The Null Device

Jennifer Government

I recently picked up a book titled Jennifer Government, by a local author named Max Barry, after seeing it mentioned on bOING bOING. It's ostensibly a satire of globalisation, in which the world has become corporate-America-as-seen-from-Australia (complete with everyone speaking with Californian accents), everything is privatised, and the government's only remaining role is to prevent crime (for those who can pay the bills, anyway). Which sounds like an interesting premise; pity that the book didn't make the most of it.

The book is let down by a lack of psychological realism. Had the author populated the universe with plausibly rendered people, rather than cartoonish stereotypes, these premises could have been a very good springboard for an exploration of the human condition in the age of corporate hegemony, of extrapolating globalisation to its dystopian conclusion and exploring the myriad consequences of the way things are going. However, Jennifer Government has all the psychological realism of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Characters have next to no inner life, and are guided by the most one-dimensional motivations (greed, for example, or parental responsibility; all these things one can assign a short name to and employ by the book).

IMHO, a better treatment of the same idea is K.W. Jeter's Noir. Curiously enough, while Jeter's premises (the dead being reanimated to work off their debts) are more outlandish than Barry's (people's surnames being changed to their corporate employers' names), Noir requires less suspension of disbelief, because the scenarios and events therein have plausible psychological motivations, as opposed to happening by fiat of the author.

Not that Jennifer Government isn't entertaining, in a throwaway sort of way, just that it takes an interesting idea and squanders it, using it as little more than a McGuffin and/or a comedic prop. An amusing thriller it may be, though it falls short of being the sort of speculative fiction I expected.

There are 3 comments on "Jennifer Government":

Posted by: Graham Tue May 13 01:40:20 2003

Well, I read it in one sitting, as I mentioned at VM. It sort of fell apart about a third of the way in.

Posted by: Cynical biped Tue May 13 23:31:35 2003

A cogent connection, and one I hadn't thought of though I've read both books. For me, Jeter is the local author (he lives in Portland, Oregon) and Max Barry the exotic. Other than that small reversal, and it's rare for me to say this, I agree with these comments entirely, right down the line.

Posted by: Graham Wed May 14 02:34:44 2003

Well, with the likes of Wil Anderson (post-ironic station-attendant-shirt-wearing gimboid) mention in the acknowledgements, would you expect anything more than a superficial skim of the ideas?

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