REVIEW: Starburst

Tony Lee
Issue 301, 2003

Rating: 4/5

Hack Nike works for Nike. When he gets a chance to move from his lowly position in the merchandising department to a potentially lucrative career in marketing, Hack foolishly signs a new contract without reading the small print. Then he learns that his boss, John Nike, wants some teenagers killed as part of an exclusive product promotion and Hack's job description includes sniper duty. Later, having subcontracted the murder spree to the privatized police (who, in turn, hire the NRA to carry out the hits), Hack finds his life ruined by his bad judgement and others' incompetence, and things get worse when he attracts the attention of Jennifer Government, a field agent with a barcode tattoo...

Tackling such controversial material as gun control, armed insurrection, globalization, corporate crime, and the all-pervasive power of media advertising and marketing, Jennifer Government is a blackly comic novel with a hilariously absurd plot redeemed by subtly perceptive, satirical commentary on American society, and ominous warnings of how bad things could get in the near future after Hollywood "culture" overruns Britain and Australia. Its anti-capitalist view suggests that amoral, obscenely wealthy tycoons are a greater menace to world democracy than any foreign dictator, especially when price wars break out between rival loyalty card organizations.

However, Barry's main strength as an author is not in his story's middling genre ideas, but in the serio-comic characterizations. Suits, flunkies, and yuppie types may well be soft targets for satire (ever since the heyday of Monty Python), but Barry still does a good job of making them the object of amusing derision again in this flipside of Orwell's 1984. Yet even the cartoon-evil villains have a human side, although sometimes it's only overbearing arrogance. Terrific fun!