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Literature / Zodiac

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Zodiac is an eco-thriller written by Neal Stephenson, published in 1988. It tells the story of an environmentalist, Sangamon Taylor, uncovering a conspiracy involving industrialist polluters in Boston Harbor. The title refers to the brand of inflatable motor boats Sangamon uses to travel across the Harbor, shortcutting Boston's frequent traffic gridlock. note 


Sangamon Taylor is known as an Eco-Terrorist by his opponents, and the "Granola James Bond," by the local student papers. He comes across as both, with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson thrown in for good measure. Although he looks down on hippy tree-huggers, he fights against polluters using a variety of legal and illegal methods.

Much of the plot concerns Boston's Spectacle Island, which at the time of publication was composed entirely of garbage. In the story, it is frequented by drugged-out and reputedly Satanic groupies of the "two-umlaut" heavy metal music band, Pöyzen Böyzen, who are too intoxicated with angel dust to realize that Sangamon is searching for toxic PCB's dumped on the island, not the drug PCP, which they sell. Hilarity Ensues.

Not to be confused with the true crime novel turned film by Robert Graysmith, see Zodiac.


This work provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Sangaman uses recreational drugs, has a rather caustic personality and operates in a gray area of the law.
  • Badass Bookworm: Sangaman isn't in great shape or a trained fighter, but he has a host of useful skills and the balls to use them. He plays chicken with cars on his bicycle ride to work, pokes megacorps in the eye as his job, and kills hired goons with his badass driving skills.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pleshy in particular, most of Basco in general.
  • Establishing Character Moment: On his way to work, Sangamon forces his bicycle into heavy traffic. When a driver yells at him, he unleashes a crushing Cluster F-Bomb.
  • Granola Girl: Most of Sangamon's co-workers. Even though they're on his side, he looks down on them.
  • Green Aesop: Sangaman is a one-man army against corporate polluters. He establishes himself as quite separate from hippy treehuggers and hates pollution purely out of self-interest.
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  • Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: Pöyzen Böyzen
  • Insurance Fraud: Boone has become an insurance fraud meme — whalers who want to get out of the business sink their own ships and blame it on him to get an insurance payout.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Rebecca.
  • Jerkass: Word of God is that Stephenson designed Sangamon to come across as an obnoxious asshole.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: The Big Bad is heavily muscled through weight training, but since that's all he does, he's musclebound and uncoordinated.
  • One-Word Title: The title refers to the brand of inflatable motor boats Sangamon uses to travel across the Harbor, shortcutting Boston's frequent traffic gridlock.
  • Punk Punk: Zodiac features many character archetypes, such as an antisocial renegade fighting megacorporations and their evil schemes. In addition, there is a focus on technology and how it affects society such as the genetically engineered bacteria that can clean PCB spills, but also could be used to make PCB as well.
  • Sci-Fi Ghetto: Inverted by the author. Stephenson has the book listed as Science Fiction, even though it really doesn't have any speculative elements to it.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Boone.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: Sangamon's toxic-waste-spattered tennis shoes are a modern-day equivalent.
  • Trivial Title: Zodiac boats are common around Boston Harbor, the setting of the story, but they don't have any special relevance to the overarching plot.


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