A late 80s techno-thriller with a painter-hacker protagonist who has to explain personal computing fundamentals to his partners on a corporate espionage gig. A decent page-turner that is the first in a series on which I plan to follow through.
Roberts uses the gift of a printed edition of a late fifteenth-century Florentine geography to two Ottoman rulers as a jumping off point to explore the ‘rediscovery’ of geography and the materiality of knowledge and exchange in the late medieval and early modern Mediterranean world. He expands on the existing trend in complicating the supposedly transformative and modernizing effects taof the reintroduction of Ptolemy’s Geography into European intellectual life, but his primary contribution is in exploring the specific material characteristics of the book in question to identify the local peculiarities of commerce, geopolitics, and religion that shaped a Mediterranean world traditionally presumed to be aggressively transnational and multicultural.
Zodiac was only Stephenson’s second novel, and it is interesting to read something with his voice in which some of his more idiosyncratic qualities (long technical digressions, large-scale world-building at the expense of plotting, etc.) have yet to develop. It’s a relatively short and tight thriller about corporate corruption and ecopolitics with a late 80s Generation-X-y tone that is evocative of the era.