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9.10.2002 by Julian, every Tuesday.

Ben Elton is one of the funniest men on the planet. His stand-up comedy routines are capable of reducing even the most tight-assed of Brits into kidney-rupturing bouts of laughter. North Americans probably wouldn’t get most of it, as his comedy mainly dealt with British politics and I don’t think he’s done much since the 80s. But if you enjoy extremely offensive jokes about Margaret Thatcher, there’s none finer. If, on the other hand, you’re into environmental activism and conspiracy theories you’ll probably enjoy Stark.

When Sly Moorcock, multi-millionaire Australian newspaper tycoon, gets invited to a secret meeting with the world’s richest, and therefore most powerful, men (yes, men), he naturally assumes that they are gathered to make money; “colossal, unimaginable, utterly meaningless sums of money.” So he’s a little surprised when Tex Slampacker, owner of the world largest fast-food chain (read McDonald’s) starts to lecture them about deforestation, and Lord Playing, a billionaire cigarette baron, gives a talk about erosion and the ozone layer.

But Sly soon realizes that they’re not just a bunch of whining hippies collecting for some charity; they know the Earth is dying and they don’t intend to be around when it does. Thus the Stark Consortium is born. Together these men have “more money than God and the social conscience of a dog on a croquet lawn.”

Colin Dobson, on the other hand, is in love. In order to impress Rachel (the object of his affection), he pretends to be an activist. Together with a Vietnam vet who had his testicles blown off in the war, a spaced-out hippy and an Aborigine couple who had their land taken from them, CD stumbles upon the biggest conspiracy in the world.

The wonderful thing about Ben Elton is that he’s a social/environmental activist but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Stark isn’t annoyingly self-righteous or self-serving; in fact, Ben Elton is constantly making fun of the usual flaky hippy-style activism. As he puts it: “Why were the people who wanted the right things usually such wankers?” In fact, most of the characters in Stark are wankers in one way or another, but they’re also funny and endearing.

Elton’s stand-up background comes through in this book. Some scenes in the book were obviously just put in for laughs, and given that the book if fairly long at 450+ pages, you might get annoyed with them. But these asides are usually hilariously funny. When Rachel asks CD if he is vegetarian he agonizes over how to answer, knowing that his entire sex life could depend on his reply:

There were so many opinions on the subject, so many chasmic pitfalls to be circumnavigated. It’s all a question of degrees. Some people are quite happy to eat a raw chicken stuffed with a couple of shoals of fish but consider it an offence against God to toy with a chop. Others would eat anything, great steaks dripping with blood, raw sushi, sausages, bloater, black pudding, haggis, unwary family pets, anything, and yet would call the police if they caught you even considering veal: “You know how they make it don’t you? They tear the baby cow foetus from the mother then artificially fatten it by feeding it napalm and electrocute its testicles to make the meat whiter, then cut its head off and stuff it up its arsehole while it’s still alive!!!!"

All-in-all Stark is irreverent, hilariously funny, and a genuinely entertaining story, and it demonstrates Ben Elton’s unique talent — the ability to be an activist without being annoying.

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