her theoretical hunt for sense in the world of strings, or her moral dilemma regarding observing living and dead people throughout time, and then, suddenly, absurdly, we are cut off just as she receives a phone call that 'changes everything', or she opens a door to see something that 'makes her blood run cold'. The scene changes, we lose our focus, and later have to suffer through whatever problem or plot point by a series of dull conversations. Why not show us the action? Why not reveal your hand?
The latter technique is more interesting. Somoza likes to go off onto little tangents, mini-essays on subjects such as mystery, time, physics, morals, God, Heaven, Hell, and so forth. When he does this, he is generally measured, reasoned, interested and interesting. One wonders why he does not continue along in this vein, but instead he invariably opts for a stunning plot twist, or a depraved murder - which, unfairly, Somoza never details except to point out how even thinking about the murder sends people mad. All smoke, all mirrors.
A final word on, of all things, font. The ordinary font for the novel is quite good, very readable and clear. But the italics font, however, presents a problem. The s and r letters are so twisted that they become almost gibberish, and a number of other letters are extremely similar to one another. Long stretches of italics become difficult to decipher, which does not bode well for a text covered with internal thoughts presented as italics.
Zig Zag is José Carlos Somoza's latest and twelfth novel. Considering his prolific output, it is perhaps understandable he was unable to give what is admittedly an interesting subject matter its deserved respect. With a little more time and a lot more effort, Somoza may have crafted a fine, intelligent, genuinely suspenseful thriller. Unfortunately, he did not, which means we are left with a novel filled with interesting ideas that are never given their due, and one very generic, very boring idea that is stretched out into five hundred plus pages of tedium.