Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Appendix N: The Space Merchants
"Our representative government is now more representative than ever before. Not necessarily representative per capita, but most surely ad velorem.
If you like philosophical problems, here is one for you. Should each human being's vote register alike, as the law books pretend and some say the founders of our nation desired? Or should a vote be weighed according to the wisdom, power, influence, and money of the voter?
That is a philosophical problem for you, you understand; not for me. I am a pragmatist, and pragmatist, moreover, on the payroll of Fowler Schocken."
- Mitch Courtenay, The Space Merchants, Page 15
The Space Merchants, written by Frederik Pohl, was published in 1952.
It posits a dystopian future in which corporations and the wealthy control American politics; advertisers and the media manipulate public opinion to serve the interests of the wealthy; and environmentalists are loathed and discredited. A more ridiculous and unlikely future could not be imagined.
Our protagonist, Mitch Courtenay, Copysmith Star Class for the powerful advertising firm of Fowler Schocken, has been given a new assignment: create an advertising campaign encouraging Americans to settle Venus.
His problem? Rivals within his own firm, murderous competing advertising agencies, fanatical environmentalists, and an errant wife ... one, some or all of whom want him dead.
"He found what he was looking for on the front page of the New York Times ... and he really wished he hadn't. Mitch Courtenay, head of the Venus section of Fowler Schocken, found his obituary in the first column. Seems he'd been found frozen to death on Starrzelius Glacier. He'd evidently been tampering with his own power pack, and it failed. Somebody wanted him dead, and wanted it now."
Mitch wakes up to find himself far from home and imprinted with a new, working-class identity. He struggles to escape the contract, wage and debt slavery of working-class life, unravel the parties behind his abduction, and expose their connection to the Venus project.
Like many other Appendix N novels, The Space Merchants is a slim volume, in this case a mere 215 pages. I have to admit, when picking up this novel, I expected a jaunty, space-opera tale of Han Solo-esque ruffians. So I was surprised, and not unpleasantly, that it was instead a satire of politics, advertising, marriage and corporate ladder-climbing.
If you enjoy the satirical, dystopian future genre, or the film Bladerunner, you might want to pick up this old gem.