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Neal Stephenson, 'Zodiac'

Arrow Books, 1988; ISBN 0 09 941552 6; 291pp; £7

OK - I confess, I am a Neal Stephenson fan (the sole purpose of my visits to bookshops at the moment is to ask whether his latest novel - Quicksilver - is out in paperback yet!). Before I stumbled across Zodiac I had already read his three other (predominantly sci-fi - sometimes called cyberpunk) novels and been entertained, intrigued and in the case of his epic - Cryptonomicon - been fascinated.

Zodiac is a great read, but in style and content the book is quite different from his others. It is a funny, non-stop adventure, charting the surreal ups and downs of a environmental direct action group GEE International (Group of Environmental Extremists) and, in particular, chief protagonist Sangaman Taylor (described lovingly as “environmentalist and chief pain in-the-ass”).

GEE and Taylor are on a mission: to stop the local bad guys (major corporations) spewing toxic sludge into the sea and destroying the marine environment. Much of the action is direct action (and nonviolent at that), locking up gates, welding pipelines closed, diving actions and so on. And our hero spends a large part of the book zooming round in a Zodiac (RIB) taking samples, getting in the way - and escaping from the bad guys.

Taking an ironic look at environmental activism and swipes at the realpolitik of the polluters, plus highlighting the dangers of genetic engineering and the violence meted out against activists by agents of corporations, Native Americans, terrorism and what happens when activists are considered “too extreme” for the groups they originally worked with (presumably a nod to Paul Watson, his “expulsion” from Greenpeace and subsequent development of Sea Shepherd) the book certainly covers a lot of issues.

In the end there is also a subtler storyline about violence and nonviolence, about when it makes sense to team up with people who maybe don't share all your views but where a strategic alliance makes sense in your collective mission to defeat the polluters.

Basically this is a fun and fast paced eco-thriller, with enough themes and “action” to keep the pages turning until they run out.

Topics: Green | Culture