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The Space Merchants (2003)

The Space Merchants (2003)

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3.87 of 5 Votes: 5
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0575075287 (ISBN13: 9780575075283)
orion publishing group ltd

About book The Space Merchants (2003)

I’ve had a very miss-and-miss relationship with recent novels and short stories that, claiming to be science fiction, venture into our future a few years to some kind of corporate dystopia. It’s not that I don’t take the threat seriously, but the refrain is so familiar and blunt. It doesn’t challenge our perspectives or incite us to action. It’s become a formula: plug in a few references to current companies merged into super giants, like AmExDisneyGoldman; show that people are oblivious to their desperate state because advertising tells them they’re wonderful; but make that world as ugly and rotten and polluted and over-populated as possible; mix in stock characters with starkly black-and-white views – voila! The basic building blocks for many works of socially-aware fiction: Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood; Gary Schteyngart’s “Lenny Hearts Eunice” (which I believe became part of Super Sad True Love Story); and George Saunders’ “The Semplica-Girls Diaries” (as well as many other short stories by George Saunders). Again, it’s not that I take issue with the aim; it’s the self-congratulatory and pedantic tones that overshadow any serious confrontation with where we’re going.The Space Merchants is, in many ways, their forebear. Here we have a future where, through the power of suggestion and addiction, advertising executives rule the ugly world. Our narrator is Mitchell Courtenay, a highly skilled and admired copysmith for one of the two giant advertising agencies, Fowler Schocken. Courtenay is a star-class citizen, happily entrenched in the high life that few people enjoy. He doesn’t consider himself a “consumer,” but to keep accounts happy he uses their products. When the book begins, Courtenay is attending a work meeting and Mr. Schocken himself is introducing their new project: moving people to Venus to exploit whatever resources they can:“There’s an old saying, men. ‘The world is our oyster.’ We’ve made it come true. But we’ve eaten that oyster.” He crushed out his cigarette carefully. “We’ve eaten it,” he repeated. “We’ve actually and literally conquered the world. Like Alexander, we weep for new worlds to conquer. And there — ” he waved at the screen behind him, “there you have just seen the first of those worlds.”Courtenay is shocked and elated when he finds out that he will be heading the account. It’s hard work, even dangerous. After all, rumor has it Schocken stole the account from Taunton, the other advertising firm; if Taunton dares it can file a complaint and start a war with Schocken where associates really can be murdered in a legally sanctioned manner. Courtenay is pretty sure, though, that Taunton wouldn’t dare. He can focus all of his attention on getting enough people to move to the hottest planet in the solar system, one where the atmosphere alone will crush you, one with winds strong enough to take your remains and spread them across the entire land in a matter of minutes. It’s a challenge he accepts greedily.But it’s not all roses in Courtenay’s life. Eight months ago, he married — kind of. Really, he and a doctor, Kathy, filed papers to start a kind of year-long trial. If they want to stay married, they file another paper. Courtenay has already done this; Kathy has not, and now she’s moved out. He genuinely loves Kathy and cannot quite understand why she won’t stay with him.But on to Venus. One of Courtenay’s first tasks is to get all of the information he can from the one person who has flown to Venus and back, the thirty-six-inch tall Jack O’Shea. Which brings me to one of the reasons I liked this book much more than most others of its type: Pohl and Kornbluth really seem to understand the advertising and corporate worlds they are criticizing. As outlandish as the world they create is, they establish its reality with an appropriate tone, nuance, and mentality sourced directly from Madison Avenue. This explains why, according the Oxford English Dictionary, this book is the origination of the now-common terms “soyaburger,” “R&D,” “sucker-trap,” and “musak” as a general term. Pohl and Kornbluth show us how Courtenay approaches problems and explains his method as he creates copy that will sell the product. For example, why does Courtenay speak with O’Shea even though O’Shea has been already been drilled by researchers and has written exhaustive reports? Because Courtenay’s kind of advertising doesn’t rely on technical reports: “I wanted to know the soul of the fact, the elusive subjective mood that underlay his technical reports on the planet Venus, the basic feeling that would put compulsion and conviction into the project.”Sadly (for me, anyway) when the book is not world-building and starts dealing with an adventure plot, it isn’t nearly as strong. Not long after Courtenay starts to work on the account, he is high-jacked in Antarctica, his death is faked, and he left to join the ranks of the consumers, getting a taste of how terrible things really are. He lives the life of the oppressed: At sunset you turned in your coveralls and went to dinner — more slices of Chicken Little — and then you were on your own. You could talk, you could read, you could go into a trance before the dayroom hypnoteleset, you could shop, you could pick fights, you could drive yourself crazy thinking of what might have been, you could go to sleep.Mostly you went to sleep.Thankfully, the book isn’t so simplistic as to make this an immediate cause of conversion. He retains his conviction that the world is fine and that he just needs to find a way to let the people who love him know he is not dead. How to do that, though, when everything is stacked against you?I won’t spoil any more of the plot — and this book does get very plot heavy as Courtenay dashes around the globe in his efforts to regain his social status and control over the Venus project. I was glad when later in the book we do go back to world-building and see Courtenay’s mind, rather than convenient plot points, work him through and around his problems. Also, thankfully, the book is so cynical we really don’t know how it’s going to end.So, though I was disappointed in the heavy, often convenient, plot, I still found a lot to love in this book, not the least of which was the nostalgia I felt. It’s a great start to this nine-book set.

First time I've read this novel in decades. I am quite sure that I considered it "far-fetched" in the 1960s. Hey, how crazy can you get: Congress controlled by corporate entities; conservationists vilified as anarchists; food and beverages adulterated beyond belief, corporate espionage driven to life/death levels; Severe shortages in fossil fuels and clean water. Hmm, so where do "chicken tenders" really come from? Maybe from "Chicken Little".And in my undergraduate days, I worked part time for Burns Detective Agency. It was pretty respectable at that time, but certainly had a checkered past, which likely accounts for Pohl & Kornbluth's choice of it as well as Pinkerton and Brinks as competing thuggeries.I have to say that now, these many years after its debut, this book is amazingly prescient and well written. The style is dense (or compact if you will) and much is packed into each paragraph. The oddysey of Courtenay through the advertising hierarchy and into the belly of the beast is gripping. It seemed that he would be consigned to a fate of being a copysmith true believer until the end at which time he undergoes something of an epiphany.My only quibble with the story is the attempt in the final pages to retrieve something of a happy ending. But it was the 1950s after all.I should mention that I have also read Gladiator-At-Law and Wolfbane by the same authors. The latter I first came across as a serial in Galaxy magazine. I recently re-read it and found it still to be very worthwhile. My recollection of the other is a little dim, but I remember liking it.

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Basıldığı yıl göze alındığında (1952), daha önceden de okurken yazdığım yorumun tam aksini söylemem gerekiyor.- "Roman Ballard'ın Gökdelen(1975) ve Öteki dünya(2006) romanlarının dolaştığı yerlerde geziniyor gibi gözüküyor. Hafif de bir Dick havası var( A Scanner Darkly-1978)."- Bu 2 yazarın romanlarında kullandığı birçok ögeleri yine bu romanda bulabiliyoruz. Ballard'ın Öteki dünya romanında olduğu gibi reklamcılık çok büyük önem arz etmekte. İnsanlar, bu illüzyonlarla hiç ulaşamayacakaları yalandan amaçların arkasında hayatlarını harcarken, verilen uyuşturucu maddelerle ve hipnoz edici yayınlarla bilinçlenmelerini önlenmekte. Yazdığım bu "worldbilding" ile ilgili kısımlar belki şu an için çok klişe gelebilir ama 1952'de yazıldığını varsayınca gerçekten zamanının ötesinde olduğunu kabul etmek gerekir.
—Ali Çetinbudaklar

The concept of this book was genius--the authors imagine a world in which advertisers control the world, and citizens are more loyal to their favorite brand names than their country. Mitch Courtenay works for one of the world's super advertising agencies, and he is put in charge of the newest ad campaign: selling the colonization of Venus. With Earth's current overcrowding problem, it shouldn't be too hard of a sell, but a million other factors seem to complicate Mitch's progress. There are the Conservationists to worry about, people opposed to blind consumerism and the common practice of wasting resources, but the Consies are considered nutjobs by most of the populace. There's also the fact that Mitch's life is continually threatened by a rival ad agency that wants to steal back the Venus project. The thing that makes this book really shine is all the SPOT-ON social commentary. Although this book was written 50 years ago, it still feels completely relevant to today. Even some of the throwaway lines are so scarily accurate that I couldn't stop laughing. But the whole thing hangs on a kind of one-dimensional plot, so I think the whole thing could have been better than it was. But it's definitely worth checking out for the concept alone, and there's plenty of biting satire to enjoy.

After appearing as a serial titled “Gravy Planet” in “Galaxy Science Fiction” from June through August in 1952, “The Space Merchants” by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth was published in book form in 1953. Today the work is clearly regarded as a classic, and its satirical look at what society would look like in a future where consumerism becomes the major driving force is both humorous and a bit profound in terms of how close we have come to it.There were few awards back in 1952 so it is not too surprising that “The Space Merchants” didn’t win the first Hugo when measured against Bester’s “The Demolished Man”, but it is a little surprising that it wasn’t considered for the International Fantasy award in 1952 when Kornbluth’s much inferior “Takeoff” was one of the nominees, or in 1953 when “The Demolished Man” was considered and lost out to Sturgeon’s “More Than Human”. Perhaps it is the humorous premise on which the future society is based, and/or the light-hearted feel of the narrative which resulted in the work not gaining favor with those who select which works are worthy of consideration for awards. It was the fans who first recognized the book with the Astounding/Analog polls of 1956 where it tied for 22nd on the list of books, and in 1966 where ten years later it still finished 22nd on the list of books, and in 1975 when the Locus poll where it was tied for 24th for all-time novel. That is a pretty impressive feat to finish in roughly the same spot in polls taken over a twenty year period.The story is told from the point of view of Mitch Courtenay, an employee in the Fowler Schocken advertising agency and a star-class copysmith. Mitch receives a promotion to take on the job of selling Venus to people, an account which Schocken has stolen from his rival Taunton. Mitch is in love with Dr. Kathy Nevin, but is having difficulty convincing her that they should stay together. There is also the illegal political group, the Consies (short for conservationists) who threaten the consumerism-based framework of the society. Mitch’s promotion and new project have him targeted by someone to be killed, and if that is not enough he is kidnapped and his identity stripped and he is placed in a position from which he might never escape. He is forced to create his own game to escape, gain his life back, and take on not only his own personal and professional enemies, but deal with the entire conflict between the Consies and society. The book is not all that long, and the pace is quite fast, but what a great ride it is from beginning to end.

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