Jennifer Government

Australian writer Max Barry’s second book, “Jennifer Government” is a well-crafted light satire. It could be called speculative fiction or science fiction. It’s set in a dystopian near-future in which governments have been downsized and government functions privatized. People take the name of their employer as their surname – Hack Nike, John Nike, Billy NRA, Jennifer Government. Profits rule. Employees are dehumanized and brutalized. There is no respect for quality in work and art – it’s a bottom line world, catering to whims of the consumer.
The story starts when Hack Nike, a low level Merchandising agent, is hired by John Nike, the Vice-President of Guerilla Marketing to kill 10 teenagers to give a new product street credibility. He goes to the police who offer to subcontract for him. The story takes off from there. Kids are killed, and Jennifer Government investigates the case. There is a heartbreaking scene early in the book in which she has to ask parents of a victim to fund the investigation. It becomes personal when she discovers the link to John Nike, whom she knew before her career in government.
The dialogue is snappy, the plot lines are tight and well connected. There are moments of ironic dialogue, some absurd comical scenes and a budding romance to carry the story over its dark premises. It’s worth reading for enjoyment, and for the satirical commentary on where modern neo-conservatives might take us if they had their way with government and the economy.
It’s not great literature. The characters are basic and act for simple motives. Character development is largely eschewed in favour of plot movement.
Barry has links on his web page to a number of reviews and news stories about Jennifer Government. In reading his page, we can see posts and newsletters going back well before the book was released. He used the Web to promote himself and the book before it was released. One of his strategies was creating the Nation States on-line game.
It’s hard to say if this book has staying power. It fits into the anti-globalization, anti-corporate movement, and it appeals to people who reject right-wing American politicians. For the time being, it’s topical, enjoyable and mildly provocative.

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