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Zodiac [Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Paperback, June 1 1995 --  
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Book Description

June 1 1995
Sangamon Taylor's 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 roomate, 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. As he navigates this ecological thriller with hardboiled wit and the biggest outboard motor he can get his hands on, Taylor reveals himself as one of the last of the white-hatted good guys in a very toxic world.

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From Amazon

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, "Eco-Thriller" June 18 2004
Format:Paperback
"Zodiac" is Neal Stephenson's second book, written between the unimpressive "The Big U" and the cyberpunk classic "Snow Crash." It was mildly successful and according to Stephenson, "on first coming out in 1988 it quickly developed a cult following among water-pollution-control engineers and was enjoyed, though rarely bought, by many radical environmentalists." Unlike Stephenson's more recent works, it involves only one linear plot line, and is also of a more reasonable size. This may make it his most accessible work, though it isn't his most entertaining.
The story is told in the first person, from the perspective of Sangamon "S.T." Taylor, a Boston chemist employed by the Group of Environmental Extremists (GEE), International - an organization probably inspired by Greenpeace. S.T. works as a professional headache for industrial polluters flaunting the law and endangering their communities. His job is to terrorize the companies into acting in what is really their own best interest (i.e., not destroying the earth for short-term savings). Of course, it should go without saying that S.T. does not actually use terrorism to terrorize these polluters. Rather, he works with a potent mix of trespassing, his classic tactic of plugging up the pipes dumping toxic waste into the water supply, and his ultimate weapon: Bad Publicity.
"Zodiac" starts of with some fun actions of this sort, but the story does not really begin until S.T. unexpectedly finds incredibly large amounts of incredibly toxic PCBs in Boston Harbor. Just as soon as he starts his investigation, however, the poisons disappear - which, if it had happened spontaneously, would be a mind-boggling 'violation' of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Eaten by the Bugs Feb. 27 2004
Format:Paperback
Zodiac is described on the cover blurb as an 'eco-thriller', and for a change the blurb is close to being accurate. The book's main character is an ecological-crime detective, busily hunting down evidence of corporations illegally dumping hazardous waste and using publicity stunts and clogging up discharge pipes with cement as his main weapons against these companies. The book takes on a decided thriller aspect with the introduction of gene-tailored bacteria, designed to 'eat' contaminates, but there is a variety that generates them instead. How these bacteria are tracked down and controlled provides the main thrust for this book.
The plot is the main driver here, characterization outside of the protagonist is definitely skimpy, and in places the ecological warnings (though presented with apparent good scientific backing) become a little too strident, in places reminding me of Philip Wylie's The End of the Dream. Unlike some of his later books, his message is delivered almost directly, with little in the way of satire, irony, or his by-now patented brand of humor. The plot moves rapidly and logically, with enough potential hazard in the situation to easily quality as a 'thriller'. This makes for a quick read, but without his special zing that would make this book stand out.
Definitely an early effort, not in the class of his Snow Crash or The Diamond Age, still quite readable, but probably a must only for Stephenson hard-core fans.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Adventures of a granola James Bond Feb. 24 2004
Format:Paperback
ZODIAC chronicles the adventures of the ecological crusader Sangamon Taylor as he uses his chemical knowledge to topple the seemingly invincible corporations that pollute our environment. Nonviolently but effectively embarrassing these companies into submission, he's naturally made some enemies in high places. S.T.'s latest intended conquest, in an effort to cover up some egregious mistakes, has released something dangerous and untested into Boston's waters. They know S.T. is close to uncovering their secret, and they don't intend to get caught out.
I liked the main character, who was highly motivated in his work but not sentimental about it. He's not a bleeding heart, but someone who is concerned about the big picture. There is no preaching here, only science. While there is a lot of technical information, the conversational, humorous tone keeps it from turning into dull lectures. S.T. would have made a good teacher. Assuming the science is sound, I actually learned a lot in my reading.
The book is fascinating and funny mystery up until the last third or so, when it jumps the contaminated shark, so to speak. A close ally becomes a betrayer without explanation (and later returns as a friend, no questions asked.) A man who has shown no previous signs of erratic behavior goes mad, not without reason, but it seems too sudden. I thought I had somehow missed a large section while reading. The story never quite recovers from this radical shift. Still, it is a very enjoyable and educational book for the most part, and one which should appeal to technothriller fans as well as science fiction readers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars excellent thriller Jan. 17 2004
Format:Paperback
In some ways, this book is wholly unlike the rest of Stephenson's work. It is not a cyberpunk novel, unlike the seminal "Snow Crash" and "The Diamond Age". But, in may respects, it is exactly like the rest of his work: well-written and superbly detailed.
"Zodiac" is an eco-thriller set in Boston. Through the eyes of ST, an environmentalist who is more than a little bit of a jerk, a mystery unravels as ST tracks down who is responsible for a particular pollution of Boston Harbor.
I have to admit that I was a bit concerned about reading an eco-thriller, since some in the genre are quite heavy-handed with their pro-environmental message. I shouldn't have been worried: Stephenson is a deft writer, and the novel never feels overbearing or preachy.
If you have already read some of Stephenson's other work, you need to be aware that this is not a cyberpunk novel. It is good in its own right, but there isn't a hacker to be found. Hackers may appreciate ST's anti-establishment attitudes, though.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars techno-gumshoe
This is actually my favorite Stephenson book. As a writer, his curse is usually that he lets the plot go spiraling wildly out of control. Read more
Published on April 19 2004 by a superintelligent shade of the color blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Bostonians will get a kick out of this
This book was utterly captivating. In addition to excellent character and plot development, Stephenson does an amazing job relating to people who have lived in Boston and capturing... Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2003 by "sublmnl40"
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard-boiled environmental thriller
Set in Boston this thriller centres on the exploits of the oddly monikered Sangamon Taylor aka The Toxic Spiderman. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2003 by Matthew Wharton
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good
I was a little hesitant to read this book, afraid I'd have ecological evangelism pushed down my throat, but it wasn't like that at all. Read more
Published on May 28 2003 by owookiee
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Neal Stephenson winner
I am a big Stephenson fan after having read Diamond Age, Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, but I was a bit hesitant to pick up Zodiac after I heard some mediocre reviews by other... Read more
Published on April 29 2003 by mhnstr
4.0 out of 5 stars great book
Interesting discussion of the problems inherent in the US environmental policies and the dangers of technology when it comes to the environment. Read more
Published on Dec 17 2002 by "adamhir"
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, tough at times.
Read this a year or so ago. Great fun to read but
as I recall there were some slow spots within it
that kept me from giving it 5 stars. Read more
Published on Dec 6 2002 by Ross R. Youngblood
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky Eco-Thriller
Stephenson turns his attention to the near future in this fast-paced eco-thriller (although applying fast-pased to Stephenson is virtually redundent). Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2002 by Sharron Albert
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, Clean, Anti-Corporate Fun
Neal Stephenson's "Zodiac" isn't any sort of great literature. But for your anti-establishment amusement, it doesn't get much better than this. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2002 by "rhnrdthntrhnrd"
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