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Neal Stephenson – ZodiacAnd now, for a few words about Zodiac, Neal Stephenson's 2nd novel, which I enjoyed enormously. It might no be his most sophisticated writing, but is definitely up there with the most entertaining books I’ve read. Belongs on top of your reading pile!

Sangamon Taylor (ST to his friends) is an activist with GEE, the Group of Environmental Extremists, in their Boston office. He is a wizard with a Zodiac (a u-shaped semi rigid inflatable dinghy, usually with a serious outboard motor, for those not familiar with such matters), and a self-professed professional pain in the arse. Especially to big Chemical Industry Corporations.
His territory is the labyrinth that is Boston Harbour, a preferred dumping ground (either directly, or through the sewer overflow system) for said Chemical Industry Corporations. He’s got a background in chemistry (ie knows his stuff), and a very practical and humorous handle on the topic:
When I got back, bacon was smoldering on the range, filling the house with gas-phase polycyclic aromatics – my favourite carcinogenic by a long shot.

We catch him getting into a major case: old sins (dumping of PCB filled transformators years ago) by a major player start to come out – and the corporation would do anything (except come clean) to avoid this PR disaster (public health does not feature on their list of priorities). ST, meanwhile, plays his own, media-savvy game, which is the main way he can harm these corporations by exposing their various (and numerous) environmental sins. A tea party it definitely ain’t, but the ramifications are comparable.

ST is a fascinating protagonist. Laid back until he’s nearly horizontal. Slap dash with his health, his love life, his safety (nutter on a pushbike, never mind in a Zodiac), a casual drug-user, hard-core non-terrorist eco-warrior, focused on his mission to the point of self-neglect.
The science in the story is hard, and scary/worrying (I really hope these genetic experiments are only a possibility, and not something that already sits somewhere in a lab!).
The book also provides insights into the Action/Media games, sorry, work that organizations like Greenpeace etc use – and how they are very careful to separate themselves from Eco-terrorists who blow things up and break the law in a much more serious manner than they do.

What to say about the Author, Neal Stephenson? This is his 2nd book (11 to date). He’s a winner of the Hugo, AC Clarke, and Prometheus Awards (not for this novel, though, strangely). And if you haven’t heard of him yet then it’s about time you started looking at his writing, one of the greats in my book!
The story itself has a very good drive, without any real slow or boring parts. It’s a classic adventure story with loads of Science in the Fiction.
It may not be Stephenson’s most sophisticated writing, but it’s right up there with the most readable and enjoyable books I’ve read. Like, ever.
The book is available on the Interweb for very little money indeed, so it should not be a problem to put in on top of your reading pile, where it belongs! Big recommendation, you won’t regret it!

More Neal Stephenson


Title: Zodiac
Author: Neil Stephenson
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 1988
Review Date: 30 January 2007
ISBN: 0747502625
Price: UKP 4.95 (cheaper on Amazon 2nd hand…)
Pages: 283
Format: Paperback
Topic: Ecology
Topic: Thriller

 

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