Sunday, February 23, 2014
The boat, not the star-symbols
Whenever I'm feeling down I use Science Fiction to try to break me out of it. Zodiac is not exactly SF, just as Neal Stephensen isn't really a genre writer, but it does the job in a pinch.
I'm a pretty big Stephenson fan - I've read almost everything he's written (and what I haven't read is on my Amazon Wishlist if anyone is curious) and I uniformly adore it. Most of the Stephenson fans that I know don't really like Zodiac but it makes sense to me in the context of when it was written in it's author's career; when you aren't really a name no one is going to publish your thousand-page love-letter to cryptography, but if you write up an eco-thriller with a side of genetically modified bacteria then you're one step closer to getting your crazier ideas put on bookshelves everywhere. And aside from all of that, it's fun as hell. It follows what has become the classic arc of a Stephensen novel and has all of the wonderful elements that he interjects so beautifully into his fiction - hilariously apt descriptions, asshole protagonists who are aware of the fact that they're assholes, interesting female characters, and a whole lot of shit that is more technical than many readers are comfortable with (in this one it's just a little chemistry - no diagrams or scary math).
Reading Zodiac is like slipping into a big, warm, cozy robe for me. It's familiar, it's relaxed, and I'm probably having a pretty good time. The pacing is a little manic, and it's the fastest-reading Stephensen book that I've encountered, but that's perfect - it's an easy couple of hours that gets your head into a really interesting place with out making you think too hard about depressing shit (though, yes, dissolving dolphins and the state of the Boston Harbor are depressing as all fuck).
I think that everyone should read Stephenson, but even though Zodiac is one of his earliest works I don't think it's the best place to start. Pick up Snow Crash, move on to Diamond Age, and then read Cryptonomicon. If you can get through that you're set and you'll have the foundation to work on the rest of his books and know what you're looking at and who you're dealing with. Yes, he tends to use "types" in his novels, but goddamn if they aren't fun people to hang out with. I like techy-but-socially-awkward guy and tough-as-nails-sarcastic-savvy-girl. They're my buddies, and they're why I keep coming back to everything that Stephenson puts out - he keeps putting them into interesting situations that I want to see them get out of.
Stephenson, Neal. Zodiac. Grove Books. New York: New York. 1981.