cover image O Zone

O Zone

Paul Theroux. Putnam Publishing Group, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13186-8

Theroux's view of humanity is becoming increasingly bleak even as he stretches his reach with this novel that brilliantly depicts the world as it may become. In the not-too-distant future, America has turned into a police state and a rigidly class-obsessed, terrifyingly racist society. On the verge of anarchy, the country is fragmented into many chaotic parts. The Owners, the remnant elite who live in armed enclaves protected by fearsome security forces, feel menaced by aliensalso called Roaches, Trolls, Skells, Starkiesall those who lead desperate lives of poverty and despair. A group of eight Owners, including a near-genius adolescent, seek an adventurous thrill in a rocket trip to the forbidden area of the O-Zone, formerly the Ozarks, which has been sealed off following massive nuclear contamination. The experience changes all of them, and a second, secret voyage there has terrifying consequences. Theroux has vizualized every detail of his desolate, all-too-plausible world. His scathing social commentary is powerful and convincing; his characters, while too unappealing to win the readers' sympathy, etch themselves in the mind. This highly literate science fiction is not a pleasant book to read, but it is a significant contribution to the literature of what may be a preapocalyptic world. (September 20)