The genre of science fiction is often vilified because it takes a single subject and follows it to an extreme in order to make a point. Intelligent computers could be harmful? Look at HAL. Nuclear weapons could destroy the world? Lets write hundreds of books that examine what life would be like after an apocalyptic event.
I don’t know that I would place Jennifer Government by Max Barry firmly in the genre of science fiction, but it does fit the mold in the sense that it takes a single concept, capitalism, and takes it to its ultimate extreme. The nice thing is — it does it in an accessible, enjoyable and oftentimes hilarious adventure story.
In the not so distant future, commerce has become the ultimate king. People have given up their last names and now take as their surname the name of the company they work for. Characters such as Hack Nike, Rendell ExxonMobil and the title character, Jennifer Government, live it a world ruled by corporations and their profit motives. Schools are sponsored by Mattel, street wars start over whether you go to McDonalds or Burger King, and marketing directors plan gang style murders to create interest in their company’s products.
It is this last act that essentially drives the plot of Jennifer Government. The book begins with a plan by John Nike to generate interest in a new line of shoes. Gang wars over clothing heighten interest in the products, so the plan is to generate the buzz through true guerrilla marketing. The remainder of the book follows the lives of a handful of characters affected by the fallout of this plan.
A Good Yarn
Max Barry reminds me of other writers I’ve read. Neal Stephenson, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut all use a similar style of creating a varied set of characters who don’t seem like they would ever come together in the natural course of their lives. However, throw in an event that shapes each of these characters and suddenly these people are brought together. Half the fun is figuring out how all the characters will become intertwined. It takes a good writer to pull this off without losing his readers or creating coincidences that stretch credibility. I think Max Barry pulls it off.
The nice thing about this story too, is that while it does tackle heavily political subject matter, it does so in a care-free enjoyable manner. The story is never really sacrificed to the gods of “The Message Of The Book.” While it does poke holes in the extremist version of capitalism, it does so in a way that never comes off as pretentious or heavy handed.
Of course, on the flip side of that is that I would have a hard time marking this as a great book. It’s enjoyable and it’s fun to read, and some of the ideas are thought provoking, but I don’t know that it’s a book that will stick with me for too long.
Overall, though, this book was very enjoyable. If you’re looking for a light, quick read, then this is a book you should try out. It will have you questioning your credit card’s reward programs and make you see the term “married to your job” in a whole different light.
Who would like it: People looking for a good story that makes them see the commercial world in a different light.
Who wouldn’t like it: People on the far, far, far right of the political system. Especially those that have no sense of humor.