Ahoy there me mateys! This review has a twist. The First Mate and I both read this one (sort of)! We discussed the book and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I
ordered asked him to write a review. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the First Mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
From the First Mate:
The first time I read Zodiac was twenty years ago. Amazon
tells me that I purchased it in May 2000, several months after I’d
previously purchased and enjoyed Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. I
can’t say for certain that I’d purchased Snow Crash and The
Diamond Age in the intervening months (perhaps in a long
shuttered Borders), but my memory is that in the wake of reading
Cryptonomicon I was trying to quickly read everything
Stephenson had written, as I’d then found a new favorite author.
Zodiac tells the story of Sangamon Taylor, a dude bro eco
terrorist, and his efforts to engage in “mediapathic” events against
corporations that are polluting the environment, specifically his
nemesis corporation, developer of Agent Orange: Basco Industries.
Like a lot of early Stephenson, the plot of the novel is highly
episodic. Taylor goes somewhere, does some explaining to someone
about how the world really works, MacGyvers together something that
will draw media attention, and then we move on to the next adventure.
There’s a larger storyline involving Basco Industries, Boston Harbor,
and genetic engineering that weaves itself through Taylor’s adventures
and eventually becomes the central focus of the last quarter of the
book. But the majority of the book is hanging out with a guy that
says things like “If you’ve put yourself in a position where someone
has to see you in order for you to be safe – to see you, and to give a
fuck – you’ve already blown it” and “It irritates the hell out of me
to be in a situation where I’m forced to do exactly what’s expected.”
Twenty years ago I was definitely the target audience for this type of
book and narrator. The snarky “I have the world’s address and you’re
lucky you’ve got someone like me to explain it all” tone was right up
my alley at the time. Two decades later it still makes me smile, even
though I’ve certainly had my fill of dealing with those types of men
in real life. Even in 2000, though, I probably would’ve told you that
the reason to read any Stephenson was purely for stylistic reasons.
If his style works for you (as it did for me), reading his work can be
amazingly enjoyable. If that style grates, there’s very little value
to get from Stephenson. He’s never written a truly satisfying ending
and his palette of characters is rather limited. As with all of
Stephenson’s early novels, major characters and plot elements appear
for the first time in the last third of the novel out of nowhere.
I will say that the thematic core of the novel is perhaps even more
relevant today than when it was when published in 1988. Taylor tells
us “The big lie of American capitalism is that corporations work in
their own best interests. In fact they’re constantly doing things that
will eventually bring them to their knees.” It seems that we get
weekly updates of corporations shooting themselves in the foot these
I enjoyed rereading Zodiac. Did I enjoy it as much as the
first read? Don’t know. Part of the enjoyment was revisiting the now
somewhat distant past of my youth. I recognize the late 80s of the
novel, and I have to admit that I get some weird comfort from being
reminded of that era. Likewise, it was fun to think about where I was
and what I was like when I first read this novel in 2000. It’s
probably not a high recommendation of the novel that a majority of my
enjoyment was nostalgia-based.
Recommended if any of the above quotes have a tone that speaks to you.
Avoid if you’re allergic to dude bros with a tendency to mansplaining.
From the Captain:
I read Anathem a long while back and adored it so I was excited to dive back into the author’s work. I be highly allergic to dude bros with a tendency to mansplain. I almost died so I quickly abandoned ship. Arrrrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
Sangamon Taylor’s a New Age Sam Spade who sports a wet suit instead of a trench coat and prefers Jolt from the can to Scotch on the rocks. He knows about chemical sludge the way he knows about evil — all too intimately. And the toxic trail he follows leads to some high and foul places. Before long Taylor’s house is bombed, his every move followed, he’s adopted by reservation Indians, moves onto the FBI’s most wanted list, makes up with his girlfriend, and plays a starring role in the near-assassination of a presidential candidate. Closing the case with the aid of his burnout roomate, his tofu-eating comrades, three major networks, and a range of unconventional weaponry, Sangamon Taylor pulls off the most startling caper in Boston Harbor since the Tea Party. As he navigates this ecological thriller with hardboiled wit and the biggest outboard motor he can get his hands on, Taylor reveals himself as one of the last of the white-hatted good guys in a very toxic world.
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