Friday, August 27, 2010

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

In the future no one will want to pay taxes to support the government.  Everyone will want all services to be privatized, and they will wear corporate logos to show their brand loyalty.  In the future everyone will be a consumer and everything will be a product.  In the future there will be artificially created runs on must-have products, and people will be willing to spend outrageously inflated amounts of money on such trivial items as sneakers and molded plastic dolls.

Hey.  Wait a minute.  That sounds suspiciously like the present.

In the not-so-distant future of Max Barry's Jennifer Government multi-national corporations run society.  The geo-politico-economic world consists mostly of the United States and its federated economic blocs--Central and South America, the U.K., Russia, Australia and New Zealand, a wee bit of Africa and some of Asia; the non-United States economic blocs--the European Union, some of Asia; and what's left of the rest of the world consists of fragmented markets.  The Police, a publicly traded securities firm with a theme song ("Every Breath You Take") that plays on a loop in the lobby, will take up your case for a fee.  The Government still exists, and even retains some ideals, such as a belief in basic human rights and the greater good, but is stymied by the fee-based system upon which it runs.  Employees like Jennifer Government derive their surnames from the entity that employs them.  No job?  No last name.

Jennifer Government--who has her own very good reasons for questioning the corporate structure of society, although they won't be revealed until late in the action--has been assigned to stop several killings at the Nike Town in a local mall.  The killings are part of a guerrilla marketing plan designed to heighten interest in the new Nike Mercury.  (Although the Government has to charge citizens who've been victims for any investigations conducted into the crime against them, it does have a small budget for the prevention of crime.)  Hack Nike, the low level Nike employee to whom the assignment had been given subcontracted it to the Police, who sub-subcontracted it to the NRA, another publicly traded securities firm which consists of a lot of bad-ass dudes.  Jennifer Government fails to prevent the crime; the NRA kills fourteen kids instead of the assigned ten, and shoots Jennifer Government in the process.

Boy is she pissed.  Jennifer's movements--sometimes officially sanctioned and sometimes not, for she's a bit of a maverick--take her from Melbourne to London to Los Angeles, as she tracks John Nike, the architect of the guerrilla marketing campaign, an increasingly powerful and increasingly nefarious executive.  Side plots which follow a loose group of anti-corporate guerrillas, a narcissistic computer hacker, and a suicidal stock broker all come together pretty neatly by novel's end.

Jennifer Government is a good, capably written, often funny, and always thought-provoking dystopian novel.  Definitely recommended as a quick, fun read.  And don't worry--the meaning of the bar code tattoo is indeed revealed.


3 comments:

JP - The Mistress of Corgi Manor said...

I had not even heard of this book, but I'm intrigued and will look for it. Thanks to finding you on Cym Lowell's Blog Party, I am now a new follower.
Be back soon.
JPerry
Mistress of Corgi Manor
& Madame Perry's Salon
http://madameperryssalon.blogspot.com

Rebekah said...

I loved this book when I read it several years ago, and I can almost never find anyone else who has heard of it. I don't know if it's still up but at one point they had a whole online gaming community built out of the concept of the book. Thanks for the review and for reminding me about this book. P.S. Her tattoo kind of sticks with you. Even (it
's probably been 6 or 7) years later, it pops into my head from time to time.

Rebecca Glenn said...

Thanks for the comment, Rebekah. Isn't funny (and wonderful!) how something from a book can pop into your head out of the blue like that? There's a scene from Richard Russo's great campus farce Straight Man that does that to me, and wherever I am when it happens I laugh out loud.