Emma Northcliffe
15th August, 2003

***** 5 stars

If there's one consensus about the future, it's that it's going to be bad. Yeah, so you'll have a jet pack and snazzy silver threads, but the corporate mob will have sucked your soul and your life will no longer be your own. You want fries with that?

Jennifer Government is one of the last remaining vestiges of law and order in the privatised countries that make up the greater US. Her surname's a bit of a clue. Her daughter is Kate Mattel and her nemesis is John Nike, a loose cannon in the world's most cut-throat Guerilla Marketing department. John has people killed for their trainers, and that's just the start. As part of the largest customer reward scheme in the world - the US Alliance - he's also got a nasty dose of megalomania. It's Jennifer's job to bring John to justice, all while avoiding the attentions of the National Rifle Association and dealing with the childcare.

Barry's future reads like an uneasy combination of the desperate near-now of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs and the dystopic disaster zone of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, taking elements from both styles and making them his own. Not quite sci-fi, more a planet of economics gone mad, his inventions are the plausible extension of the corporate desire for loyal customers and the sheep-like reaction of the human race. The viewpoint has a certain neo-green moralising twang to it, but the humour keeps things together and the racy plot is gripping from twisted start to terrifying finish, as Barry's slick ideas about corporate behaviour save on the preamble so often associated with futuristic scene-setting. The gorgeously twisted structure makes for some interesting location hopping, and the murky world of business is counterpointed neatly by the human scale of the associated drama. Frighteningly good.