BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Satire in which a government agent investigates a murderous marketing campaign in a corporate-run future.
PROS: Lots of action; fast-moving plot; funny without overdoing it; a quick read.
CONS: Keeping track of characters and thinking about their interrelationships was a bit of a chore.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile comical stab at corporate mentality.
Set in a corporate-run future where people take the surname of their employer, the satirical Jennifer Government follows the exploits of a government agent investigating a deadly marketing campaign. The Nike Corporation, in an attempt to drive up demand for the new line of Mercury sneakers, arranges to have ten customers killed at various shoe stores around the world. But when new marketing manager Hack Nike outsources the job to the Police, who third-parties it to the NRA, things get out of hand. Stockbroker Buy Mitsui, who witnesses the death of one girl at a local mega-mall, and Billy NRA, who accidentally replaces an NRA member, are also on hand as the plans of megalomaniacal marketing executive John Nike pushes the limits of marketing further and further.
I always felt that writing satire was a difficult task; it’s altogether too easy to overdo the comedy and spoil the effect. Thankfully, Max Barry pulls in the reigns just enough to keep it from getting in the way of the fast-moving plot, but not so much that the reader doesn’t get a few good laughs. Characterizations were also well done. Jennifer was likable (a determined, hard-working single mom) and believable. The character of John Nike was equally enjoyable to me; I disliked him as much as I liked the good guys. My only beef along these lines is that sometimes I had to pause to remember who was who. And I kept wondering if it was plausible that the same set characters would keep crossing each others’ paths.
While the plot moves fairly quickly and the book is a quick read, the real appeal of the book is the society in which corporations rule. This reminds me in many ways of The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Jennifer Government, though, gives life to my long-held theory that the world is run by two major competing conglomerates (like Coke and Pepsi). In this case, it’s the U.S. Alliance and Team Advantage groups. And they will stop at nothing to contribute to the bottom line.
Max Barry’s web site is illuminating. It mentions a previous stint as a Hewlett-Packard sales rep. I am left to assume that his humorous look at the corporate world stems from his experiences there. He also refers to the book as political satire, yet the politics (usually a fun-killer for me) did not infringe on my enjoyment of the book. I guess anything is bearable if you poke fun at it along the way. The book’s website contains the first chapter and also notes the existence of the web-based game called NationStates based on the book.
Overall, this was a funny and worthwhile read.