Jennifer Government
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2003
Without rehashing the plot points of the book, suffice it to say that finishing "Jennifer Government" made me want more of what I had already read.
Max Barry states on his website that in the final edit, he cut about three-fourths of what he had written for this book, including one major character. After reading Jennifer Government, one wishes that he had not edited it so heavily. The book is a quick read - I finished it in about 5 hours - which is a shame for a novel which deals with such a heavy subject.
Character development is minimal - not surprising in such a relatively short book. True, Hack Nike develops a spine, and Jennifer gets even tougher than she was. But it would have been nice to have seen more.
Some plot points make little sense and/or could be developed better. For instance, why is Hack Nike such a sop? What is Buy Mitsui's background? If the Government is so ineffectual, why was John Nike (the one who didn't get crumpet-toastered) so keen on getting rid of it once and for all?
Also, it would have been interesting to see Barry bring what appeared to be a nascent anti-corporate movement to a bit of closure. The guerilla-style attacks on billboards and McDonald's restaurants seem to do little for plot development except to throw in some routine leftist slogans. I would have enjoyed seeing how this movement would have disrupted (or lent to) the growing intra-corporate battles.
All this aside, the book made me consider my libertarian/free-market principles in a way I had never done before. Science fiction is full of anarcho-capitalist fantasies (viz. L. Neil Smith's "The Probability Broach") which portray such a society as more or less Utopian.
Even Stephenson's "Snow Crash", which is a darker book than "The Probability Broach", doesn't really seem to have a problem with a government-free society. "Jennifer Government", obviously, does. It certainly got me thinking about the proper role of government in society.
Barry claims that this book does not intend to portray a futuristic society, but rather is an alternate history of what could have been. I disagree; some of the geopolitical and corporate changes set forth by Barry could easily happen in my lifetime.
If one looks at the growing dominance of global corporate power - and whatever one's political orientation, one cannot deny that this is occurring - it's not difficult to envision a future in which schools are funded by McDonald's and Mattel, or one in which 911 will not send out an ambulance without guarantee of payment.
I can't be too disappointed with the book. Barry has a fiendish sense of humor and a keen eye for the excesses of corporate America. I look forward to his future novels in the same way that Neil Stephenson's early books made it clear that a great author was about to be born.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2003
If you've gotten this far in the reviews, you already know the plot to "Jennifer Government", a book well-descended from Kornbluth and Pohl, "The Space Merchants", and striving toward Sheckley's classic "Victim Prime". There aren't a lot of funny science fiction novels in print, and the most successful combine an insightful backdrop with snappy dialog. "Jennifer Government" makes it partway, on both counts. In the novel, the Police and Government are both companies with a certain amount of residual brand loyalty, while the NRA has the best shooters. When the Police want kids shot, they hire the NRA, as opposed to the Government, who, with 20,000 agents in place, seem to be unable to do much of anything competently, including preventing murders that they have advance knowledge of. In order to "solve" the killings, they require advance funding from the victim's family. (Remember the desk sergeant in "Heavy Metal"?) There aren't really any characters to identify with, which doesn't necessarily hurt if you want to make your ideas the funny part---which happens often enough in "Jennifer Government" to make it a worthwhile read, even though you have to get over Your Primitive Desire for a "Plot" of some kind. Thanks to Bob, I have no need for artificial constructs of this kind.
Given Barry's level of wit, as seen on his site maxbarry.com, I expected a lot more from the book than it delivered. There's a lot of cool ideas that don't really go as far as you'd hope, and though that may leave us wanting more (the key to good writing, according to Dickens) we don't want to pay hardcover prices for it. Still, it's worth having this one in your collection, and encouraging worthy Oz writers, so buy the paperback. Look for more from Max Barry, I have a hunch his next will be better yet.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2003
Jennifer Government was a fun, light, satire of capitalism. It is very plot-driven, and as the novel unfolds you just have to smile at Barry's wry and dystopian view of the future. Privatized governments, frequent flyer programs causing major corporations to form two competing "teams" at war with one another, bar-code tatoos, and other details make the book a clever satire of what Barry calls "capitalizm."
The book itself is organized in very short chapters (2-5 pages each, typically) and Max Barry's prose is a bit plain, but it gets the job done. As I said, the book is very plot-driven, and it moves quickly. The book will be easily adapted to become a big-time blockbuster movie, if it ever comes to that -- it's filled with the requisite shoot-outs, superficial dialogue, an cliche'd characters. But it's all in good fun. Overall, I'd recommend the book as a light summer read. I polished it off on a long plane ride, and it made the trip pass quickly & enjoyably.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2003
The premise of "Jennifer Government" is that corporations now control the world, for all practical purposes. The USA has deregulated everything and now people are defined by who they work for, literally. They take there last names from their companies, which we learn when introduced to one of the protagonists of this little satire named Hack Nike. Guess what he does? Basically the story, situated in Melbourne, Australia, but also covering LA and London, starts out with Hack being approached by two Nike Marketing men, John Nike and John Nike. They offer him a promotion to marketing, and he readily signs the contract, not reading the part that requires him to kill 10 people in order to build "street cred" for Nike's newest pair of $2500 sneakers. Hack goes to the police for help, but they end up actually convincing him to subcontract the hit to them, and they subcontract it to the NRA, now a fully armed and operational rifle association. This sets the whole story in motion, and the story, for what it is, is well told. Jennifer Government, a Government agent with a grudge against one of the John Nike's, is brought in to solve the Nike Store murders. Other tales are woven through this plot, and they all end up basically where they started. It's an entertaining ride, but an empty one.
The story moves quickly, and has moments of pure hilarity, such as what corporate competiton would become when things like murder aren't prosecuted unless the victim's family can pony up the loot to pay the cops to investigate it. But the message the Barry wants to send, that corporations are cutthroat and evil, is undermined by the fact that there is really only one corporate antagonist, and he seems to do things without authorization. Barry seems to admit that corporations aren't evil, just profit-hungry, and that the market more than anything else affects their decisions. He has many clever little twists thrown in, such as the fact that corporations also run the schools now, and while they do teach the same basic skills, they also teach that their competitors are evil. The problem with the book is that Barry wants it to be a critique of laize-faire economic policy, but in the end he only takes bizzare situations and attaches corporate names to them. This is not enough for satire. Good satire hits you at home, where you live, and makes you think about the subject. Barry seems to be lobbing bombs in the general direction of where you live, with a few rare exceptions misses entirely. Only a climactic showdown in LA and the initial idea of murder as a marketing tool really work. Everything else will just make you smirk and shake your head.
The other problem I had with the book, and this may not affect other readers, was that as a piece of speculative fiction it is poorly done. Barry describes a world that is not the future, but more of an alternate universe, where everything went of track decades ago. Probably, to those whom the book appeals to most, during the Reagan years. There are mentions of the JFK assasination, and the year 1996, and with the general lack of technological innovation, I would say that it takes place in 2003, but a different 2003. However, there is no real backstory on how it got this way. For a reader like me, this is troubling. Allusions are made to a past in which the government taxed things and had an actual military of it's own, and the EU exists in this world, but why and how it changed aren't addressed. Barry would have been better off setting his novel 50 years from now in our reality. The impact would have been greater.
Characterization is also not one of Barry's strong points. Only Jennifer Government is a developed character, and she is still mostly a cipher. John Nike is a cookie-cutout villan, and Hack Nike and Billy NRA are mostly ghosts. It's as if Barry used all his creative juice on the premise, and then put it on autopilot.
Jennifer Government will likely sell well, as it's marketing campaign ("Catch-22 by way of The Matrix") will appeal to any inteligent reader who enjoys satire. The marketing itself is either a massive case of hypocrisy or a clever bit of intended irony. Nevertheless, the book fails to deliver what it promises. It tells a good story, but it lives in an empty world.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
With Jennifer Government, Barry steps into the territory of better known traveler William Gibson-that of large multi-national amoral corporations, consumerism/marketing gone amok, personal technology's disorienting effects, etc. It's a world grown familiar to us over the past decade or so, made so by Gibson and others, and this new foray into it bears up fine, if not spectacularly so, in comparison (Gibson's newest, Pattern Recognition, in fact makes a nice companion novel to read with or just after this one)
By the time the novel takes place, the not-so-distant future, all facets of society, from entire countries to single individuals, have been suborned by large conglomerates such as Nike and the NRA. Employees take as their last name their company name (thus John Nike), assassination becomes just another marketing tool, "street cred" is literally to die for, the police subcontract out their work into a bewildering array of contracts and sub-contracts, and the government, while it still exists, is about as powerful as your typical independent bookstore is in comparison to the Barnes and Noble that moved in around the corner.
One of the main characters, Hack Nike, gets involved in the aforementioned assassination and the title character, on the scene at the time, makes it her mission to find him and then those more culpable. The plot is fast-paced, the characters enjoyable, and as a whole the work makes for a pleasant read-laugh-out-loud funny a few times, wryly amusing most times, but with a nice edge to it throughout. The pace does tend to bog down toward the end, the satire grows a bit heavy and tired, some contrivances of plot mar the last few chapters, and while the lack of background details allows for the quick pace, at times as a reader you wish he would have slowed down a bit to give us a more full vision of the world. Then again, there is room for more of Jennifer, so perhaps we'll get a more fleshed out vision in a later book. You won't be blown away by this book, and if you're one of those reader who does a chapter or two a night then you might be tempted to give it up toward the end, but stay with it; you'll surprise yourself by thinking of it now and then later on while watching a new commercial or reading another article on media consolidation.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 24, 2003
First, to dismiss the cover quote that describes it as Catch-22 meets the Matrix -- more like Snow Crash meets Moby Dick. And it's clear that Max Barry is a big Neal Stephenson fan, as the world overrun by corporate America is a very Stephensonian theme. In Barry's world, corporate America controls not only the US (and the entire western hemisphere) but also England, Australia, and Japan, and the consumerist/corporate culture (referred to as "capitalizm") is so pervasive that a person's last name is determined by the company they work for.
Hack Nike works for Nike in Australia (a USA country). He gets himself involved in a plot by Nike.au management to gain word-of-mouth for their latest sneaker line by killing people who buy the sneakers (a la 1980s gangland fashion wars), which draws the attention of Jennifer Government, a former ad agency wunderkind turned FBI agent (or something like it) with a bar code tattooed below her eye. Hack goes to the Police, who instead of making an arrest on the plotters subcontract the murders to the NRA (now a heavily armed privatized army-for-hire), making an enemy of John Nike, the VP who came up with the idea in the first place and the subject of substantial obsessing by Jennifer. And the corporate world itself is a character, as the plot line that started with some very shady dealing builds towards an all-out corporate civil war between two megalopolies that started off as frequent-flyer incentive plans and grew into political factions dominated by big-name megacorporations like Nike, Reebok, AT&T, IBM, and even Boeing.
The plot goes from Australia to Los Angeles to London, its characters let loose in a world where a hostile takeover involves cyberterrorism and paramilitary action as well as stock market manipulation and the Government stands seemingly powerless against the idea that "free trade == anything goes". It's a very fast-paced read, to the point where the book's sense of timing is a little lost in the shuffle, but it makes for some definite popcorn-movie reading. The book represents a sharp rebuke to the forces of laissez-faire capitalism as both of its protagonists are shown journeying away from the corporate mindset that built this strange, homogenized mess of a world, and also shows a sense of just how strange reality could be.
This book isn't perfect. It is, as I said, very derivative of Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash, and that tends to mute the creativity of the book (though it does manage to avoid some of Stephenson's stranger plot twisting). Also, the book carries not one but two romantic subplots, one of which is absolutely critical to the story and one of which fits in but seems a bit forced and unnecessary at times. The title character remains a bit mysterious even at the end when the meaning behind her bar code is revealed, but she recalls the best of action movie rogue cop characters like John McLean or Martin Riggs. Like I said, popcorn reading. It will be interesting to see what the movie based on this book will be like -- it's hard to imagine this story being toned down by removing the controversial bits (like the namedropping of major companies).
I do recommend this book. It's not the humorfest implied by some reviewers -- in fact it's a remarkably gritty and occasionally bloody book, and it sacrifices realism to the plot on a number of occasions -- but it still works as a sort of grim reductio-ad-absurdum satire where laughs are beside the point. I think it will make an excellent movie, as long as the movie is kept reasonably faithful to the book, and I think Max Barry probably has a long future as a cult author along the lines of Chuck Palahniuk ahead of him.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2003
Hack Nike, Haley McDonalds, Jennifer Government. You're given the name of the firm you work for; your allegiance is more to the company than to your country (which is really just a series of companies anyway). When unemployed you have no last name. Jennifer Government, Maxx Barry's second book after the equally well-written Syrup, is a fun fast read, interweaving different characters and points of view. I just loved the book and devoured it in a few days, then went and read Syrup. Now, the only bad part is that I have to wait for Mr. Barry to write another one.
The book can give you bouts of paranoia when you think how close we are to living like the characters in the book. It certainly made me want to stay away from brand named foods and clothing for a while....
There's no profit in the game as far as I know, so including this link shouldn't be a problem, should it...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2003
I noticed this book when I was working at a bookstore but I didn't really take note of it until several friends began playing Barry's online game, Jennifer Government: Nation States. I'm glad I picked it up since this book turned out to be a quick and very enjoyable read.
The chapters in the book are extremely short which gives the whole novel a quick pace. The world Barry describes, a world dominated by corporations and the private sector, is both facinating and frightening. Since it is a satire, parts of the novel are over the top but everything fits in the surreal environment of marketing and sales that Barry puts forth. The characters are believable and Barry's biting sarcasm and wit literally had me laughing as I read certain passages.
On the cover, they compare this novel to The Matrix and Catch 22. I see where they were going with that but only agree to a certain point. The story is not as high-tech or philosophical as The Matrix. Nor is it post apocolyptic. I also hesitate to say that it has the depth of Catch 22. Barry shines in his understanding of marketing and corporate culture and the ways in which companies might one day cross the line that they so carefully walk these days.
All in all, I give it 2 thumbs up as an enjoyable summer read!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2006
With all the positive reviews this book received I was reminded of the current state of literature after reading it as it's really not that great. A catchy idea, and Max Berry can really write interesting, poppy prose, but the execution of this is as blunt as can be. This book is neither an incisive attack on corporate culture nor is it a cautionary tale with any merit. It's mostly a crass, shoot-em-up - a one-line joke that isn't all that compelling or well researched. Yet I finished it, so go figure. Max should be screenwriter, not a novelist!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2003
A friend of mine sent me an e-mail telling me to try this new, FREE online game at [...]
Being an avid gamer I checked it out. Nationstates is a game that Max Barry made to coincide with the release of his book, Jennifer Government. In the game you get to run your own country and respond to issues that effect how your country develops. It seems Barry wrote the coding for the game himself, (maybe with help, I dunno) for the purpose of promoting the book. You have to admire his spirit, especially since he took the risk of getting killed on the bandwidth alone.
I had read the first chapter online, and I was a bit surprised at how brief it was, for just one chapter. If that set the pace for the book, and it does, then I felt it would be a fast paced read and not very deep. Well, that's true and it's not true. In my humble opinion it's no Matrix. The Wachowski brothers are obviously very avid students of eastern philosophy and The Matrix is full of it. Jennifer Government's symbolism doesn't begin to approach that kind of depth. If it does, it went over my head. There are some shootouts though, but nothing that defys the laws of physics in the over the top way the Matrix does. The comparison to Catch-22 is more realistic, but still may be more hype than substance. What attracts me to the book and made it a great read for me (I finished it in 2 days) was the satire, which is brilliant, and the indepth plots involving marketing and how Barry guides you around the various vices of capitalism.
And there is some freakin' hilarious stuff in it. Sure it's over the top in its assessment of capitalism, but Barry still manages to hit the nail on the head. A comparison to 1984 wouldn't be a stretch at all.
However, toward the end, the books seems to deteriorate into familiar (typical) characters, and things start to feel a bit rushed or glanced over. While the center protagonist is Jennifer Government, the character with the most depth is actually the trader. I won't spoil it, but his character development over the course of the book was my favorite.
I think the book kicks arse. It's brilliant spots and some spots are ho-hum, but I'd definitely recommend it. I do hope it gets made into a movie. For the author's second book, I think it's great. Great job Max. ;-p
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