Zodiac

ISBN: 0553573861
ISBN 13: 9780553573862
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

Sangaman Taylor is Boston's modern-day Paul Revere, spreading the word from a 40-horsepower Zodiac raft. Embarrassing powerful corporations in highly telegenic ways is the perfect method of making enemies, and Taylor has a collection that would do any rabble-rouser proud.

Reader's Thoughts

Ryan

Zodiac, while not without flaws, is a fast, compelling read and if at the end of it you are not inspired to follow Sangamon Taylor's example and join a crusade against reckless pollution and environmental destruction, then you need to check both your pulse and political affiliation.Though penned in 1988, this self-proclaimed "eco-thriller" is still timely and aside from a few anachronisms giving away its eighties origins, it could easily have been written five years ago instead of over fifteen. Stephenson's signature graphic-novelesque style fits the material well, though at times it seems forced. Certain elements, such as the omnipresent drug use, don't seem to add anything to the narrative but are rather just inserted to add color and "atmosphere." Others, such as the random and disjoined brief appearance of a cobra helicopter gunship taking potshots at our hero, seem like they would be more at home in a bad action movie, and are apparently only included to underscore the author's evident grudge against the US Government.Nevertheless, the book's message about environmental activism is relentlessly driven home and right on target. It is obviously well-researched and Stephenson does a very good job of explaining abstruse scientific/medical concepts to the layman, while not bogging down the narrative with excessive exposition. In the hands of a talented scriptwriter, a skilled filmmaker and a bold producer, this book could be adapted into a very good movie.

Brett

I couldn't find what I was looking for on my first visit to the library, so I settled for this because the author had penned one of the other books I was looking for. Glad I picked it up. Written in the first person, this yarn follows the self-proclaimed Toxic Spider-man on his crusade against giant companies who love to pollute the Northeast. A fast read with a sarcastic voice, and some decent science to back it up. Guns, germs and mayhem.

Eric

Zodiac was a bit muddled at points, with a large, mixed cast of eco-terrorists, corporate drones, scientists, and blue-collar Bostonians dropping in and out of the story, but overall it was a fast, exhilarating thrill-ride -- not too dissimilar from riding an actual zodiac. It was reminiscent in a way to the cable television show Leverage, and if it were the show, it would have broken up nicely into three episodes -- the Swiss Bastards Job in Blue Kills, New Jersey; the Boner Chemicals Job in Buffalo, New York; and the Basco/Biotronics Job Boston, Mass.

Jeremy Conley

This is early Stephenson, so don't judge the rest of his work by this effort. The basics: toxic waste fighting James Bond type takes on big chem. The good: fun period piece from the late 80's, excellent use of setting for people who know Boston, pretty decent introduction to toxic waste issues and chemistry, and some nascent hints of the Stephensonian high-adventure that will become is trademark in later books. The bad: it's hard to like the main character S.T.. He's just a really arrogant asshole who thinks he's always right (and usually is oddly enough), and Stephenson doesn't do enough to show that he knows that his character sucks, so it's hard not to feel like it's Neil himself who is the ass. That and the fact that the adventure seems to get totally out of control, beyond the limits of suspended disbelief, and sort of collapses under it's own weight towards the end. Stephenson can be great, but his endings usually leave something to be desired.

Zach

Zodiac is among Stephenson's less talked about novels, presumably because it's the least speculative that I've read. It's not science fictiony or particularly mind expanding, but it's a good, solid satirical action story that any Stephenson fan should pick up.Zodiac is the story of Sangamon Taylor, S.T., an eco-warrior employed by a Greenpeace-like organization in Boston to take direct action against polluters with the goal of getting the EPA to enforce environmental laws. S.T. is a self-described professional asshole, making it his personal business to cause as much pain and hardship as possible for polluting companies without actually injuring anyone. S.T. narrates in the first person, and his voice is very well drawn and pretty entertaining to read as he rants and rails against the dodgy dumping practices of businesses all over Boston Harbor. He patrols the same in his titular Zodiac raft, taking bottom samples near unidentified pipes for lab analysis, maybe drawing some maps so that he can later return and fill said pipe with hydraulic concrete, and it's exactly this activity which lands him in the middle of a conspiracy that threatens his life and the Harbor he loves so dearly.I enjoyed the second half of the book, where the action picked up and the stakes rose, somewhat less than the light-hearted beginning -- but maybe that's just me.

Tim Niland

Sangamon Taylor is an environmental activist and a "professional pain in the ass" for companies who pollute the the environment, especially in his home base of Boston Harbor. With his group GEE, he performs direct action campaigns for the press to gain coverage of environmental issues. But when he is framed in a plot to kill one of the worst environmental offenders who also happens to be a presidential candidate, he must run for his life, not only to clear his name, but to divert an environmental a potentially destructive environmental disaster. This is one of Stevenson's earlier books, circa 1988, before he stared writing doorstops. This book has a lot of snarky humor and the protagonist is a very well drown character. It set the stage for what Stevenson would do in his masterpieces like Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon and Anathem.

Brad

If not for the voice of Sangamon Taylor, Neal Stephenson's Zodiac would have been a relatively okay eco-thriller, but the book isn't just the voice of Sangamon Taylor, it IS Sangamon Taylor, and once again Stephenson's ability to create compelling leading men (think Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash) makes one of his books superior to the pulp it was inspired by.Sangamon Taylor is Boston Harbor's very own Toxic Avenger. Working for GEE -- a thinly veiled, fictional Greenpeace -- ST spends his days testing the waters in his Zodiac so that he can trace the waste dumping of Boston's big, bad corporations. He's already got two corporation kills on the side of his boat, and he's going for the kill that will make him an "ace". ST declares himself to be "an asshole, I do it for a living," and he is to some extent. He hangs up on a cranky old cancer victim; he strings along Debbie, the girl he loves, and runs away from any chance of commitment with assiduity; he regularly partakes of any drug that doesn't break Sangamon's Principle of Simple Compounds, and even a few that do; he's foul mouthed, cynical and egotistical. But the very fact that he knows he's an asshole, and is the one to admit all of these flaws to his audience, suggests that he really isn't, and that little twist makes all the bad bits of ST more enjoyable than they should be and all of the good bits positively entertaining. Or maybe there's just so much of me in the slightly overweight, Big Mac munching, bike riding, drugged up, hypocritical "invirinmentalist" that I have no alternative but to like him. Whatever the motivation, ST is likable, and that likability allows Stephenson to do one important thing with Zodiac that other eco-thriller writers cannot: make the issues secondary. Eco-thrillers tend to be terminally preachy, particularly those written in the last twenty or thirty years. You open to page one, see the soapbox, and spend the rest of the book reading a never-ending, speechifying guilt trip. But Zodiac lets entertainment be the thing, and if you develop an increased sense of moral outrage at real world toxic dumping corporations then so be it.Finally, here's one warning to those who may be fooled by Stephenson's body of work: Zodiac is, at best, Sci-Fi lite. But it isn't really even that. If you're looking for his Sci-Fi work, look elsewhere. If you are looking for Stephenson having fun, however, and writing so that you can have fun, Zodiac is the book for you.

Brandon

On the cover, off to the side, is the phrase "eco thriller" and that's an excellent label for this action packed adventure dealing with PCB's in Boston Harbor.As mentioned by the author in his acknowledgments, the protagonist is an asshole. While not an anti-hero, his behavior is that of someone whose inter personal relationships serve only to help him accomplish his current task. Stepping on toes and hurting feelings are just not things that bother him. The kind of guy who never did learn how to be even reasonably socially graceful. But he is also a principled eco-activist, a meticulously scientific chemist, and a superb planner and executor of actions that shut down polluters. If you live in Boston, or indeed in any of the great port cities of the world, you can easily imagine the same kinds of things happening there. All in all a fun book to read by anyone with a smidgen of concern about the problem of pollution.

Ben Babcock

Every once in a while when I open a box from Subterranean Press, I discover a surprise tucked inside. Such was the case with Zodiac; I received a free surplus ARC of their special edition of this novel. I seldom refuse free books, and of course, it’s Neal Stephenson. So off we go.Even when attached to a name such as Stephenson’s, a novel that bills itself as an “eco-thriller” does not earn eager anticipation from me. My opinion of thrillers is low in general, and when combined with ecological motifs, the result isn’t always pretty. True, I also have a marked preference for physics over biology, preferring those thrillers set in deep space, orbiting wormholes or derelict spacecraft and deploying nanotechnology. As much as topics like genetic engineering and environmental responsibility are important to our society, it takes a really skilled writer to pull off a story that I will enjoy.So in Zodiac, our protagonist, Sangamon Taylor, cruises around in an inflatable motor boat. He is a modern-day crusader against corporate abuse of the environment, stepping in where the EPA cannot or will not go. Eventually, he stumbles on a secret that would make an upcoming presidential candidate look bad, and for that he must be eliminated. The bad guys frame Sangamon (or ST, as he calls himself) as a terrorist. That’s when the thriller part of this eco-thriller kicks into high gear; prior to Sangamon’s fugitive status, the book is a somewhat enjoyable but frustrating mystery. Once ST is on the run from … well, everyone, the plot suddenly picks up the pace.Pacing was probably my biggest issue with Zodiac. Stephenson’s exposition runs to a tendency to rhapsodize as it explains science. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m reading in 2011 a book written for a 1980s audience, but some of it is old hat, and much of it seems superfluous. This is another issue I take with many thrillers: they don’t realize that, with exposition, less is more. The more detailed a scientific explanation in a thriller, the less realistic it sounds. There is a fine line between plausible explanations and unrealistic technobabble, and that’s the line most thriller authors walk. To Stephenson’s credit, he doesn’t so much cross the line as make furtive forays over it in the dead of night, only to steal back across the border before I can train my search lights on him.Oh, he’s crafty. But when I start talking about interacting with the author in this way, often it’s because I spent more time thinking about how the book was written than about the book itself. Zodiac has a satisfactory story, plenty of action, and a nice science-fiction premise involving some scary PCB-eating bacteria. But with the intermittent motor boat chase sequences and ST’s smarmy observations about various other characters, I could never shake the feeling I was in some kind of pulp thriller. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that, for some people, this works, that this feeling is desirable. If you are one of those people, check out Zodiac.Zodiac also bears its age well. You don’t see that too often with science fiction set in a contemporary period. It would be very easy to take the events in Zodiac and transpose them to 2011 without changing many of the details. The lack of constant cell phone communication was the most conspicuous incongruity—so pervasive are mobile phones these days that we take them for granted, even in our thrillers and action movies. Indeed, the absence of cell phones was constantly on my mind. I began to analyze what would have to change if the characters had access to cheap mobile phones, and that in turn reveals a lot about how our society has changed now that we use mobile devices constantly. Zodiac is that rare novel that remains relevant in the present even as it presents a useful study in history.As a Stephenson novel, Zodiac shows its colours both in style and in its place in his oeuvre. It’s obviously an early novel. But it’s Stephenson through and through. The characters aren’t the greatest, but he somehow manages to use them and some fascinating science-fiction ideas to create a genuine thriller. I’m just not that big a fan of thrillers.

Bryan Glosemeyer

Well, I'm an unabashed Neal Stephenson fan, there's no getting around that. And for anyone else who's a big fan I'd definitely recommend the book, if nothing else to see the basics of his style in a still very formative period.The is the earliest book of his that I've read. And since the last book I read by him was his most recent REAMDE, it was even more of an obvious chance to observe how his style has developed.but yada yada yada.... right?So ok, let's get past the fandom for a moment.This is a pretty fun book. It's a unique twist on the hard boiled detective novel. But instead of solving murders or missing persons, the hero, S.T., solves and exposes environmental crimes. And instead of driving around a bad ass Ford Charger or something, he cruises through Boston Harbor on a suped up Zodiac inflatable, taking toxin samples while he's high and/or drunk as hell.The story is fast paced, though a bit meandering at first. Plenty of action and good guys using a little smarts and a lotta guts to beat the bad guys. S.T. is a great narrator/protagonist, though not always believable. Particularly when and where he suddenly chooses to drop acid or shrooms. The minor characters are abundant, but usually pretty thin and underdeveloped. Especially in the shadow of S.T.'s dominating personality.As with any Stephenson novel, at its core are some pretty cool and interesting scientifically-based ideas. And you can see the beginnings of many of the themes he goes on explore in greater depth in his later works: globalization and its personal effects, smart and brave people saving the world, nautical travel, old rivalries, smart men who are dumb about women, etc.So if you are looking for a quick, fun, and intelligent read by an a now established author, written when he was still finding his voice, you'll dig this.If your looking a mind-bending epic like his Anathem or Snow Crash, this ain't it.

Z

Ecoactivism rules!

Alissa

While I liked Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, I liked Zodiac even better! Zodiac is a fun romp through the adventures of Sangamon Taylor, a pompous, crazy, monkey-wrenching, intrigue-savvy environmentalist. During his adventures he deals with toxic waste, the mafia, satanists and islands of trash in and around the Boston harbor and the whole time you are pulled along at breakneck speeds just as if you were on the back of a zodiac raft with him.It's true that this book was published in the late 1980s, but other than the lack of use of social media and cell phones, the issues and situations in this book are still contemporary and relevant and it doesn't feel too dated.

Jessie Koenigsberg

I wasn't sure I would like this book at first. Too much science, too technical, I thought. But as i got further into the book, I started to really enjoy it. I liked the fast-paced narrative style and especially the main character's casual attitude. Nothing seemed to phase him--his house is bombed, he gets beat up, shot at, swims through toxic waste--and it all seems to be ordinary occurrences to him. Through it all he remains up beat and positive--always concerned about his beloved Boston Harbor and intent on protecting it. I also liked how the author used science to further the story. Although I thought that sometimes Stephenson got a little bogged down with all the technical detaials, but I didn't fully understand the science of the book. However the author treated the science in a way that the reader could sort of understand and without sounding pretentious. The book definitely made me more ecologically aware--my family recently enjoyed steamed crabs and all I could think about was Sangamon and his lobsters--also I thought about personal waste and where it ends up. I wouldn't have had a clue about that if I hadn't read this book. I'm looking forward to reading more of Stephenson's work.

Charles

This is one of Stephenson's early books, and although I enjoyed it pretty well it was in some ways just too much of a good thing. It was kind of kitchen sink type of approach, throwing in a bit of everything. Although I've heard much about Stephonson's later books and how much people love them, I've never had a strong urge to pick any of them up because of having read Zodiac. It was good, but not outstanding.

Jeremy

Before Stephenson got into the habit of fashioning entire techno-historical realities to fool around in, he wrote this odd little eco-thriller. It's about environmental activism before the green boom in the late 90's and early 2000's, when environmentally concerned types were usually just one or two ideological steps away from being misanthropic survivalists, obsessive self-taught chemical engineers, or wanted fugitives, and were hardly seen as people with a broad interest in constructive human welfare. The book is narrated by one of these obsessive dorks. S.T. walks a fine line between a Palahniuk sort of macho-cynicism and outright violent neuroses. But its the brilliantly funny narration, of a voice too well-jaded by sleazy corporate maleficence, orchestrated media circuses and general public apathy, which keeps the book going. The characters tend to run a bit thin, and by the end Stephenson feels like he's just sort of rushing through all of the hoops necessary to make it all cohere (something that creeps up a lot in his fiction) instead of just giving the story space to breath. But like all subsequent Stephenson books, it's also filled with these exactingly researched high tech set pieces which he does better than just about anyone. It's William Gibson for waste treatment workers and wreck divers.

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