The Space Merchants
by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth
Cover Artist: Tim Gebor
Review by Harriet Klausner
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250000156
Date: 06 December 2011 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Big transnational corporations run the world. CEOs are the rulers of society while their key knights are advertising maestros who spin tales to keep the masses dumb and happy even when there is a shortage of fuel, water, and food, and shelter is not much more a paper thin file cabinet. The Corporatocracy owns Congress and other governments.
Fowler Shocken Associates may be the most powerful of the affluent. None of executives of this high powered advertising firm lives in anything like a one room dump. Their current project is to sell Venus as viable property. Assigned to delude the masses and the fools in government on the false spin of turning a hellhole climate into a Garden of Eden is Mitch Courtenay. He is to get volunteers to colonize the ultra hot planet while the terraforming of the surface is decades away.
However, this simple sell turns nasty when someone steals Mitchell's social security identifier by tattooing additional numbers before and after his prime set. His new digits identify him as a laborer with large debt working outside under an oppressive sun. His only hope to return to his already estranged ethical wife Kathy who scorns him for brainwashing the masses.
This is a somewhat revised version of the classic dystopian science fiction that takes a rather dim view of a world consumed by corporations. The cautionary story line is even more relevant now then in the 1950s Cold War era in which it was written with the insidious ways corporations own the government with the middle class paying the tab.
Mitchell is a fascinating protagonist as he relishes his upper crust lifestyle with a Cadillac, a house overlooking a large Long Island park, and fresh meat. He has given up much for his position of affluence though he does not realize how much until he no longer has the materialist lifestyle. His odyssey reminds this reader of the 1940s Preston Sturges' comedy Sullivan's Travels as the hero learns what he has and has not on his quest.
In the Preface to this powerful timely satire, Frederik Pohl admits to updating some elements in the story line to eliminate "minor scientific or logical errors". Although for the most part, this will not be apparent except with obvious names, there are a few spots that lead to inconsistencies with prevailing social attitudes of 1953 -- the role of women especially. Still The Space Merchants keeps its sharp mocking of a world falling apart while the fiddlers play an advertising tune telling the people how great they are and how great they have it.