Brad's Reviews > Zodiac

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
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's review
Sep 21, 09

bookshelves: intrigue, ecological
Read in September, 2009, read count: 1

If not for the voice of Sangamon Taylor, Neal Stephenson's Zodiac would have been a relatively okay eco-thriller, but the book isn't just the voice of Sangamon Taylor, it IS Sangamon Taylor, and once again Stephenson's ability to create compelling leading men (think Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash) makes one of his books superior to the pulp it was inspired by.

Sangamon Taylor is Boston Harbor's very own Toxic Avenger. Working for GEE -- a thinly veiled, fictional Greenpeace -- ST spends his days testing the waters in his Zodiac so that he can trace the waste dumping of Boston's big, bad corporations. He's already got two corporation kills on the side of his boat, and he's going for the kill that will make him an "ace".

ST declares himself to be "an asshole, I do it for a living," and he is to some extent. He hangs up on a cranky old cancer victim; he strings along Debbie, the girl he loves, and runs away from any chance of commitment with assiduity; he regularly partakes of any drug that doesn't break Sangamon's Principle of Simple Compounds, and even a few that do; he's foul mouthed, cynical and egotistical. But the very fact that he knows he's an asshole, and is the one to admit all of these flaws to his audience, suggests that he really isn't, and that little twist makes all the bad bits of ST more enjoyable than they should be and all of the good bits positively entertaining.

Or maybe there's just so much of me in the slightly overweight, Big Mac munching, bike riding, drugged up, hypocritical "invirinmentalist" that I have no alternative but to like him.

Whatever the motivation, ST is likable, and that likability allows Stephenson to do one important thing with Zodiac that other eco-thriller writers cannot: make the issues secondary. Eco-thrillers tend to be terminally preachy, particularly those written in the last twenty or thirty years. You open to page one, see the soapbox, and spend the rest of the book reading a never-ending, speechifying guilt trip. But Zodiac lets entertainment be the thing, and if you develop an increased sense of moral outrage at real world toxic dumping corporations then so be it.

Finally, here's one warning to those who may be fooled by Stephenson's body of work: Zodiac is, at best, Sci-Fi lite. But it isn't really even that. If you're looking for his Sci-Fi work, look elsewhere. If you are looking for Stephenson having fun, however, and writing so that you can have fun, Zodiac is the book for you.
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