Stark: An earth-shattering novel

Stark:  An earth-shattering novel
by Ben Elton      (Sphere, London, 1989, pp 453)

A. You should read this book if you are a:

  • fan of ground-breaking ‘80s alternative comedy;
  • Sustainability / environmental change agent looking for ammunition and inspiration;
  • Thriller reader, who loves a strong plotline with entertaining characters and snappy word play.

B. Chapter headings:

The novel has 58 chapters which makes for easy reading (it does not take long to the end of each chapter), adds pace to the narrative and gives fast orientation.  Here is a flavour of the novel from some chapter headings:  Love Among the Radicals; The Nerve Centre of EcoAction; A Step Towards Extinction; The Rats gather Round the Lifeboat; Frozen Food on a Hot Night.

C. Main Points:

No spoiler alerts!  An international group of privileged and insanely rich business oligarchs are progressing a plan that gives the human race (as they see it) a technologically enhanced future, starting in the middle of nowhere – the desert of Western Australia. The world is on the verge of extinction, having been ravaged and polluted by these same, remorseless magnates.  Set against this conspiracy is an accidental group of environmental and anti-establishment Aussies (with one Pom), who take up with an American investigative journalist, a sharp shooting Australian First Nation woman and a camel named Walter Culboon.  Ben Elton has a sharp ear for dialogue and a good eye for scene setting. He outlines great characters and finds humour in the most outlandish situations (even though there are moments or two when our current realities of Coronavirus and Climate Change break through and show that, 31 years on, nothing has changed for the better – so not so funny, but that is not Elton’s fault).  This gives us even more reason to read this potty-mouthed, laugh-aloud eco-thriller with its decidedly Sartrean ending.

D. Key quotes:

“She could have said anything…she could have said…uhm ‘we can leave immediately” or well anything, but no, she said ‘I’m ready.’ Said it?  She breathed it.  If that wasn’t the old green light to oblivion thought CD, he was a stupid wanker.  And, of course, he was right.  It wasn’t and he was.”  P.46

“What a mess it was! Until he flew over it Sly had never realised just how hellish a few hundred hectares of virtually unrestricted mining could look.  It was a couple of years since he and the other members of the consortium had stood on the pretty hillside with the champagne and the photographers, bleating on about it being a great day for Australia.  Since then a good approximation of Hades had been produced.  The land was scarred and smashed and poisoned.  Soon it would also be empty.  When that happened Sly and his friends would fence it in and move on.  Land was there to be used.”  P.74

“He had ridden the camel all the way from the coast and was under the impression that they had become friends.  So had the camel, who was rather surprised that on arriving at their first water for weeks, a meagre puddle dried almost completely in the appalling heat, Bullen had tethered it to a gum tree in order to get a first slurp.  Bullen’s reasons for doing this were actually very sound.  Camels can suck up literally gallons of water in a matter of seconds and Bullen, understandably, wanted to get in quick before the camel drained the puddle.  The camel did not realize this however, and thinking itself betrayed, broke its bindings in an anger of thirst and kicked Bullen out of the way, killing him in the process.”  p.90

 E. Diamond of Responsibility© perspective:

From a former right-on alternative comedian this is a real call to action, sadly even more relevant now than it was back in the ‘80s.  There is a clear view on the things that we should value, and a strong ethical position taken against the all-consuming & corrupting power of the uncaring super-rich.  Other key stakeholders include the environment and future generations, and the strong view that indigenous populations are the proper stewards of their country.  In this way, Elton holds up a mirror to us as readers through his spirited and chaotic eco champions, because we are still not responsible stewards of our precious world:  Change Agency is proposed as the only proper solution, so are we ready to Do or Die?

F. Diamond of Responsibility© content rating (out of 5):

Ethics                          3

Process                      3

Stakeholders            5

Values                        5

Change Agency        5