Zodiac by Neal Stephenson fulfilled the “Book with a Zodiac Sign or Astrology Term in Title” of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge.
Okay, I cheated a little on this one. I understand the intention of the category and I tried to honor it. I started a cozy mystery about an astrologist. After about ten pages, I put the book down.
Astrology…I…ugh. No offense intended, but it’s hooey. I’m a scientist by nature and not much of a spiritual person. I’m able to suspend belief for some things. Fantasy and science fiction with new ideas and questioned principles are like food for me. I devour them in droves. But a real person living in the real world who thinks Mercury will affect their choices as a rational human being? Uh, no. I just can’t.
Without dumping on anyone’s belief system but I can say, it’s not for me. Reading a whole book about it is out of the question. Instead, I read an Eco-Thriller by a science fiction writer. Here, zodiac—an astrological term—is the name of the boat he uses as he chem-tests the Boston Harbor for pollutants.
Sangamon Taylor is a chemist on a mission. His official title at work is Asshole, and it’s his job to make corporations feel uncomfortable about their toxic waste. He runs missions through his employer, GEE—The Group of Environmental Extremists—to stop pollution in the harbor and other places like Niagara Falls and the Jersey Shore. Taylor is dedicated to his job, sacrificing much of his personal life to pursue the trail. He’s kinda obsessed, which is why we like him.
The tale wanders from mission to mission with the overarching plot fading away at points. It is Mr. Stephenson’s second book so I don’t ding him too much for that. (I’ve read a few of his books. In fact, a certain handsome sailor bought me Snow Crash on our first date. I think I knew right then he was Mr. Right.) The action in Zodiac builds to a great crescendo. I won’t spoil but plots twists, things go deeper, and heroes save the day. I love a story with a happy ending.
When I read the publication date, it surprised me. The novel came out in 1988 and the content is still relevant. Due to political changes in our EPA, I’m sure more pollutants are ending up in our lakes, streams, and rivers. I don’t know how clean Boston Harbor is today versus 1988, but there is work to do. New York state recently had to deal with PCBs in the Hudson River. That was a major political mess.
Might I mention the hint of cli-fi in the book? My husband and I argue fiercely whether this fits into the climate science fiction genre. I say hell, yes. The idea of bioengineering endangering the whole planet strikes a chord with other climate fiction I’ve read. No spoilers but psst, if the hurricane that started the chain reaction was huge because of global warming…
So, even today, we still need eco-warriors who are as dedicated, sometimes extreme, and “assholish” as Sangamon Taylor.
Protagonist, Sangamon Taylor, made the book for me. (Not to be confused with Hiro Protagonist from Snow Crash—yes that was the character’s name.)We see the whole thing through his eyes. Never once did I question his motives, dedication, or intentions. Establishing from the beginning that the main character is obsessed with a tiny bit of crazy helps compel the story along.
I give Zodiac by Neal Stephenson Five Darth Vader Dive Suits and ask for your forgiveness with my blatant misuse of the category.