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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Zig Zag

José Carlos Somoza

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Zig Zag

Title: Zig Zag
Author: José Carlos Somoza
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 502 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Zig Zag - US
Zigzag - US
Zig Zag - UK
Zig Zag - Canada
Zig Zag - India
La Théorie des cordes - France
Das Einstein-Projekt - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Zigzag
  • Translated by Lisa Dillman

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Our Assessment:

C+ : not very convincing, and oddly drawn out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly . 13/4/2007 Marc Bernardin
San Francisco Chronicle . 6/5/2007 Christine Thomas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zig Zag could've been a bad Crichton tech-thriller knockoff, but José Carlos Somoza displays an unhurried style and a refreshing appreciation for advanced science." - Marc Bernardin, Entertainment Weekly

  • "By exploring this situation where people do what perhaps shouldn't be done, Somoza not only unfolds a chilling adventure story, but also rouses reservations about the consequences of innovation. (...) Many-layered and imposing, Somoza's novel nonetheless effortlessly entertains with its swift plot and provocative consideration of our global responsibility in this period of enduring fear and conflict." - Christine Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       José Carlos Somoza is very much a Spanish Michael Crichton. A bit more intellectual, a bit less scientific, but his writing shares several of the qualities (if one can call them that) of Crichton's. One has to grant both authors that they do offer promising premises -- flights of the imagination, based (more or less) in (scientific) reality. And they share some irritating narrative tics in trying to ratchet up the suspense. But the most significant similarity is in their deeply reactionary attitude towards progress, especially scientific progress. As in many of Crichton's novels, the basic lesson of Zig Zag is that man shouldn't ask too many questions and should leave well enough alone. Science -- or rather: mankind fiddling with science -- here always unleashes very, very bad things. And, like Crichton, Somoza 'teaches' these lessons with an absurd example.
        The scientific idea Somoza plays with -- or seems to play with -- in Zig Zag is based in superstring-theory. The aspect he focusses on is that: "there are some strings that can be opened with low levels of energy. Time strings." The consequences of this ?

     "So what you're talking about, in practical terms" -- Maldonado was scribbling furiously -- "is time travel ? Going back to the past ?"
     "No. The idea of traveling back through time is total science fiction. Basic laws of physics make it impossible. There's no way to go back to the past, sorry. Time can only travel forward, into the future. But if Blanes's theory were correct, there would be another possibility ... We could open time strands and see the past."
     "See the past ? You mean ... Napoléon, Julius Caesar ? Sorry, kiddo, but that sounds like science fiction."
       Sorry, kiddo, indeed, but one figures that a decent writer could take this premise and run pretty far with it. But, though Zig Zag is a very big book, Somoza doesn't run very far with that part of it at all.
       The narrative itself moves back and forth in time, mainly between 2005, when the central figure, Elisa Robledo gets roped into this scientific inquiry, and the 'present' of 2015, when the past has come back (or rather: continues) to haunt the (surviving) participants. The build-up isn't bad, from some horrific (but still undefinable) occurrences in the present to the more innocent time in 2005 when the talented young scientist Elisa becomes part of this unusual research project.
       Back in 2005 a very select group of ten was assembled and packed off to an island in the Indian Ocean to work on Project Zig Zag. Their specialties range from particle accelerators to history to a philosophy of science, and it's only on the island that they learn what they're there to do. Ominously, everything is top, top secret -- and they're being funded by a very shadowy organisation. But it's the science itself that, of course, proves most troubling.
       So they think they've found a way to peek into the past, and that's what they're going to try and do more of. This idea of unfolding these 'strings' and seeing the past may be a bit (okay: very) far-fetched, but it's the sort of premise one can accept. But Somoza muddies the waters by adding something that is just plain silly: Impact (yes: "We always write it like that, 'Impact,' with a capital I" ). Apparently -- but for no obvious, apparent, or in any way plausible reason:
Everyone experiences it, to a greater or lesser degree. It's an unusual reaction to images from the past.
       In addition: "It seems that the strongest Impacts come from the remote past." So what do they do ? Experiment with the very recent past, to avoid those stronger Impacts ? Of course not ! They have to check out the remote past .....
       This looking-into-the-past only constitutes a short part of the novel. Problems arise, the project is halted, and everyone (well, those who are left ...) goes their merry (well, not so merry -- they're haunted and terrified) way.
       In the 2015-present the survivors get (or are gathered) together, not sure whom to trust and who to try to evade, and try to get to the bottom of all this. What was unleashed by Zig Zag ? And how can it be stopped ?
        Somoza offers a few decent twists as he tries to sustain the suspense, but the overall concept is so feeble that it feels like a poor payoff. The horror is ... terrifying, in a way, but the cartoonish elements lessen the impact (if not the Impact ...) after a while -- for example the idea that the mere sight of some of the scenes is supposedly enough to send witnesses over the edge and to hospital .
       Somoza's approach to suspense is also often of the most basic kind, as over and over readers are presented with scenes in which something awesome happens -- while not immediately being let in on what it was. So, for example, a telephone rings:
     "Hello ?" she picked up, her voice steady, having no idea what she was about to hear.
     And when she heard it, she froze.
     After she hung up, she stared at Víctor, mouth agape.
       End of scene, and on to the next -- without the reader being given any clue what she heard. One can put up with that sort of narrative trick (or tic) once or twice, but Somoza doesn't seem to know how to present what he considers suspense any other way; at times, Zig Zag seems to consist entirely of such pseudo-cliff-hangers. It gets old pretty quickly.
       The moral lesson is also a heavy-handed one. As in Crichton's books, it's human failure that is generally the trigger -- but both Crichton and Somoza's humans always act in this predictable fashion, doing what they shouldn't (with horrible consequences), not able just to let the world be in all its godly glory ..... So, of course:
And if, despite his safety measures, it was still wrong of him to be doing this, then he didn't care. He'd take full responsibility. He had to see some of those images. Just a few. And nothing in the world was going to stop him.
       Certainly not common sense. Yes, for characters who are supposed to be scientists they certainly tend not to act very logically or rationally. Or -- but then that's Somoza's main point -- responsibly.
       So Zig Zag is one very odd book, wasting what seems to be a perfectly good sci-fi premise (and opting for a rather worn-out Frankenstein-alternative -- though admittedly with quite a new twist). Somoza presents the story cleverly enough that it does hold the reader's interest; certainly, until they start fooling around on the island (over a third of the way into the novel) it seems to even hold some real promise. And by being so vague about what the threat actually is Somoza teases the reader to the very end. The explanations are pretty feeble -- though even here Somoza throws in a dash of inspiration -- and overall it does feel like quite a let-down.
       Too long, too awkward, too silly: Zig Zag is a puzzling and ultimately disappointing thriller.

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Zig Zag: Reviews: Other books by José Carlos Somoza under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       José Carlos Somoza was born in Cuba in 1959 and now lives in Spain.

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© 2007-2011 the complete review

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