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

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.

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.

Doug Bonar

It is an eco-thriller. Not bad, but few people would read it now if it had been written by anyone other than Neal Stephenson. That said, ST does capture a certain 20's feeling. Whether in grad school or at a first, kind-of-crappy, job there is that feeling that you've got more money than you need, and more freedom than you ever had before. It may only last a few years before something knocks you out of that zone, but it is a great time while it lasts. And credit to Neal for making ST aware of more responsible, perhaps more effective, but less fun, ways of doing what he's doing. It makes him a better character.

Michael Murdoch

Zodiac, the brilliant second novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the The Baroque Cycle and Snow Crash, is now available from Grove Press. Meet Sangamon Taylor, a New Age Sam Spade who sports a wet suit instead of a trench coat and prefers Jolt from the can to Scotch on the rocks. He knows about chemical sludge the way he knows about evil—all too intimately. And the toxic trail he follows leads to some high and foul places. Before long Taylor’s house is bombed, his every move followed, he’s adopted by reservation Indians, moves onto the FBI’s most wanted list, makes up with his girlfriend, and plays a starring role in the near-assassination of a presidential candidate. Closing the case with the aid of his burnout roommate, his tofu-eating comrades, three major networks, and a range of unconventional weaponry, Sangamon Taylor pulls off the most startling caper in Boston Harbor since the Tea Party.** Amazon.com Review Believe it or not, some readers find Zodiac even more fun than Neal Stephenson's defining 1990s cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash. Zodiac is set in Boston, and hero Sangamon Taylor (S. T.) ironically describes his hilarious exploits in the first person. S. T. is a modern superhero, a self-proclaimed Toxic Spiderman. With stealth, spunk, and the backing of GEE (a non-profit environmental group) as his weapons, S. T. chases down the bad guys with James Bond-like Zen. Cruising Boston Harbor with lab tests and scuba gear, S. T. rides in with the ecosystem cavalry on his 40-horsepower Zodiac raft. His job of tracking down poisonous runoff and embarrassing the powerful corporations who caused them becomes more sticky than usual; run-ins with a gang of satanic rock fans, a deranged geneticist, and a mysterious PCB contamination that may or may not be man-made--plus a falling-out with his competent ("I adore stress") girlfriend--all complicate his mission. Stephenson/S. T.'s irreverent, facetious, esprit-filled voice make this near-future tale a joy to read. From Publishers Weekly Stephenson's (The Big U) improbable hero is Sangamon Taylor, a high-tech jack-of-all-trades who inhales nitrous oxide for kicks and scouts environmental hazards for GEE, the Group of Environmental Extremists. Taylor particularly wants to nab the polluters of Boston Harbor, whose toxic sludge he monitors by zipping from illegal pipeline to illegal pipeline in his inflatable Zodiac raft. His work is slow-going and boring until the concentration of deadly PCBs rises inexplicably and then mysteriously drops to nothing. And then the "eco-thriller" begins: the bad guys are everywhere as Taylor ferrets out the connections between his bizarre landlord, a nerdy friend from college who's at work on a top-secret genetic-engineering project for a high-tech company, an industrialist-turned-Presidential-candidate and the crazed fans of Poyzen Boyzen, a heavy-metal band. In creating this all-too-conceivable story of industry and science running amok, Stephenson puts his technological knowledge elegantly to use, but never lets gadgets and gizmos take over the story. The characters are entertaining, if broadly drawn, and the rip-roaring conclusion will make a dandy denouement in the movie rendition. Film rights to Warner Brothers. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Kerry

Holy Moly, a Stephenson book with a satisfactory ending! Well knock me over with a feather!Seriously, though: this is more about the environment, and activism, than technology (speaking in the context of this book as a Neal Stephenson novel.) So it's a little bit less appealing. Though still sciencey, and also really gross and completely terrifying. We are all going to die of cancer or something else even more horrible. I'm glad I don't live in Boston.Really seriously, though: Zodiac is about a really brilliant dude who works for the fictional equivalent of Greenpeace. He's the Waterhouse character of other Stephenson novels, but slightly less socially awkward. He's very likable (a comment I often make about Stephenson characters), and also very scary, as he makes clear just how awful (and routine) are the things that big corporations are getting away with. Wow, that was an awkwardly worded sentence. Sorry, but it's after 2 am and I want to go to bed! Uh, read this book, it was good. 3.5 stars. The end.

Andreea Daia

Dear S.T. - I just finished reading your Zodiac adventures and how I loved them. At first I was a bit confused since I was expecting a science-fiction novel. I know, I know, you did start your memoirs clearly stating that this is an eco-thriller, but I was misled by the GoodReads shelving. Have you seen it? Oof! "Science Fiction," "Horror," even "Fantasy." Although "Cyberpunk" has be the best one given that your colleagues refuse to work in an office with a computer and you use yours only for printing and text-editing. Maybe it's because some guy named Neal-something wrote a bunch of SF novels, although I still didn't figure out the connection.But enough of that. I don't think I've ever read such a fun thriller. Usually, this kind of tomes relinquish any kind of conviviality in order to accentuate their nerve-clenching aspect. But you look at life with the eyes of a big child tough dude, enjoying (almost) every moment. Did I tell you that I laughed out loud reading the car-chase description from Niagara and the subsequent shopping spree with the bad-guys' credit card? And your Macgyverian moments from the first half of the story were priceless. I did feel that maybe you started a bit late to get into the pith of the matter (around page 120 from 307) but that wasn't much of a problem.However, S.T., I wasn't thrilled about you falling back to drugs every time when you're stressed. LSD, mushrooms, speed, and what else... For a "near-genius" chemist, one would think that you'd know better that kind of stuff permanently and irrevocably messes up your grey-matter. It made me a bit sad since a chemist would be the first one to understand how dangerous those drugs are. Watch out...I have to finish here since I'm sure you have lots of fan-mail to read. Till next time, so long!

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.

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.

Ensiform

Two parts The Monkey Wrench Gang, one part White Noise; a paranoid tale of modern nonviolent eco-terrorism. S.T., a Boston operative at GEE, an environmental group, discovers that a corporation called Basco is dumping PCBs in the harbor. Soon he's pursued by PCP-snorting Satanic cult members, Basco's hired goons, and maybe the FBI or the Mafia.This starts off as a fun book, but it gets far too bogged down in a mass of plot and barely fleshed out characters. The hero, fleeing for his life, twice decides to take some acid and mushrooms: not too wise. A false climax involving a potential presidential assassination renders the true climax a bit wearisome. A man described as a tower of scientific erudition mixes up the terms symbiotic and parasitic. This kind of sloppy detail, too many characters, and dropped subplots (a DA hires S.T. to break into a plant to gather evidence for an interstate suit: nothing whatever comes of it) all make this novel of exciting promise a disappointment.

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.

Malcolm

One of Stephenson’s earliest works, Zodiac provides an exciting romp, displaying a conflict between environmentalists and ivory tower corporatists. The book is consistently labeled an ‘eco thriller’, and after finishing it, I find myself consistently using that label when describing Zodiac in bite-size format.Stephenson’s earliest works all have similar elements: quirky names for the protagonist, an edge of satire, and subtle allegory. These items are why I consider Stephenson a gem in whatever genre he partakes in. Zodiac has all the aforementioned elements in abundance, making it an easy read, not heavy-handed with hippy-dippy bullshit that most environmentalist fiction is plagued with. The satire never gets carried away with itself, it is tempered by seriousness when necessary. Speaking of seriousness, the plot is grounded in it. For most of us, our lives will likely not involve a personal involvement in warfare, or even an involvement in violent crime. Our greatest challenges will lie in economic and environmental concerns that threaten our health and livelihoods. Zodiac places the reader in such a situation, where the protagonist, Sangamon Taylor, is on ethical autopilot, directly attacking polluters that use any natural body of water as a trash bin (should sound familiar to West Virginians). This was back in the environmental heyday, where the conflict was acute, and not the corporately-neutered & disinformed landscape we see at present.The flaws in Zodiac are minor: most characters beyond Sangamon are underdeveloped, and the corporatist characters seem unnecessarily vile, as if they are twirling their mustaches behind boardroom doors. However, looking at the state of environmentalism today, coping with increasingly feckless governmental standards, the factless useful corporate idiots, and a useful idiot consumerist culture, it all makes Zodiac seem eerily prescient. Anyone who has read Zodiac, do yourself a favor and read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring if you have not already. If I was born yesterday, told to read both Zodiac and Silent Spring, and subsequently asked which the real tale is, I don’t know if I could. In essence, Zodiac is a figurative Silent Spring.

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.

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.

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.

Susie

Through the first half of so of the book, I did not expect Zodiac to be quite worthy of a 4-star rating. The plot was meandering from place to place, lacking definition, and the characters were mostly a jumbled, confusing mess of names I had no faces for. I enjoy Stephenson's style, with satirical wit and realistic, if often extreme, people and circumstances, but I just couldn't tell where he was going with this. It may have helped that I am a Boston area native and a bit of a science nerd, but I was interested enough to keep reading.I'm happy to have found that Zodiac did not disappoint. The action picked up, controversy ensued, and I became hooked until I found out how it would end. I thoroughly enjoyed the few characters that earned enough attention that I could keep them straight. It surprises me that this book has not yet come in an edition that corrects its numerous typos, but I was mostly able to overlook that. Highly recommended.

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