-18 I recently attended a special screening of Three Summers, which had a Q&A session with the writer/director, Ben Elton. As I commented in a film review on Tall And True, I have loved Ben's work since watching him do stand-up comedy on TV in England in 1987. And I loved the hit TV comedies he co-wrote in the 1980s and 1990s, The Young Ones and Blackadder. And I love his writing, from his first novel, Stark (1989), through to his most recent, Time and Time Again (2014). So it was a great privilege to meet Ben in person after the Q&A and for him to sign my yellowed copy of Stark, 30 years after I first fell in love with his work!
Back in 1989, environmental awareness and eco-protests were on the rise. World leaders were forced by scientific and public opinion to finally ban the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that had created a continental-size hole in the Earth's ozone layer. There was growing recognition humanity was trashing the planet and we had no "planet B". The world had also plunged into an economic disaster, with the Black Monday/Tuesday stock market crash of 1987 causing recessions in most developed countries. And yet among our rulers and the monied-class, Gordon Gecko's "greed is good" maxim seemed to hold sway over the cries of, "What the heck are we doing to our planet!?"
Starting with Stark (1989), and followed up by Gridlock (1991) and This Other Eden (1993), Ben created an eco-novel genre of his own. He combined keen observation and scientific insight with his trademark sharp wit and writing skills to hold a blow-torch to the bloated belly of capitalism and its siblings, corporate excess and environmental vandalism.
Ben spoke to my broadening late-twenties mind. He encouraged me to act and argue for our pale blue dot in the inky universe, and I often quoted passages from his books in my arguments. In fact, the closing paragraph of Stark is burned into my soul, it seems such a sad, but true summary of humanity.
I mentioned this to Ben when he signed my copy of Stark, but having published 15 novels, co-written numerous TV comedies, written two musicals, and written and directed two films, it was hardly surprising he couldn't remember the paragraph. And so I had the absolute honour of reading it to him. [Spoiler alert: skip this paragraph if you haven't read the book!]
The pioneers of Stark hated each other. They had created Hell in Heaven. They had escaped pollution on earth [in their rocket ships], only to discover that they had carried with them another pollution, a pollution that they could not escape. The pollution in their own souls.
I don't know how Ben felt about the lines after all this time, but they still sent the same tingle up my spine as when I first read them back in 1989!
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Okay, so Ben's books and I didn't save the planet in the 1990s. The fears of toxic air and water pollution that pervaded his eco-novels are replaced by the clear existential fear of climate change. And yet, like in his books, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, there are sceptics, deniers and uber-rich who would have us carry on as always, preaching their modern mantra that "growth is good".
It leaves me wondering if it's because, as Ben envisaged, they've got an escape plan? They've found a "planet B" (to which we, the ordinary people, won't be invited!). We have reached an age where gadgets, people and planets are disposable!
Perhaps it's time for me to re-read my signed copy of Stark!?
© 2017 Robert Fairhead
NB: Blog post also published on RobertFairhead.com blog.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.