Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
28 March 2003


I've spent a week on this book and I still don't know whether I like it. I have a deep residual dislike for environmentalists and environmentalism, so my rational mind kept rebelling against the book's theme. Basically, this guy S.T. keeps running around in a Zodiac (type of small boat) uncovering the illegal toxic-waste dumping of big companies. I didn't like this, partly because of the aforementioned tofuphobia, partly because I didn't have a single inkling of belief that dumping really occurred on this scale. Nor do I believe it ever could. The whole book is just one improbable event on another, building to this massive outcrop of almighty improbability.

But, dammit, I kept wanting to believe it. Just so I could stick with S.T, because despite everything, I kind of liked him. He said and thought some very amusing things: "It was easy to track them down. Like dolphins, Townies communicate with high-pitched sonar: 'Heyyy, Maaahk! I'll meet ya at the Aaahk afta da geem!' " There was a great moment like this every five pages or so and they just kept me with him.

The plot was a bit odd, though - not the events, just the pace. Events would happen with little apparent cause. S.T. would be one page on the harbour floor cutting open lobsters, next pages being hounded about the harbour by a pair of hired assassins. One chapter he'd develop a hunch about the possible movements of one of his enemies - the next chapter he'd actually track the guy down in the most unlikely of places, using nothing but assumption, guesswork and hallucinogenic mushrooms. I felt a wee bit disoriented for much of the book as a result of this sort of thing. S.T. was a character I couldn't quite see and didn't quite relate to.

The chemistry is good, seemingly well-founded, although I have very little chemistry myself. It was believable anyway, and the bits I understood were certainly accurate. I suppose the biochemical aspect makes Zodiac a science fiction of sorts. It certainly had one thing going for it - not distracting. It'd pick it up all eager, then ten minutes later quietly put it aside and go back to whatever I was supposed to be doing. Excellent for my lifestyle.

It's probably pure pulp, but it's not too bad. Not too bad at all.


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