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Zodiac Paperback – Aug 10 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (Aug. 10 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143150
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.3 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #190,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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Format: Paperback
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. Stephenson's books usually don't so much end as grind to a halt. Zodiac is a pleasant exception. Its taut plotting and brevity is clearly modeled on the great detective novels of Dashiell Hammet et al, and doesn't stray into self-importance, and it still has all the wit that makes his books so much fun. Great reading!
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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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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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