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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. [1]

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. Taylor is a frequent recreational user of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. His justification: the eponymous Sangamon's Principle, which explains,

 The simpler the molecule, the better the drug. So the best drug is oxygen. Only two atoms. The second-best, nitrous oxide -- a mere three atoms. The third-best, ethanol -- nine. Past that, you're talking lots of atoms. Atoms are like people. Get lots of them together, never know what they'll do.

Over the course of the novel, he also imbibes hallucinogenic mushrooms and LSD. He admits the latter is a violation of Sangamon's Principle, but partakes anyways, making an exception during a forced overland march because he believes it is just too useful to ignore.

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.

This work provides examples of:

  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pleshy in particular, most of Basco in general.
  • Granola Girl: Most of Sangamon's co-workers.
  • Heavy Metal Umlaut: 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.
  • 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 effects 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: Averted by the author. Stephenson has the book listed as Science Fiction.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Boone.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: Sangamon's toxic-waste-spattered tennis shoes are a modern-day equivalent.


  1. the novel was written before the completion of the Big Dig, a major civil engineering project that created cross-city tunnels to help alleviate chronic traffic problems.
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