REVIEW: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

REVIEW SUMMARY: Satire showing the power of advertising taken to the extreme.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Advertising associate Mitch Courtenay is assigned to run the stolen Venus Project, which aims to sell an overpopulated America on the idea of colonizing the planet Venus.


PROS: Quick moving story; interesting depiction of society; Short on fluff.

CONS: Some of the plot twists were predictable.

BOTTOM LINE: A good, fun, quick read.

Mitch Courtenay is an associate at the Fowler Shocken advertising agency. Life is easiest when he has to write copy for selling products like Coffiest, a kind of super beverage that contains an addictive alkaloid. (What better way to boost sales?) But now, he’s just been assigned to run the Venus Project, a campaign that was stolen from the competitor and aims to sell an overpopulated America on the idea of colonizing the planet Venus. Things get tough when Mitch must confront corporate politics and backstabbing, legalized murder (as long as it’s a registered corporate feud, of course) and a group of environmentalist extremists called the Conservationists.

The Space Merchants definitely has the classic sf feel. I suppose being first published in 1952 helps. It paints an interesting and believable picture of a future society where advertising is king. The country is essentially controlled by two competing advertising agencies that control the puppet government. And in this society, you are either an ad man or a mere “consumer”, subject to the whims of the elite advertisers. The plot takes the reader through different aspects of this future society. Also, the story is filled with neat one-shot inventions like retinal commercials and the like.

This was a fun read. Clocking in at 170 pages, there was no time for the authors to add a lot of fluff. So it’s leanly written and quick-moving. The writing is remarkably consistent for a collaborative effort. Characterizations are three-dimensional and the sequence of events is logical and believable. I look forward to reading the sequel, The Merchants War.

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