The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!
Jennifer Government is Max Barry’s second book, published in 2003. As I mentioned here, I am a bit of a fan of Max Barry’s writing. I approached the reading of Jennifer Government in much the same way that I’d approach an ice-cream sundae – a great deal of anticipation, coupled with the knowledge that once I’ve finished it, it will all be over. So I kept the book sitting next to my bed in my pile of “to be read” books for quite some time before finally giving in and hurling myself into it.
The story is set in a future, where the USA has taken control of the majority of the developed world, including the UK, parts of Asia, Australia and New Zealand. All of these countries fall under US control – therefore, there isn’t any need for international trading. Capitalizm is the new political structure, which is essentially rule-by-corporation, with taxation abolished and the public sector privatised. The Government no longer has any power other than the prevention of crime and, budget withstanding, punishment of criminals. The Police is a private law enforcement and mercenary company, Ambulances are only provided for sick or injured parties once payment has been made, and welfare of all kinds has been abolished.
In this world of corporate-rule, all citizens take their surnames from the company for which they work. Some of the main characters in the story are Jennifer Government (she works for the Government), Hack Nike (he works for Nike), Billy NRA (he works for the NRA), etc…. You get the picture. This naming extends all the way to children, who are given a surname based on the school they attend – each one funded by a particular corporation (Mattel and McDonald’s schools are specifically mentioned.).
The story follows the results of a marketing-campaign-gone-insane. John Nike, VP of Guerilla Marketing, develops a campaign that will allow Nike to sell the new Nike Mercury sneakers for $2500 a pair, despite them only costing pennies to manufacture. The key element of this campaign is simple: Increase demand by having teenagers who purchase the Nike Mercury’s assassinated for their shoes.
To this end, John Nike tricks one of his subordinates, Hack Nike, into signing a contract agreeing to do the assassinating. When Hack realises what’s going on, he immediately goes to the police, who helpfully offer to do the assassinations for him, for a fee. This sets off a chain of events that leads to Jennifer Government being assigned to bring down John Nike, and prevent an all-out war between rival corporations.
I absolutely loved Jennifer Government. It brought back memories of playing the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG as a teenager – hacking into corporate databases, sneaking past gun-toting corporate mercenaries, and waiting for the sudden but inevitable betrayal from the corp who hired the group. All while wearing mirrorshades. Especially at night.
Jennifer Government as a story is definitely Corporate Satire rather than Cyberpunk, but the setting could be either. And, to be perfectly honest, as much as I enjoyed the story, Max Barry’s well realised setting, established without the need for a “data dump” at any point, is what really impressed and entertained me.