Filler content with satire

This review appeared in The Third Alternative #35:-

JENNIFER GOVERNMENT

Max Barry

Abacus pb, 335pp, £9.99

reviewed by Peter TTAPress 

It’s the not so distant future. Australia is part of the United States and the multinationals rule supreme, except in socialist backwaters like France. People are born, live and die for the company, taking on the names of their employers (aha, it wasn’t a typo) and sending their children to company sponsored schools. Democracy is a dirty word, a trick dreamed up by the small minded to curb profits, and the Government, though still strong, is fighting a losing battle against corporate interests as the two loyalty card rivals, Team Advantage and US Alliance, slug it out to be #1 with a bullet on the Dow Jones.

Hack Nike, a mild mannered and essentially harmless corporate drone, is enlisted by John Nike, the head of Guerilla Marketing, in a scheme to murder a dozen kids and steal their trainers, thus ensuring Nike’s new shoe becomes the must have fashion accessory of a generation. For Hack this presents a crisis of conscience and his attempts to get out from under make up one main strand of the story. For John Nike it’s but the first move in a dazzling and rapid rise up the corporate ladder to the higher echelons of US Alliance, and a plan to destroy both the Government and hated rivals Team Advantage. However John has reckoned without the formidable Jennifer Government, a woman from his past and with a score to settle. Yeah, this time it’s personal.

Barry’s book is a lightweight satire written in a recognisable tradition (at one point, in a knowing wink to the reader, John turns the pages of The Space Merchants), but fast paced and hitting all the right on buttons and making its point with the minimum of pain, unless you’ve just bought Nike trainers that is. It’s seldom subtle, but the moments of over the top humour are a delight, such as when Billie Exxon is enlisted by the NRA, the military wing of US Alliance (Team Advantage have The Police, and I don’t mean the band), and mistaken for a professional assassin, or John Nike’s steadfast inability to see anything wrong with what he is doing and the double talk that he uses to justify murder and insurrection, all of which are so patently outrageous they acquire a cachet somewhat more sober criticisms would lack, the moral seeming to be that we can believe almost anything where the big corporations are concerned. And I also liked very much the fact that Jennifer is not the Judge Dredd type she’s often seen as by the other characters, but revealed as a very vulnerable person with a family and a whole life she has to fit in around the day job.

If I have any criticism at all it’s that that bastard John Nike, the psychopath in a suit, got off lightly at the end. I wanted Jennifer to really stick it to him. I guess the fact that I hated the guy so much speaks more to Barry’s ability to carry a tale than anything else I have to say. This is not Masterwork material, but it is a lot of fun and should bring a smile to the face of anyone without a seat on the board of McDonalds.

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