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Zodiac Paperback – June 1, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 165 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra (July 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553573861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553573862
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,412,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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OK, _Snow Crash_ caught my attention. But it suffered (imho) from grandiosity -- the need for a Great Cosmic Plot Resolution. DA was even more interesting but has some of the same disease -- the themes get so big they are unwieldy. Same goes for the voudun stuff in Gibson, if you ask me.
_Zodiac_ is my pick of NS's work. I buy used copies and give them away to people. It's better than his later works because he's on his own turf, writing more tightly and realistically about stuff he really knows. The manuscript glitters with one-liners; I sometimes slowed down and read whole sections out loud to myself to get the full enjoyment out of them.
Sangamon Taylor, ego and all, has become one of the most memorable characters of my long SF-guzzling career. I recommend this book to sci fi and non-sci-fi readers alike. I still don't believe you can punch a hole in a zode with a wired tazer, but I love the book anyway :-)
And yes, it's a cautionary tale. It has a moral message. So has Dickens, most of Shakespeare, and most of Star Trek for that matter. There's nothing wrong with preaching if it's done with wit, style, and real passion. I think NS pulls it off. If I didn't dread sequels so much, I'd love to see a volume of the prior, or continuing, adventures of ST.
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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
Neal Stephenson is considered a "cyberpunk" writer due to his mega-hit "Snowcrash". This ghettoisation of his books is unfortunate, as it keeps potential mass market readers from discovering the excellent "Zodiac". Any reader who enjoys a fast paced thriller will go wild over this book! It is hard to put down & will disturb it's readers with the extent of the poisoning of our planet that we all cooperate in on a daily basis by participating in a market economy. Even though "Zodiac" is classed as science fiction, the facts in this book are documented & real; only the events are fiction, but anyone who reads the newspaper will recognize the basis for the characters & action. In summary: this is an exciting book that will stay with you long after you've closed the cover. READ "ZODIAC"!
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Like most people, I read Snow Crash first, and loved it. Zodiac isn't nearly as intellectual as Snow Crash, nor does it have nearly the same depth, but it's tons of fun nonetheless. The protagonist, S.T., is wonderfully realistic, especially if you've ever moved within activist circles. I enjoyed the off-handed instruction in toxic monkeywrenching (how to block pipes, etc.) that echoes so well the eco-classic "The Monkeywrench Gang." Stephenson is a brilliant storyteller, and S.T. is a compelling hero. It's not the most intellectual of books, but great for vicarious revenge against polluting corporations.
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Nearly twenty years after it was first published in 1988, Zodiac is still a relevant and fun book. Sangamon Taylor fights the good fight against evil corporations, an uncaring public, and the lunatic fringe in the environmental movement. During the ride he finds that he has to contend with (among other things) misunderstood motives, romance, and violent heavy metal fans.

I did a lot of chortling while reading this adventure. I had avoided picking it up for a while because I was worried that an eco-thriller would be preachy. Luckily, it is no such thing. It has a point to make and makes it well, weaving the environmentalism and science into the story.

Although it is smaller in scope than books like Snow Crash, Zodiac contains enough of the inimitable Stephenson writing style that it should keep fans of his later work happy. Some people may actually find that they prefer Zodiac despite the scale-- it is breathlessly exuberant in a way that his other later works never manage to recapture. Highly recommended.
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