Home > 2000, 21st Century, Australian Literature, Barry Max, Beach and Public Transports Books, Corporate Novels, Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction > Maybe some of you have forgotten what companies really do. So let me remind you: they make as much money as possible.

Maybe some of you have forgotten what companies really do. So let me remind you: they make as much money as possible.

Jennifer Government by Max Barry, 2003. French title: Jennifer Gouvernement.

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuit of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government”  Thomas Jefferson, 1801.

Barry_Jennifer_GovernmentThis quote from Jefferson is at the beginning of Jennifer Government. What did Max Barry do with such a statement? He took it LITERALLY. So we’re in a 21st century imaginary world where the Earth is divided in three zones, seen from an American point of view: the United States Federated Blocs (USA/Australia/UK/Russia/South America), the Non-United States Federated Blocs (Europe/China) and the Fragmented Markets (Africa/Middle East). The whole novel is set in the US Federated Blocs. Here, the government has no money because taxes were abolished, market laws rule everything and there aren’t any regulations unless you do something very illegal such as killing someone. It’s full employment and people’s surname is the name of the company they work for.

It all starts in America and ends up with a butterfly effect coming from the corporate world. Hack Nike, a merchandising officer, is thirsty and the water fountain on his floor is empty. He goes downstairs to catch a bit of water and stumbles upon John Nike, Guerilla Marketing VP and John Nike, Guerilla Marketing Operative. The John Nikes have decided of a new marketing plan to better sell the Mercury, their new luxury sneaker. They’ve already made it scarce on the market to increase its value and make people want to have a pair at any cost. Now, they want to move their plan to the next level. They’re about to drop thousands of pairs in shops and want to kill 10 customers at random once they have purchased Mercuries to make it look as if people are ready to kill to have these sneakers. They just need someone to do the job now. Hack is there and they lure him into thinking they promote him from merchandising to a great marketing if he just signs this contract written in small letters. Hack signs it without reading it and then learns what he has to do: he’s in charge of picking and killing the ten victims. When he enquires about the legality of the said task, here is the answer he gets from the two Johns:

“He wants to know if it’s illegal,” the other John said, amused. “You’re a funny guy Hack. Yes, it’s illegal, killing people without their consent, that’s very illegal.”

Vice President John said, “But the question is: what does it cost? Even if we get found out, we burn a few million on legal fees, we get fined a few million more…bottom-line, we’re still way out in front”

That’s pretty much the tone of the book. Hack doesn’t have the guts to kill 10 people himself but can’t get out of the job. That’s when things become global: he goes to the police to subcontract them the job. And the police subcontract it to the NRA. The killing is done and several people get involved in the plot. Jennifer Government is the government agent who was sent on the premises of the killing. She has a personal reason to track down John Nike and she’s really after him. Buy Mitsui attempts to rescue a girl from the killing but can’t because he doesn’t give his credit card number fast enough to 911 and they don’t send an ambulance without upfront payment. Billy is accidentally enrolled by the NRA and is caught up in their net of criminal doings. But more importantly, the world is divided into two major customer programs, Team Alliance and US Alliance. Each program elects a company in its field to be part of the program so Team Alliance is basically composed of companies in direct competition with the ones of US Alliance. The NRA and Nike are with US Alliance; the Police is with Team Alliance. Things escalate to a real war between the two majors networks and it’s up to you to discover what happens next.

I had a LOT of a fun reading this book. It’s dystopian fiction spiced up with a devilish sense of humour. The police? They broadcast ads to attract clients and their theme song is Every Breath You Take. Companies? Only interested in the bottom line of their P&L. Employees? Sheep that would give up anything for a discount and buy anything that is marketed as a “must have”. Schools? Sponsored by corporations which work on their programs and give toys, furniture and stationery. The Government? No taxes, no budget, they have to raise money from the families of the victims to start an investigation. Hear Calvin Governement when the news of the killing comes to him:

“Fourteen dead. At least eight were contract killings, all from families of limited means. At this stage it looks like the victims were selected for low incomes. I hate to say it, but it’s going to be tough to get budget on this one.”

It’s not real but it’s so close. Only money matters. And market shares. John Nike is the villain but he only gets his way because everybody is ready to give up part of their freedom of movement, of speech or of thinking for a bargain.

Being French and reading this is even funnier as France is mentioned in the book as a comparison to what America and its affiliated countries have become. I have to say that the quote by Jefferson shocked me. As a French, this is totally foreign to my DNA. I will never think that accepting inequalities and not sharing wealth through taxes or welfare is a good thing. Never ever. That’s why I’ll never understand how rich America can be a country without free health care or affordable universities. But enough of the heavy.

As an anecdote, I’ve learned a new expression. “Gregory was talking to a couple of big US Alliance cheeses, including Alfonse, the CEO”. I didn’t know what a big cheese is. Translated literally, I can’t say it sounds really positive in French. But the corresponding French expression (un gros bonnet, a big hat) may not sound too grand in English either. Anway.

Jennifer Government is written like a thought-provoking action movie. It’s a page turner, it’s fun, upbeat and incredibly sarcastic. I have a girly crush on writer Max Barry. I’ve already read Company and Syrup and I loved them too. I wish he came with me to the office and spent a few months in the French corporate world. Then he would write a killing novel featuring moronic unionists with undeserved power, unworkable regulations voted with the best intentions by MPs who have never set a foot in a company and puzzled foreigners wondering how things can still work despite all these complexity and obstacles. Come Max, I’ll sneak you in as my intern and you’ll work undercover.

  1. July 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    I’ve never read Max Barry but this does sound amusing. From what you say I think I’d rather live in the Non-United Federated Bloc, I’m sure the food would be better and like you, I find the selfishness of the anti-tax crowd repellent.


    • July 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

      What? An Autralian writer you’ve never read? Is that even possible?
      He’s funny. His other novel, Company, is even better.


      • July 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

        *chuckle* There are hundreds of Aussie authors I haven’t read! It’s a good thing you are here to tell the world about this one, eh?


  2. July 13, 2013 at 1:26 am

    very glad you liked this, Emma. It’s a book that marked a series turn for Max, I think, and also opens the door for the dystopia books he’s written since.


    • July 13, 2013 at 1:28 am

      I should add that Machine Man is Sci-fi really, but Lexicon is dystopian–as JG is too.


      • July 13, 2013 at 8:19 am

        I have Machine Man at home and I need to buy Lexicon.


    • July 13, 2013 at 8:18 am

      This one came after Syrup, so it’s his first step into dystopian fiction.
      I love his sense of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed the French guy Buy, formerly called Jean-Paul.


  3. July 13, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Be carefull what you wish for, Emma. He might read it. 🙂
    We all seem to come to dystopa from other dies these days.
    In a way what he does is just an exaggeration of what exists anyway.
    I’ve got Syrup, so I will start with that, but this doesn’t sound bad at all.


    • July 13, 2013 at 8:23 am

      I doubt he’ll read it.
      He can come, no problem. My boss is a heavy reader, she’s already read Syrup and Company upon my recommendation and believe me, she might fight with me to have him as HER intern. 🙂
      It’s an exaggeration of what we already have and if it weren’t told with humour, it would be frightening.


      • July 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

        I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he did read it. I think most authors have alerts set for when their names pop up on the internet.


        • July 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

          It’d be funny if he left a comment. I’ve never seen a comment on your posts, so I don’t think he reads reviews.


  4. July 13, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    This book sounds like it gets to the heart of what is going on in America today. The situation of anemic government, low taxes for the wealthy, deification of corporatism, etc is being pushed further and further by in what are in my opinion are ideological radicals. Much of the intellectual energy that feeds this belief system is fueled by the writings of Ayn Rand. Many of us fear that the result will be a country that resembles that described in this book.

    Sometimes proponents of these views will cite Jefferson. This is a misunderstanding of his views. He did advocate for a small, weak government. However, he also railed against mercantilism, banking and commerce that was non agricultural based. He distrusted and despised these aspects of capitalism. He idealized an agricultural based free market system.


    • July 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      It was written 10 years ago. The only thing he would probably change if he wrote it today is the product and company. John Nike and Mercury sneakers would be John Apple and Iphone2013.

      Thanks for the information about Jefferson. When I read the quote I thought: “This is old, so it means it’s rooted in the American psyche just like the right to carry a weapon”. I can’t even describe how this, applied to any kind of industry is shocking to me. It goes against every belief I learnt while growing up. It’s even against the principles of Christianism which are supposedly at the basis of the American State. (Or at least that’s what having a president being sworn in with a bible means to me. I’m not sure I found the right English words to explain my thoughts)


  5. July 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    It sounds a little like Richard Morgan’s satirical SF novel Market Forces, though more satirical and with far less ultra violence (Morgan does love his ultra violence).

    The quote about pricing in the regulatory response, about taking account of likely fines in deciding what to do, that’s very credible. The exact scenario is incredible, but the dialogue isn’t incredible at all.


    • July 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      Of course I know nothing about Richard Morgan, I’ll check him out.
      Sadly, you’re right, that dialogue is plausible. Everything is based upon ROI and risk management.


      • July 17, 2013 at 11:12 am

        I’ve written up four of his, this is Market Forces: http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/richard-morgan-market-forces/

        Not persuaded you’d like him though to be honest, he’s a major SF writer but he is definitely an SF writer.

        My next review will be of one of his, though sadly not one I liked that much.


        • July 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm

          I didn’t remember your review, sorry but thanks for the link.
          That’s probably a sign that I should avoid it. I tend to remember the reviews of books I want to read absolutely.


  6. November 12, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Can I just say that the “butterfly effect” starts in Melbourne (Australia-USA). All the shopping centre and street names are totally familiar.


    • November 12, 2021 at 10:42 am

      That’s good to know.
      It’s only gotten worse, right? This book is almost 20 years old.


      • November 12, 2021 at 10:45 am

        It’s all coming true.
        And now I’ve followed the link to “Pechorin’s Journal”. Good thing work is over for the day.


        • November 12, 2021 at 10:49 am

          Max’s blog (Pechorin’s Journal) is full of SF reviews. He’s a huge fan.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. June 7, 2014 at 11:10 pm
  2. June 1, 2015 at 10:23 pm
  3. November 1, 2019 at 9:13 am
  4. February 3, 2022 at 12:16 pm

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