Zodiac Paperback – Jun 1 1995
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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)
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.
"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.
Most recent customer reviews
Strong central plotline, good, if somewhat stereotypical characters and decent pace. Not as much of a thinking book as Anathem, Reamde, or the quicksilver collection, but enjoyable... Read morePublished 13 months ago by P. Golds
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 morePublished on April 19 2004 by Dave Stagner
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 morePublished on Oct. 14 2003
Set in Boston this thriller centres on the exploits of the oddly monikered Sangamon Taylor aka The Toxic Spiderman. Read morePublished on Oct. 1 2003 by Matthew Wharton
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 morePublished on May 28 2003 by owookiee
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 morePublished on April 29 2003 by mhnstr
Interesting discussion of the problems inherent in the US environmental policies and the dangers of technology when it comes to the environment. Read morePublished on Dec 17 2002
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