Set in Boston this thriller centres on the exploits of the oddly monikered Sangamon Taylor aka The Toxic Spiderman. He is a chemist working for a group of environmentalists called GEE, and is trying to prevent pollution of the waterways by chemical companies. As a professional pain in the ass he publicly humiliates and embarrasses the major chemical corporations that are polluting the environment.
Sangamon Taylor is a chemist for the Northwestern chapter of GEE International (Group of Environmental Extremists). He is blond shaggy haired and wears tennis shoes and multiple t-shirts. A graduate of Boston University he is looked down upon by those from MIT.
He sees himself as the archnemesis of the chemical company Basco the number two polluter in the table of polluters of Boston Harbour. The Boston population as a whole and the sewage they produce hold the number one spot.
Zodiac is the only hardboiled ecological thriller I know of and it features what has become the trademark Stephenson wit. The book features assassination attempts, genetically engineered bacteria and a cast of characters that ranges from Native Americans to the Executives of chemical companies and their heavy metal loving teenage sons.
A mystery not of the whodunit variety, but more of the what the heck happened and why did it happen. The book also acts as an introduction to environmental issues and the science of pollution.
Even though it doesn't feature any hackers the hacker ethos is present in the book in the form of Sangamon Taylor a cool anti-establishment chemistry nerd.
The return of the psycho nerd Dolmacher in Zodiac has similarities to that of Andrew Loeb in Cryptonomicon. Both of them have survivalist skills and seem to flit between being sane and a bit creepy to being completely psychologically deranged.
The book lacks in characterisation of everyone outside of the central character of S.T., but as the book is told in the first person from his perspective this reflects how he views the world and the people around him.
Stephenson's work is hard to pigeonhole, as the novels are not what many people imagine science fiction to be. He is considered a cyberpunk author because of Snow Crash, which was a huge success, and yet his other novels don't really fit well into this category. Zodiac is a kind of sci-fi detective story set in present day, The Diamond Age is more traditional science fiction in that it is set in the future and features undreamt of technology and Cryptonomicon is a scientific historical story intertwined with a modern day tale of business and cryptography.