Book Review - 'Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox'

FOX's brilliant sci-fi series Fringe ended its five-year run in January, and it did so on a strong note. The series finale, "An Enemy of Fate," not only resolved the show's plot threads, but gave our characters an emotionally satisfying ending that felt earned. But it also left plenty of stories to tell through other media -- starting with 'Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox', the first in a planned trilogy of prequel novels by Christa Faust. 

Each of the three novels centers on one of the main characters, and Walter takes center stage for The Zodiac Paradox. Set primarily in 1974, the novel gives us our earliest look at Walter's life, highlighting his difficult relationship with William Bell and his first meeting with Nina Sharp -- both of whom would become even more important during the later part of his life. However, The Zodiac Paradox doesn't really offer anything new about any of the characters. It's an ultimately inessential addition to the Fringe canon that, while a fun enough read, seems to be merely retreading the show's steps instead of making new ground.

Perhaps the strangest decision that went into the writing of the book, though, was the idea to make it historical fiction. The Zodiac mentioned in the title is, in fact, the Zodiac killer, who enters our universe through a gateway created by Walter and William Bell (who are on LSD, of course). The rest of the novel is spent with Walter, William, and Nina as they attempt to catch the killer. Personally, I wasn't a fan of the decision to have the Zodiac killer cross over; it completely undermines the importance of Walter's theft of Peter in 1985 and the resulting interuniversal destabilization. But disregarding that, it's a fun enough story; it's not edge-of-your-seat reading, but Fringe fans will no doubt find it enjoyable enough.

It's obvious that the book was written with the fans in mind. There are plenty of callbacks to the show: the Observers make their obligatory appearance, Walter's favorite band Violet Sedan Chair pops up -- but the book never goes beyond making these references. In fact, the book so delights in referencing the series that it doesn't bother to expand beyond simply referencing. The Zodiac Paradox establishes nothing about Walter, William Bell, or Nina that we didn't already know.

The book is full of playful (if clumsy) foreshadowing -- "We might even offer you a job someday," an FBI agent tells Walter at one point -- but at times, it feels like that's the book's only real purpose: fanservice. That fanservice makes The Zodiac Paradox a pleasant enough read, but ultimately makes it a rather unnecessary experience. Instead of filling in details for a plot of which we already know the basics, I'd rather have had a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-style story of Walter in the asylum, or, hell, even a look at how Walternate reacted to the theft of his son. There's so much story to be mined in the Fringe universes; I just can't help but feel like The Zodiac Paradox went for the wrong vein.

You can order 'Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox' here. The Olivia-centric second book, 'The Burning Man,' hits shelves on July 15, and 'Sins of the Father', the Peter-centric third book, hits October 15.

- Fringe
- John Noble

Written by: mcpherson
May 24th, 2013, 9:49 pm

Images courtesy of Titan Books

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