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This review is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

MISSOURI BREAKS Paul Theroux, O-Zone (Hamish Hamilton) £9.95

Now that a new academic orthodox view, in the wake of ventures by Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and others, is proclaiming that science fiction is a women's field, peculiarly available for the exploration of alternative, feminist points of view, Paul Theroux has tried his hand at the genre too and what he has turned in is astonishing in its leaden triteness. At his best, in Saint Jack or Picture Palace or The Mosquito Coast, Theroux has been one of the most rewarding novelists now writing in English. So this departure is doubly disappointing. Time magazine's bestseller list and thousands of sci-fi buffs worldwide will tell a different story, but for my own taste O-Zone is Theroux's dreariest fiction to date.

O-Zone is a futurist initiation fiction, with sub-1984 satire on the ad absurdum abuses in cancerous late capitalism and a preacherly insistence on values, especially the value of resilience and survival. It is a long novel and attempts a great deal, and might have achieved particular effects better if it had been less of a welter.

The O-Zone (Outer Zone) of the title is an area of the United States, formerly Missouri, which at the time of Theroux's narrative (several decades into the future) is deserted and desolate following an 'excursion' of radiation: nuclear waste had been recklessly deposited underground, at a time which sounds suspiciously like our present day, and later rendered the above-ground uninhabitable. Two wealthy brothers, Hooper and Hardy, organize a titillating ...


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