Saturday, 28 February 2009

This is a novel, and the things that happen in it aren't true.

Jennifer Government, by Max Barry, is a near-future sci-fi novel with several speculative ideas. However it's also a political satire and would sit happily on a bookshelf between Michael Moore's non-fiction investigative novels and Carl Hiaason's Florida-set satirical thrillers, a few rows up from some of Ben Elton's novels. Barry is Australian and sets his novel in an Australia that seems to have become "a United States Country" along with many other previously independent nations. Individuals' lives are completely ruled by the powerful corporations who employ them - to the extent that they wear barcodes and take corporate surnames, hence characters such as Hack Nike, John Nike, John Nike and the eponymous Ms. Government. Government agencies have been emasculated but struggle with their limited power to maintain their standards. Who in turn rules the all-powerful corporations? Read on and discover which two familiar organizations hold all the power and are fighting for their own supremacy - it's an original but actually very plausible conspiracy scenario.

Jennifer Government herself makes a great action heroine and role model for the working mother. The book hits all its satirical targets and makes a strong case against allowing the capitalist world to self-regulate or transcend governmental control. Barry adds power to his observations by misappropriating real corporations, trademarks and all, and this novel
contains the second best front-page disclaimer I've ever read (the best can be found not in science fiction but in Toby Young's novel How To Lose Friends And Alienate People).

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