Jennifer Government, by Max Barry
About fifteen years ago I read this novel for the first time and I was reminded of it when I got around to playing a nation on a game that is based on the novel, Nation States. Now, I am quite fond of imaginary nations  and this book provides an example of a dystopia that is quite consciously different than most dystopias which focus on the power of government. Here, the focus is on a vestigial and limited government that, thanks to the power of the titular character, has just enough power to overcome a loose cannon among the business community that wants to turn corporate competition into actual warfare and ends up going too far for the businesspeople in his corporate alliance and pays the price for it. What is appealing about the novel in particular is the way that the author is able to juggle a variety of compelling characters in a story that takes advantage on the fact that the characters are closely connected to each other with short chapters that are full of cliffhangers that drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion with a surprising degree of optimism.
The book itself is a bit more than 300 pages long and contains six parts that are like acts. The novel begins when a guerrilla marketing executive decides to make his shoes cool by ordering some of his company’s customers killed, one of whom is a young girl who is given the money for the shoes by an intense stockbroker, who is guiltstricken over his role in the death of an innocent child and becomes suicidal. Hacking and violence as companies grapple for market dominance lead more people to be caught up in the midst of the maelstrom, while the book’s villain is pursued by a government agent who is a bit too intense for most of the people she works with and around. Some of the characters here are pursuing their own private vendettas, some are caught up in circumstances beyond their control and trying not to keep getting screwed over, and some think that they are the ones in control only to find out otherwise. The result is a compelling look at a possible future where companies have moved into the role of authorities and where people take their identities from the companies they work for or are associated with and justice depends on having enough money to be able to pay off a drastically weakened government.
If you like fast-paced dystopian novels that have a wise and wiseacre view of government and business, this is certainly a worthwhile one. It is easy to see this novel becoming an excellent movie and it certainly makes the basis for a compelling game, so there is a lot of cross-platforming here as well. Jennifer Government, whose tattoo has a mysterious and hilarious meaning that is revealed towards the end of the novel, is a deeply interesting center of a novel that is full of intriguing characters who wrestle with questions of freedom, authority, and the worth of local culture and the lengths that people will go to impose their will on others or resist the impositions of others. Whether or not anything like this future happens, and I think it a bit unlikely, this is certainly an intriguing story of corporate cronyism run amok with dangerous consequences for everyone else involved in their shenanigans. The book even comes to a humorous conclusion that brings the reversals of the novel to a pleasing conclusion that ought to please all but the most libertarian readers. It’s easy to see this novel being a very appealing one given our contemporary political and economic concerns.
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