oddmonster (oddmonster) wrote in bookish,

Review: Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson

#41: Zodiac by Neal Stephenson:

They shut off our phone service so we all had to sit down and thrash out about three months worth of unpaid long-distance bills. In the middle of a spirited discussion of who had made seven consecutive calls to Santa Cruz at three in the morning, Ike got up and announced that he was moving out. He was tired of the plumbing problems, he said, and the weird messages on the answering machine, and Roscommon had come in while he was at work and torn down the Mel King campaign poster on the front balcony. That was okay. Ike was a shitty gardener anyway and he complained when I ran my model trains after bedtime. Tess and Laurie, the lesbian carpenters, announced that they liked the kitchen better after we'd untrashed it and cleaned it up so why not try to keep it that way? I pointed out I had bought three new badminton birdies before I left for Buffalo and now they were all gone. Should we call our place a "co-op" or a "commune"? How about calling it a "house"? Who had scrubbed the Teflon off the big frying pan?

Synopsis: Shadowy conspiracy poisons lobsters and tries to take out chem-savvy bicyclist with awesome name. Kinda.

Sangamon Taylor is a brilliant chemist living near the edge of the grid in modern-day Boston when he discovers poisoned lobsters--and lobstermen, and discovers that someone is using the Harbor as an industrial waste dump on a truly staggering scale. So he sets out to make them stop. In doing so he uncovers a conspiracy, gets abused by his landlord and dumped by his eyebrowless roommate-best friend Bart, and nearly loses his girlfriend to the weird poison. Then there's the matter of the rusting ship out in the middle of the Harbor...

So, this was my selection for oddlittlecat because I have read this book a ton of times and it really never gets old, for me. I love Sangamon's commitment to his low-grid life, and his co-op of oddball roommates and their tremendously insane landlord. I love that he bikes through Boston as if everyone can see him and he's got a million-dollar bounty on his head. I love the name Sangamon.

This is Stephenson's second book, from 1988, before he published Snow Crash and Diamond Age and the Baroque Cycle and became a demagogue to techies everywhere. The book is a charming and quirky water-pollution-control thriller about fringe people who stumble onto shadowy and problematic situations and remain committed to the fringe and to being the type of people who stumble onto shadowy and problematic situations and actually do something about it.

It's also the only book I've read by Stephenson where he manages not to rape any of the female characters as a plot point, so well done there. Granted, I've only read up through Cryptonomicon, but seriously, that shit got old after The Big U, Snow Crash, Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon.

But regardless of whatever issues I have with Stephenson's other books, I continue to love this one wholeheartedly. For me, it is the complete package I look for in a book: exciting plot, tons of intriguing supporting characters, interesting and likeable protagonist, detailed setting (who knew Boston could bring the placeporn?) and incredibly well executed writing. It's easily one of my favorite books, and I'm glad I got a chance to get other people to read it.

catyah brought up a good point about the book that I'd never noticed before: the casual use of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes. For her it was a negative, and for me it was just part of the background of the story, which I guess says interesting things about my life, but it also reminded me that everyone's bringing very different viewpoints to the party. I also agree with her that more of the supporting characters would have been better, but a couple steps down that road and you've got the doorstop that is Cryptonomicon. A sequel maybe? Fanfic? Surely there's an answer somewhere.

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