I've struggled to describe why I don't like this book, and the best way I can describe it is to say that this book is like "Stephen King meets sci-fi." The writing is weak, and the characters are shallow. What I found particularly grating was the definite shift from the author's previous works with their vaguely counterculture characters to the straightlaced, flag salutin' ones of Zenith Angle. Here we have a "geek" who basically drops all his interest in cool technologies to become a fed, because by golly, it's the right thing to do. Hello, Tom Clancy. If it had contained more humour, or been somewhat worse, I would have called it failed satire. As it is, it's simply an ordeal to read. It should have been released straight to pulp paperback with a cover showing the main character holding a baby with a rippling American flag in the background.
Zenith Angle was perhaps cursed by being marketed as a post 911 novel when, typically, Sterling had already written the best of all post 911 novels, Zeitegeist *before* 911. Zenith Angle is a curiously unresolved book, neither thriller nor satire - if it was cinema you'd suspect that the director, studio, and writers had all been trying to make very different films. If you haven't read Sterling - perhaps the best living SF author - before start with Schismatrix (avantegarde punk space opera) or Zeitegeist (politics and deconstructionism) or Distraction (truly literary SF)
I was very disapppointed by this book - as a bit of a geek myself, I figured I was right in the target audience for this tale of geek heroics, but frankly it never really took off and towards the end just collapsed completely with all sorts of crap about turning spam emails into lasers and the like. I guess that was meant to be funny, but it was really just dumb.
This is a disappointing book. The author has always had the knack of channeling the future and this power does not desert him here. Set in the fall out of the dot.com boom, Derek 'Van' Vandevere and his long-suffering, long-distance wife Dottie are both geeks. Dottie is an astronomer while Van is an all round technical genius, inventing the concept of the secure network at one point and later in the novel he solves all the technical problems plaguing the latest American spy satellite. Just about every paragraph raises a smile with a punchline of a technical in-joke. The bureaucrats, business tycoons and military men are all seen as power-hungry buffons. The humour/satire is what makes this book.
What unmakes it are two other elements. One is a minor secondary thriller theme about a revolutionary rifle, which one of the dunderhead hardmen Van encounters gets involved with. This seems superfluous. The second is that the novel opens with the fall of the towers on 7/11. Humour and horror simply do not work together here. What tries to be a "Catch 22" for techies is fatally blighted by an atrocity carried out using nothing more sophisticated than wire cutters.
Really, this is unbelievably bad writing from an otherwise excellent SF writer. The plot starts out quite well, but it seems like he got bored after the 1st chapter and let a 10 year old boy finish it off. The charecterisations are so weak and the subsequent plot (if you can really call it a plot) is just ... so hopeless its almost laughable. slave your money and time and buy one of his earlier books. Really Bruce. Why did you bother?