Jennifer Government by Max Barry Book Review

Write on: Fri, 28 Jan 2022 by  in Charles' New Reviews Read 1521


JENNIFER GOVERNMENT by Max Barry is a novel that shows the more literary satirical side of cyberpunk. A lot of people focus on the technology and noir elements but rarely the politics. They just have "corporations bad, heroic plucky rebels good." There's nothing wrong that but it also misses the opportunities that could be provided by a deeper analysis of the genre. For things like The Matrix, it is the philosophical. However, Jennifer Government is more like Snow Crash in that its dip into the philosophical is both entirely relevant as well as well as parodic. That doesn't mean its any less effective in its storytelling or critique of society, though.

The premise is that in the not-so-distant future, corporations have taken over America to the point that surnames are dictated by whatever company you work for. The police has been privatized, the government is a shell of its former self, and the education system only exists to inform the public about how great the American economy is compared to other parts of the world. It's a libertarian dystopia that sort of works as an anti-Atlas Shrugged where the dismantling of the social safety net has resulted in a hellish barely-functional society.

The beginning of the book illustrates exactly what sort of world this is: Nike hires a man to kill a bunch of people who buy their shoes. If this sounds insane, it is part of a guerilla marketing stunt that "gang members" will be killing people to acquire the latest Nike sneakers. They hire a man named Hack who signs a contract without reading it and soon finds himself pressured into conducting the killings. Except Hack is a moron and subcontracts to the police who subcontracts to the NRA. This gets fourteen people killed and begins the involvement of Jennifer Government, perhaps the last agent who actually cares.

Much of the book's text is devoted to its various protagonists trying to navigate the utterly insane bureaucracy of the future. It is an utterly unsubtle and entirely justifiable hit job on privatization. The comparison to Snow Crash isn't superficial as that book, too, dealt with the destruction of the American society and its breakdown into countless principalities ruled by individual corporate interests.

Things aren't quite so bad in Jennifer Government but they're pretty bad where in lieu of taxes, the government must charge the victims of crimes in order to get the budget they need to go after violent criminals. This would seem silly but living in the American health care system, I can actually forgive this exaggeration for satirical effect. After all, that is also a life-saving important industry that falls upon its most vulnerable people to pay for.

The characters are very likable and very memorable with Jennifer Government being a bit too much of a hard nosed cop/struggling single mother stereotype but still immensely entertaining. She's the moral foundation of the book as Jennifer is about the only person who reacts to the system with the appropriate amount of anger as well as disgust. I'm also very fond of John Nike for the exact opposite reason as he is a truly reprehensible piece of garbage but entirely believable. I also felt strongly for Buy, a stockbroker, who feels more guilt about the shooting that happened because he gave a poor girl enough credits to buy herself a pair than the actual people responsible.

Part of what I like about Jennifer Government is weirdly how incompetent the villains are. They are short-sighted, selfish, narcissistic morons but they have so much privilege and wealth that taking them to account for their crimes is almost impossible. While I'm not going to give up my Grand Admiral Thrawns and Raistlins any time soon, it's frankly refreshing to see her up against people who feel like the real villains of today. I have never met a tortured evil genius doing what he needs to save the world. I have met many John Nikes and worked for a few.

In conclusion, this is not your typical cyberpunk but it is a near future dystopia dominated by social satire and present trends run amuck. If it's not properly as part of that genre then it's close enough for government work (pun intended). I definitely recommend it and am of the mind that this would go in my top ten list of best cyberpunk novels.

Available here

Last modified on Friday, 28 January 2022 00:18
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.