Jennifer Government by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I reread this for a book club recently. I'd first read it soon after it came out, and all I remembered clearly was that I liked it. So, I refreshed my memory.
Jennifer Government is set in an alternate Earth where corporations have the run of the place. People's names are derived from where they work, or which corporation owns their school. The government is an entity like any other, the biggest difference being that it's not as well-funded as the rest. The NRA has a strong corporate presence, and its members are often tapped for hired killings.
The story begins with Hack Nike, a weak-willed peon, tasked with creating buzz for sneakers by having kids who bought them murdered. When he goes to the police to report this illegal activity, they assume he's contracting them for the killing, and draw up a contract. Skip to the scene of one of the murders, of which the titular character has heard and is trying to prevent. In the process of chasing down the shooter, she damages a brand new car, and on top of all of her other paperwork is being sued for those damages.
The book follows several perspectives, though I found myself easily able to follow whose section was whose. Each character has very different drives and morals, and it shows. All are told in a snappy, quick pace that was often funny. Jennifer's sections are the most sardonic, and I found myself reminded why I liked her enough to want to reread this book.
My complaints are minor. The first, and this isn't the book's fault, is that it's dated. Jennifer Government came out in 2004, and it has references to VCRs, talks about cell phones like they're exotic and special, and the networking capabilities in the book are hilariously outdated. It served as a solid reminder that the book was meant to be alterate-Earth, not near-future.
Second, Hack starts out so clueless about how his world works. I suppose if he understood better, we wouldn't have had much of a plot. It's possible that he was deliberately kept ignorant, too, as this world doesn't have much room for coddling. I would've liked to have seen more evidence for that, though.
Third, the book relies heavily on coincidence. The cast of characters shifts about to three different continents, yet it's often the same players affecting events. There's some amusement value in their shifting alliances and changes in outlook, but there were too many coincidences tying these characters together.
Overall, I was glad to be given a chance to reread this book. It was an entertaining read, and it fits a lot of my own deep suspicions about those who profit in today's economy. It's absolutely stuffed with hyperbole, but, as it's hyperbole I can get behind, I didn't mind one little bit.
If you're looking for some anti-capitalist commentary with your zany adventures, you could do a lot worse than Jennifer Government.
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