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

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!

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.

Duffy Pratt

I'm not sure what I would have thought about this book if it had been by another author, or an author I didn't already know. It's a fun book, and decent in its own right. Have you ever seen pictures of people you knew when they were babies, and tried to scope out the resemblance to their adult appearance. That's sort of what I found myself doing in this book. There are lots of hints and suggestions of the kind of writer Stephenson would become. But standing on its own, this book seems just as much like someone trying to riff on Carl Hiaasen.The book is decidedly more coherent that some of his later books, and its fun and a bit weird, but its nowhere near as fun as Snow Crash or Diamond Age, and the weirdness doesn't approach some of the stuff in Anathem. The ending ties things up more neatly that he does in his other books. And that neatness left me feeling a bit flat. I've always been a bit dissatisfied with Stephenson's endings (except for the Baroque trilogy, which has a few amazing and perfect endings). And here, the ending was probably right in some sense, but I still didn't feel particularly satisfied. This time, because it seemed too pat.What I really liked seeing here was Stephenson's geekiness -- Darth Vader suits, Star Trek analogies, comparisons between chemical plants and Mordor. Then there was the fun of having a hyper-aware environmentalist who seems to rival Hunter Thompson in drug consumption: Nitrous Oxide, LSD, shrooms, speed. And there were some entertaining, but very brief, digressions and infodumps here -- the sort of thing that become the meat of the later, fatter books. All in all, I took this as Stephenson Lite. It was fun, and I'm glad I read it.

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.

Rob

A much better take on a Crichton-esque plotline. Compared to Crichton's pot-boilers this one was much better paced, much less predictable, and had lots more random, hacker-ish mentality science thrown in. I guess that's what happens when a computer geek and nerd-among-nerds writes this kind of plot versus Crichton (a physician).The book's structure was a little rough in places, and the copy-editor was asleep at the wheel--I can see that this was where Stephenson was still getting practice at writing novels. Overall the book was enjoyable, but not one I'll return to.

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.

Allan Dyen-shapiro

Early Neal Stephenson. The reason to read this book is the voice of the protagonist. Sangamon Taylor is a chemist and an environmental activist. I've read he is based around a person Stephenson knew in college; the rich characterization seems very authentic to me.This is also an interesting time period for that sort of person; the book came out in 1988. This is a time at which the dinosaur chemical companies were moving toward greener chemistries and were stuck with numerous lawsuits and other actions over their not-so-green legacy.Taylor works on toxics; his territory is the waterways of Boston. The title comes from the type of fast boat the environmental activists used in doing everything from hanging banners to taking samples to sabotage. I'm a Ph.D. biochemist, and I can vouch that the chemistry was not only accurate but exactly what someone with this background would be thinking about. The love-em-and-leave-em attitude and the casual drug use and other self-destructive habits also helped build the persona.However, there's a reason why Stephenson considers this and Big U as immature works, before he found his mature style. The thriller aspects of this don't make sense, surprisingly for Stephenson, because the science in the second half of the book doesn't make sense. The biotechnology and microbial ecology that the plot turns on couldn't happen. That's a no-no for science fiction; you can make up whatever you want, but if you are trying to describe actual science, it needs to be accurate. The skullduggery undertaken by the companies may seem like conspiracy theory to those who didn't live through the time period, but I think what happened to the activists with the Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods at precisely this time was as bad as anything that happened in this book. So, I have no problem with it.This book could not have been written even five years later. Five years later, the environmental movement had kicked out the scientists. In the battle between what was called the "mystics" and the "mechanics," the mystics won. The founder and international director of Greenpeace went on to be a lobbyist for the biotech industry, because he saw what they were doing as more likely to help the environment that what the environmental activists had devolved into. This was the very last time period during which one could be both a mainstream environmental chemist and a environmentalist acceptable in radical circles.Also, as far as literary technique, the slow build up of the world before the plot events really get going--that was acceptable in the 80s, but in our more rapid paced and text message-driven society, it wouldn't cut it.This probably wouldn't have gotten published today, at least in its current form.So, to judge this work fairly, it must be remembered that what's portrayed is 1988, not the present day, and this was published in 1988.In the protagonist voice, you see the roots of the Stephenson that came later: erudite to the point of nerdy, cynical, not above a funny one-liner here or there. I liked this voice.As a thriller, it kept me reading, but I couldn't suspend disbelief. The Stephenson who constructed baroque plots that depended on consistent world-building (either science and history, as in Cryptonomicon, or science fantasy, as in The Diamond Age) hadn't quite developed yet.So, if you have never read any Stephenson, start with Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. But this is worth the read down the line.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Z

Ecoactivism rules!

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.

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.

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