Paul Kirkley
July, 2003

For many, true science fiction only comes alive when it transcends the "cowboys in space" approach and uses its uniquely broad canvas to shine a light on the very real issues of the day. Huxley and Orwell's visions of a dystopian future of state control were fuelled by the rise of communism but, ironically, it was the failure of Marxist ideologies that led to the consolidation of the world's first hyperpower and the global imposition of a single political model, where the free market is king and governments have surrendered much of their power to the private sector. Sorry - went a bit Red Pepper on you there.

Max Barry has spent long enough in the marketing game to have developed a keen eye for the absurdities and excesses of the corporate age. On a purely satirical level, Jennifer Government is packed with inventive ideas, from the police sub-sub-contracting assassinations to the NRA to a Nike marketing exec being impaled on his brand's own swoosh. Where it is less successful is as a thriller. The basic premise of the eponymous Government agent and a bunch of hackers and culture-jammers taking on a corporate megalith is a sound one, but the plot lacks tension and Barry's prose, while no disgrace for a first-time novelist, is a little perfunctory.

Nevertheless, if contemporary SF is to aspire to anything more than lame shoot-em ups and fanboy wish-fulfillment, this is exactly the nettle writers ought to be grasping. And let's not delude ourselves that much of this book isn't actually science fact - as you read this, classrooms across America are taking part in such corporate-sponsored "learning" activities as "How to build a Nike sneaker" and "How to market Coca-Cola".

Looks like our Jennifer has her work cut out.