Kemper's Reviews > Zodiac

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
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Jul 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: save-the-whales, thriller, 2011
Read from July 20 to 26, 2011

This book revolves around toxic waste being illegally dumped into Boston Harbor. While I was reading it, the water in the fish tank went mysteriously cloudy overnight despite being recently cleaned and our two goldfish who were like ten years old went belly up. So that was kind of creepy.

The first Neal Stephenson book I read was Cryptonomicon and I jumped from there right into The Baroque Cycle and then the brain-busting brilliant behemoth that was Anathem. I loved them all, but saw frequent complaints from other Stephenson fans that he’d gotten boring and his books were too long. After reading Snow Crash last year and now Zodiac, I understand where they’re coming from. I’d politely disagree, but now I think I’ve got a better idea of why fans of earlier work are frustrated with Stephenson‘s later books. And oh by the way, his new novel coming out in September is over 1000 pages so I don’t think he’ll be scaling back any time soon.

Sangamon Taylor is the ‘granola James Bond’, and a self-described professional asshole. A chemist who works for an environmental outfit that starts with the letter ‘G’, ST works tirelessly to stage flashy events that expose the illegal dumping of toxic waste and sometimes he gets a little more hands-on then just calling the media, but he refuses to cross the line into violence. His main area of expertise is all the illegal dumping into Boston Harbor, and he spends most of his time zipping around on his Zodiac boat charting the chemical levels, figuring out how it’s getting in the water, and then ripping the ass out of the corporation doing the polluting

ST is cocky, smart and has the MacGyver-like mechanical skills to use toilet parts and salad bowls to block off a mile long underwater pipe being used to illegally dump toxins. ST’s crusade against the illegal waste dumpers of the Boston area eventually gets him mixed up with a conspiracy involving some extremely dangerous toxic waste and a presidential candidate.

As usual, Stephenson is a bit ahead of his time in this book written in 1988. ST and his friends seem more like Gen X ‘90s then the New Wave ‘80s, and the book manages to avoid seeming dated despite the lack of cell phones and the Internet in the story. I loved the character of ST who seemed like a more foul mouthed version of one of the Mythbusters who has nothing but hatred for the soulless corporate yuppies and contempt for the spacey granola heads of the environmental movement who can’t do the simplest mechanical task. The schemes he cooks up are innovative and funny, and it was nice to have a main character who was genuinely trying to do something for the greater good without being either cynical or sanctimonious.

I did get a few laughs out of ST’s strategies which usually involved exposure to the media and his confidence that public shaming was the way to force a giant corporation out of business. Oh, how quaint that seems when we all watched an oil company spill crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico on cable news daily for over two months and is still doing business as usual.

This was a smart and funny ecological thriller that was way ahead of its time.
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Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen I have been meaning to read this for a while and finally moved it to the on deck circle. Great review.


Kemper Stephen wrote: "I have been meaning to read this for a while and finally moved it to the on deck circle. Great review."

Thanks. And I did the audible version and it had great narration if that's what you're doing.


message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent This is the only Stephenson book I've read where the ending didn't feel slapped on. Also, I'd give it extra points for a reference to Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner by Warren Zevon.


Kemper Dan wrote: "This is the only Stephenson book I've read where the ending didn't feel slapped on. Also, I'd give it extra points for a reference to Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner by Warren Zevon."

Wasn't it a double reference about Zevon songs regarding mercenaries in foreign countries that would also work for Lawyers, Guns & Money?


message 5: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent I thought he mentioned the mercenary being headless but it's been about eight years since I read Zodiac. I still remember the Zevon reference and Debbie, ST's "I adore stress" girlfriend.


message 6: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Great review. I picked this up after reading "Snow Crash." I remember liking it and finding parts of it humorous--like the sexual innuendo that resulted from an oil change, and Taylor's penchant for homemade nitrous. And didn't Sangamon have a list of Eternal Truths or something like that?

Think I'll want to revisit this someday.


Kemper Daniel wrote: "Great review. I picked this up after reading "Snow Crash." I remember liking it and finding parts of it humorous--like the sexual innuendo that resulted from an oil change, and Taylor's penchant fo..."

Damn. I meant to mention that ST's hobby was huffing nitrous and forgot. He's also got the Sangamon Principal about not trusting complex atoms.


message 8: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Kemper wrote: "Stephen wrote: "I have been meaning to read this for a while and finally moved it to the on deck circle. Great review."

Thanks. And I did the audible version and it had great narration if that's ..."


That is definitely the route I will go. Thanks.


message 9: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Kemper wrote: Damn. I meant to mention that ST's hobby was huffing nitrous and forgot. He's also got the Sangamon Principal about not trusting complex atoms.
"


That's right! Oh man I loved that Principle. So nerdy and funny without being too snarky in that Whedon kind of way.


message 10: by Bill (last edited Jul 29, 2011 06:10AM) (new)

Bill Nice review. I've only read Snow Crash and I liked it enough. I have had Cryptonomicon on my to-read list for a long time, but I don't know if I will ever be willing to invest the time into what most people rate as a 4-star read.


Kemper Bill wrote: "Nice review. I've only read Snow Crash and I liked it enough.

I love Cryptonomicon and the other books he did after it, but they are not casual reads and I fully appreciate why some find them frustrating & boring.


message 12: by Mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mara Professional asshole- I'm ordering new business cards pronto.


Kemper Mara wrote: "Professional asshole- I'm ordering new business cards pronto."

Mine read "Kemper - Professional Misanthrope & Cynical Bastard Services - Reasonable Rates"


message 14: by Anne (new)

Anne And oh by the way, his new novel coming out in September is over 1000 pages so I don’t think he’ll be scaling back any time soon.

*chokes*
*grabs chest*
*falls over dead*
*revived by cute EMT*
*removes book from to-read list*



Kemper Anne wrote: "And oh by the way, his new novel coming out in September is over 1000 pages so I don’t think he’ll be scaling back any time soon.


*chokes*
*grabs chest*
*falls over dead*
*revived by cute EMT*
..."


Too late! I wrote this in 2011 and Reamde has already come out. (And it's pretty good despite being a kitten squisher.)


message 16: by Anne (new)

Anne Do I wanna know what a kitten squisher is?
Wait.
No. I don't.


Kemper Anne wrote: "Do I wanna know what a kitten squisher is?
Wait.
No. I don't."


I stole that term from Shovelmonkey. And it's pretty much what it sounds like.


message 18: by Mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mara I'm not reading your review yet (want to wait until I've finished), but a dozen chapters in, I'm literary crushing hard on ST-- I have to step up my adventuring game of late to make myself worthy...


Kemper Mara wrote: "I'm not reading your review yet (want to wait until I've finished), but a dozen chapters in, I'm literary crushing hard on ST-- I have to step up my adventuring game of late to make myself worthy..."

Going along with my theory that you are actually a character who escaped from a Neal Stephenson novel, I'm pretty sure that you are ST's long lost twin sister.


message 20: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Vacca Mara wrote: "I'm not reading your review yet (want to wait until I've finished), but a dozen chapters in, I'm literary crushing hard on ST-- I have to step up my adventuring game of late to make myself worthy..."

I haven't read this one, but, "Snow Crash is the shit!" is my professional opinion.


message 21: by Mara (last edited Nov 26, 2014 10:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mara Anthony wrote: " I haven't read this one, but, "Snow Crash is the shit!" is my professional opinion."

Duly (and gratefully) noted and taken under advisement... I'm already anticipating that (unlike, say Cryptonomicon, Zodiac will not suffice for the amount if literary escapism needed for thanksgiving with the family, featuring a newborn, insanely loud construction next door, and two very confused canines (well, one confused canine, and one batpig). Snow Crash here I come!


message 22: by Kemper (last edited Nov 26, 2014 10:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper Mara wrote: "Duly (and gratefully) noted and taken under advisement... I'm already anticipating that (unlik..."

Snow Crash is great but not that long by Stephenson standards. Better pack a copy of Anathem or Reamde, too.


message 23: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Vacca I haven't read any of Stephenson's Mama Cass chokers yet.


message 24: by Mara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mara Given the baby's lung capacity and duration of visit (a second week's stay was just revealed to me...) I'm gonna have to put a tome-length audiobook Stephenson affair on deck. I'm thinking Reamde, since I'm not sure I can deal with a different language without the benefit of a glossary.


message 25: by Queenofpriests (last edited Dec 03, 2014 07:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Queenofpriests This was the 2nd NS book I read after Snow Crash. They convinced me to read Cryptonomicon, which is still one of my fave novels. Those first three changed my life, I guess, bc being an NS reader is a literary life changing endeavour - right up their w being a Gore Vidal reader. Addictive style & topics. Still trying to get through the Baroque Cycle, this time by audio. Started it it 2001, hahahaha Read those first two NSs in 1995. I love his historical fiction & speculative fiction best bc of the maths & physics. I totes recommend the Mongoliad series & Anathem. Anathem stroked my mystical soul quite nicely. Reamde was orgasmically funny & well-written.

Good good review Kemper. Interesting that you read NS novels in that sequence.

(I don't like writing revies of products or movies or books. But there's an irony there. Though I identify as a writer, and when I set myself to do it I write reviews pretty well, if I live in a book for a while, I find writing about the experience to be like writing the book over. And I'm lazy bc I hate filling out profiles too.)


Queenofpriests Sorry I'm using NS instead of everybody else's ST. Knew I was doing it but didn't seem to want to change it. Like I said, I'm lazy.


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