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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kemper

This book revolves around toxic waste being illegally dumped into Boston Harbor. While I was reading it, the water in the fish tank went mysteriously cloudy overnight despite being recently cleaned and our two goldfish who were like ten years old went belly up. So that was kind of creepy.The first Neal Stephenson book I read was Cryptonomicon and I jumped from there right into The Baroque Cycle and then the brain-busting brilliant behemoth that was Anathem. I loved them all, but saw frequent complaints from other Stephenson fans that he’d gotten boring and his books were too long. After reading Snow Crash last year and now Zodiac, I understand where they’re coming from. I’d politely disagree, but now I think I’ve got a better idea of why fans of earlier work are frustrated with Stephenson‘s later books. And oh by the way, his new novel coming out in September is over 1000 pages so I don’t think he’ll be scaling back any time soon.Sangamon Taylor is the ‘granola James Bond’, and a self-described professional asshole. A chemist who works for an environmental outfit that starts with the letter ‘G’, ST works tirelessly to stage flashy events that expose the illegal dumping of toxic waste and sometimes he gets a little more hands-on then just calling the media, but he refuses to cross the line into violence. His main area of expertise is all the illegal dumping into Boston Harbor, and he spends most of his time zipping around on his Zodiac boat charting the chemical levels, figuring out how it’s getting in the water, and then ripping the ass out of the corporation doing the polluting ST is cocky, smart and has the MacGyver-like mechanical skills to use toilet parts and salad bowls to block off a mile long underwater pipe being used to illegally dump toxins. ST’s crusade against the illegal waste dumpers of the Boston area eventually gets him mixed up with a conspiracy involving some extremely dangerous toxic waste and a presidential candidate.As usual, Stephenson is a bit ahead of his time in this book written in 1988. ST and his friends seem more like Gen X ‘90s then the New Wave ‘80s, and the book manages to avoid seeming dated despite the lack of cell phones and the Internet in the story. I loved the character of ST who seemed like a more foul mouthed version of one of the Mythbusters who has nothing but hatred for the soulless corporate yuppies and contempt for the spacey granola heads of the environmental movement who can’t do the simplest mechanical task. The schemes he cooks up are innovative and funny, and it was nice to have a main character who was genuinely trying to do something for the greater good without being either cynical or sanctimonious. I did get a few laughs out of ST’s strategies which usually involved exposure to the media and his confidence that public shaming was the way to force a giant corporation out of business. Oh, how quaint that seems when we all watched an oil company spill crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico on cable news daily for over two months and is still doing business as usual. This was a smart and funny ecological thriller that was way ahead of its time.

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.

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.

Jeff Yoak

This was well-written and engaging in the fashion I expect from Stephenson, but I so couldn't identify with the eco-terrorist protagonist that I lost interest half way through.

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.

Steve

An early variant of Stephenson's 'Snow Crash' writing style. More down-to-earth plot, set in the present rather than the near-future, but just as much fun. It definitely feels rougher and less polished than either Snow Crash or The Diamond Age, but it's great fun. And the description of trying to cross the street in Boston is worth the purchase price.

Jurgen_i

The second novel by the great writer. It was interesting to read Zodiac alongside with Reamde. In both books you can recognize Stephenson, but those separates an abyss: in former he is young, radical and daredevil; in latter - mature and experienced.Early Stephenson is also very good. Zodiac is one of those rather rare books on ecological theme and it's well-done. Captivating plot; vivid and exaggerated characters; early Neal's brand humour; lot of information on environmental issues.To conclude, i wonder, if i could give to Stephenson's book less than 5 points. Don't know, but Zodiac deserves them as one of the best eco-thrillers.

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