The subject of Vapor Trails by R.P. Siegel and Roger Saillant intrigued me from the start. I’ve been looking for other contemporary fiction novels with environmental themes, so when this one came across my twitter feed, I immediately researched it and then bought a copy. I wasn’t disappointed with the read, although there is no middle ground with this book, which might have drawn in a wider audience. The book preaches to the choir rather than pulling converts to the green movement.
Vapor Trails enters into the bowels of corporate greed to the highest level of power. And power or energy at any cost to the environment and its people, is the heart of this story. The story is told from the viewpoint of three main characters: a corporate stooge, an environmentalist attempting to work within the corporate system, and a free spirit who rides his bike 2,500 miles just to attend a sustainability conference in New Orleans. Through the eyes of these three, the reader receives an education on oil and its damaging effects.
An unnamed hurricane in New Orleans causes water to surge and break through the levee system. This storm brings the odd trio of characters together when they are stranded at the sustainability conference. The storm is used to bring the key players together, but it isn’t used in any useful way to make a comment about man’s folly with playing with nature. Also, it left me slightly annoyed that the three characters don’t have to put up with the unpleasantness of the aftermath because helicopters and corporate jets zoomed down to rescue them out of the hellhole of southern Louisiana.
Mason Burnside, the corporate stooge, brought a lethal oil disaster to the rain forest in Ecuador though his cold-hearted decisions encouraged by his CEO at Splendid Oil. Ellen Greenbaum is an idealistic college grads ready to make a difference by working for the evil behemoth Splendid Oil in their sustainability department. Jacob Walker yearns to make the world a better place. Add together a man missing in Indonesia, and the novel has intrigue and mystery enough to hold the reader captivated.
Through the conversations, much information is imparted on the state of energy companies, the environment, and the impact on human lives.
While the novel can come across as pedantic and biased toward the green side, the ideas presented are considerably well-researched.
It is Mason who changes the most, as the other main characters remain static. Mason goes from stooge to hero through a series of life-changing events. Perhaps if the other two characters, who experienced the same events, had also undergone some type of transformation, the novel would be a more even representation of real life.
“. . . his arrogance finally caught up with him when he thought he could control nature,” says one of the characters near the end of the novel, and that is the crux of the whole novel making it an epic undertaking by the authors.
I highly recommend the book. If you’re on the fence about how you feel on this topic, this book will give you a good background for one side of the argument. For those folks who turn red at the mention of green, this book will do nothing but turn them further away.
I applaud the authors for a well-written and well-researched book on the treachery of pushing through projects in unsafe and deadly ways. I just wish they’d left a little room for the shades of gray in this discussion.