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. 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...
Published on April 19 2004 by a superintelligent shade of th...
3.0 out of 5 stars Eaten by the Bugs
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...
Published on Feb. 27 2004 by Patrick Shepherd
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4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, "Eco-Thriller",
"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. Since there's no known way for PCBs to be removed from the water by hand, the only explanation is that S.T. has committed the screw-up of a lifetime. No sooner has S.T. resigned himself to this fate than the PCBs reappear, in even greater quantities. That's when large numbers of people start trying to kill him. To say nothing of the Satanists. Framed as an ecoterrorist, S.T. is forced to flee Boston and join forces with the real environmental extremists in order to unravel the mystery of the PCBs, redeem himself, and, quite possibly, save the world.
So "Zodiac" really is an "Eco-Thriller," and I enjoyed it as much as (if not more than) the more famous "Snow Crash." At the very least, "Zodiac" has aged better. While some parts of "Snow Crash" read like the the wildest fantasies of the .com boom, "Zodiac" could easily be set anytime in the next (or past) twenty years. Many of the book's apparent flaws come from comparison to Stephenson's later work: "Zodiac" lacks both the intricate, awe-inspiring complexity of "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle" as well as much of the indescribable brand of humor that made "Snow Crash" and "Cryptonomicon" so memorable. Another gripe could be characters - except for a few main characters, they remain vague outlines for the most part. We know they're present, but don't really get a clear picture of them.
At any rate, if you're a Stephenson fan, "Zodiac" is well worth a read. Even compared to his later works, it shouldn't disappoint. On the other hand, if you're new to Stephenson, "Zodiac" is as good a place to start as any. Although it's not the experience that "Snow Crash" and "Cryptonomicon" are, it's also more accessible and not nearly as imposing as "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle." I recommend it.
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. 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!
3.0 out of 5 stars Eaten by the Bugs,
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)
4.0 out of 5 stars Adventures of a granola James Bond,
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent thriller,
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.
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 the Boston spirit.
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. He is a chemist working for a group of environmentalists called GEE, and is trying to prevent pollution of the waterways by chemical companies. As a professional pain in the ass he publicly humiliates and embarrasses the major chemical corporations that are polluting the environment.
Sangamon Taylor is a chemist for the Northwestern chapter of GEE International (Group of Environmental Extremists). He is blond shaggy haired and wears tennis shoes and multiple t-shirts. A graduate of Boston University he is looked down upon by those from MIT.
He sees himself as the archnemesis of the chemical company Basco the number two polluter in the table of polluters of Boston Harbour. The Boston population as a whole and the sewage they produce hold the number one spot.
Zodiac is the only hardboiled ecological thriller I know of and it features what has become the trademark Stephenson wit. The book features assassination attempts, genetically engineered bacteria and a cast of characters that ranges from Native Americans to the Executives of chemical companies and their heavy metal loving teenage sons.
A mystery not of the whodunit variety, but more of the what the heck happened and why did it happen. The book also acts as an introduction to environmental issues and the science of pollution.
Even though it doesn't feature any hackers the hacker ethos is present in the book in the form of Sangamon Taylor a cool anti-establishment chemistry nerd.
The return of the psycho nerd Dolmacher in Zodiac has similarities to that of Andrew Loeb in Cryptonomicon. Both of them have survivalist skills and seem to flit between being sane and a bit creepy to being completely psychologically deranged.
The book lacks in characterisation of everyone outside of the central character of S.T., but as the book is told in the first person from his perspective this reflects how he views the world and the people around him.
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. Stephenson merely uses environmentalists to convey the story, and you don't feel like he's preaching to you at all. The hard science keeps the story refreshing too. You learn a little while reading.
I have one complaint - there were a ton of typos - the kind Word's grammar or spell checkers wouldn't pick up, but any human editor would.
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 readers. However, I found Zodiac to be of the same quality reading as the other Stephenson books and a must read for any fan.
As with his other books, Stephenson has done his homework as he creates the world of the environmental activist living near the chemical soup called Boston Harbor. The story takes some twists and turns as we follow our hero S.T. as he tries to make the life of big time polluters a bit more difficult. However, overall the book is really enjoyable as Stephenson mixes toxins and science to create a plausible story. At the very least, it will make you a bit more wary of swimming near an outflow any time soon.
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. The serious stuff is well encapsulated into a interesting narrative featuring well crafted characters.
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Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (Paperback - Aug. 10 2007)
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