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on 30 November 2008
I bought this book some years back, perhaps because I was at the time of a political outlook not far from what was portrayed in the book.

The backdrop and plot should be known to the readers, but for good measure I will provide a short rehash: the new US (aka The Federated Bloc), *everything* is privatized. The state barely exists and has no noticeable presence or function in the everyday life of the public. Corporations are by far the most visible element in daily life, and some run the functions which government once provided (police, military, courts). People take their surname from their employer. And so on.

A Nike shoes employee, Hack Nike, is tasked to increase the demand for a new brand of Nike shoes (with an extreme sales price and an equally extreme(-ly low) production cost), by having ten teenagers shot when the first store carrying the product opens. He passes the job on (outsourcing) to the Police, which then outsources to the NRA, and from there on, it all goes wrong: The product launch turns into more of a bloodbath than Hack intended, and a mother of one of the victims of the campaign hires a government agent to investigate.

The satirical oppertunity of the book is immense considering its setting in a world where privatization is taken to an extreme; in other words it would be candy for both those pro and anti of the portrayed world.

Unfortunately it doesn't last; you can only go on for so long about describing a radically different political-economic reality without taking an overt point for or against it; the author, wisely so, abstains from this as that would have turned the book into a rant, instead he goes down the humorous road, spiked with satire.

That doesn't last either; the humor fades away after the half-way marker, and the book ends up in the way of a confusing detective story with twists and sudden entrees that doesn't go well with the general feel of the story.

After putting the book down I'm left with a sense of having read though a mishmash of political humor cum crime story; it has some good highlights, but overall not leaving any impression, and probably wont have me take it up again in the future.

In closing - some people have claimed it is a social critique, an open attack on libertarianism, and dystopian in the lines of 1984. I'd say it is none of the three; it simply does not cut deep enough in these repects. It is not a social critique, because it is not very critical of anything (the main characters' negative experiences are in my view not cast as a general verdict against the ills of the society (which there do nt seem to be many of!), but mostly due to their own dissatisfaction. This is furthermore hard to tell because the portrayal of the persons and their emotions tend to be flat), it is not an attack on libertarianism, as it - again - doesnt offer any overt criticism (it is not a political rant, it's satirical humor, remember?), and it is not dystopian, because the world is not bad as such (unless you really hate anything private, in which case you likely will feel that the book is dystopian), merely different (all you know from today is there; dfference is that government doesnt provide any of it) with some negative aspects drawing from extreme privatization of everything (legalized private assasinations being the prime example), but this is not in itself a sufficient qualifying criteria.
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on 4 May 2005
Set in a world ruled by corporations more than the increasingly powerless government, everybody takes on the name of the organisation they serve. Jennifer Goverment, the eponymous heroine, valiantly struggles to do The Right Thing while working to exact a spot of revenge on her ex, John Nike.
The National Rifle Association and the Police provide the firepower for a no-holds-barred competition between the only two Customer Loyalty Programmes left in existence after cross-industry mergers and things get ugly. Corporate politics, a real killer marketing campaign for the latest pair of trainers and some hapless idiots add light relief to the plot which bravely embraces the ridiculous along with the scarily plausible.
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on 5 May 2003
Barry's tale is a brave work of fiction, examining a world where the corporations are more powerful than the government or the family, and where if you have enough power and influence you can get away with murder.
It's a quick read and easy to digest, but it gives a lot to think about. Is this really a direction the world is turning in, where children go to McDonalds schools and employees change their names as they move between corporations?
The plot is simple but follows a number of different characters as they find their lives woven together through the book. Definitely worth a read, and bound to become a very talked about book.
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VINE VOICEon 15 April 2005
Jennifer Government is a satirical romp somewhere midway between a zany critique on globalisation and a Whitehall farce with shades of Candide thrown in for good measure.
As John Nike rightly notes, it is also the antithesis of 1984, at least until the government gets its revenge on the wayward Mr. Nike. Capitalism and consumerism have assumed complete control, to the extent that that membership of loyalty schemes spells success, and to continue growth means obliterating the opposition. As the battle lines of competition are drawn, the key corporate marketing liaisons of the top companies are like first world war generals. In this context, John Nike initially gets ahead by being more crazy and delusional. Given the power of NRA armies, he exploits the world like a dictator before the forces of reason - on his own side - catch up, but only because they believe his strategy is not good business.
The inventiveness here is once in a generation - truly inspired. And the satire would lack any bite had he not used real global corporates and brands to illustrate his point - his message is entirely credible.
Like Tom Sharpe, Joseph Heller and other great satirists before him, Barry has created a bunch of eccentric characters worthy of Dr Strangelove, whom he bounces off one another at breakneck speed and tortures with gay abandon to illustrate the madness of marketing. And John Nike is truly the anti-hero of his era. If ever this book is filmed, I can just picture John Lithgow playing Nike in a state of semi-deranged fervour! So why name the book Jennifer Government? She represents the ultimate salvation from destruction, perhaps in a nod to the classic morality tales named after the heroine.
The main weakness is that Barry fails to create a powerful ending, so the book peters out with an unrepentant John Nike discovering that the world has moved on in his absence. Somehow, I feel the characters had somewhere to go, to find the true moral before living happily ever after. This is a writer of great promise, one who will surely someday create the next Catch-22.
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on 2 March 2010
The Plot: In the near future US corporations will dominate the globe and our daily lives to such an extent that people will take on the name of the company they work for as their surname. In this US-dominated world there will be no taxation and no rules for those who can afford to break them. Enter Hack Nike, a Nike employee who has been assigned the task of murdering several teenagers to help advertise the new Nike running shoes....

The Good: This is a novel simply bursting with good ideas. The vision of a corporate-domnianted world is at once bizarre and believeable. The structure of society in the world of the novel is grimly familiar too, with contemporary efforts by the likes of McDonalds and Pepsi to insinuate themselves into every facet of our lives taken to their horrible, illogical conclusion. The central debate in the novel between the forces of naked self-interest and a more egalitarian view of the world make the book at least a cut above the usual airport thriller fare. The plot is amusing and engaging with a number of entertaining twists and turns and it is nothing if not action-packed. 'Jennifer Government' is an amazingly cinematic piece of writing, and I defy anyone to read it without visualising it on the big screen. Humour and satire permeate the story and take the edge off some of the darker and more gruesome elements.

The Bad: Despite the good ideas, humour and fast pace, 'Jennifer Government' is badly written. The dialogue is appalingly bad and the prose is wooden throughout. The characters never rise above being one dimensional cartoons, with the villain 'John Nike' being particularly poor. While it is a satire on the excesses of global capitalism, the characterisation of John Nike as the very incarnation of evil just stretches credulity to breaking point. There is a mind-numbingly awful romantic subplot that really drags the book down with its pointlessness and implausibility. Finally, the politics of the book are rather childish and dull. There are only so many times one can be reminded of how evil and nasty and mean corporations are and how making money is a sin. I was reminded of the scene in 'Team America: World Police' where one of the actors protests about how 'The corporations sit in their corporation buildings and they're all corporationy...and they MAKE MONEY'. Yes indeed. There is a perfectly good satirical point to be made about the dangers of corporate influence over our lives, but the author instead goes down the route of making all corporations insanely, unbelievably evil and stamping his foot that people are too stupid to see this. Even a devout communist would start to feel a bit patronised after a while.

Verdict: If you're looking for a fun, throwaway piece of fiction with a bit of a leftist edge this is a good place to get it. If you want genuine insight into the possibilites of dystopia and political awareness read Orwell or Huxley.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 November 2006
"Jennifer Government" by Max Barry is a satirical black comedy set in an extreme near-future world. The author has taken some trends he perceives in modern society, extrapolated them ad absurdum, and had fun seeing how ludicrous he can make the consequences.

In particular "Jennifer Government" satirises America, corporate marketing departments, and that version of free market libertarianism which is so extreme that it is sometimes called anarcho-capitalism.

The eponymous heroine Jennifer Government is one of the few remaining employees of a state which has been almost entirely privatised. For the two thirds of the world dominated by the USA, government, welfare, tax, and the welfare state have been abolished and the major companies run things to such an extent that most people change their surname to that of their employer. The police can be contracted out by private enterprise, or alternatively you can hire someone from the National Rifle Association. Marketing departments are capable of tricks such as shooting their own customers and making it look like the motive was theft of their product, to create the impression that those products are so sought-after that people will kill for them.

When I was at University I met a number of people who wanted to live in a world like the one described in "Jennifer Government" - they thought taxation is theft, money should be privatised, heroin and all other drugs legalised, etc. One of them criticised me for believing in the NHS. One of the more articulate and intelligent of the thinkers they idolised was Dr Madsen Pirie, and if you want to read a serious case for libertarianism, a good place to start would be his book, "Freedom 101."

Not everything the libertarians had to say was nonsense, the trouble was that some of them took it to extremes, rather like the world created in "Jennifer Government."

All political parties have had problems with hardliners taking over their student and youth wings: some of these people were so OTT that when they took over the Federation of Conservative Students it was shut down by Norman Tebbit for being too right wing. Which may sound like a joke, but isn't. And which also demonstrates why the world of "Jennifer government" is unlikely to get a chance to become reality.

I had doubts at the time that "Anarcho capitalism" would be such a paradise to live under, and this book reinforces those doubts, but it works much more effectively as a satirical farce than it does as a serious political argument.

"Jennifer Government" bears just enough resemblance to real world events to be funny, but if you take it seriously you may be a trifle paranoid. Nevertheless, if you're into black comedy or satirical humour, I would recommend that you read it.
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on 22 February 2004
By page 20 of Jennifer Government, I was bitter with envy - why didn't I write this book with all these great ideas? He's the same age as me after all... From the central conceit that the USA has taken over (in a business rather than military sense) almost every other Western country, through the notion that people will be named after their employers in such a capitalizt (sic) future, to the idea of marketing trainers by shooting teens who wear them, to make them seem more desirable - Max Barry just has originality to burn. Even the rhythmically pleasing title had me drumming my heels in merriment.
By page 70 I was looking askance over my shoulder, blushing with embarrassment for the fellow. Full of all these ideas and he can't write for toffee! Goodness me, on a sentence by sentence level this book really is terrible. It started when I got the feeling Barry wanted us to feel emotional at the murder of a teenager, who up until then had been just a selfish spoiled idiot designed purely to make a satirical point. And as the book goes on, it becomes clearer that he does want us to take these characters to heart, even though they're pure cartoons. And the reviewer below who thinks it will make a great film clearly thinks like Barry - it quickly becomes pure Hollywood, with action sequences interspersed with 'character' 'development' and people saying things (I can hardly believe it) like "Goddamnit, Jennifer Government, there may be hope for you yet" with a straight face, and people narrowly escaping death by blazing gunfire then saying quietly to themselves, "Hot damn."
And this is a real shame. Rarely enough, a great conceit comes along and the creator has the intelligence and wit to take it to its logical (or illogical) conclusion - think Being John Malkovich. But Jennifer Government, which could have been a satirical Philip K. Dick, is just a bog-standard thriller with a dystopian front-end. Those who like their books fast-paced and cinematic will probably love it; those of a more literary bent, look away now. There's nothing to see here.
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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2004
I picked this book up when I noticed it was recommended by Naomi Klein of 'No Log' fame - so I guessed what it might be like.
I work in marketing for a software firm and practically the whole book is just extrapolating the marketing trends and business attitudes that are visible today (although I've never shot anyone to increase software sales ..) - but it is done so well. I read the first chapter - and laughed out loud because it was so funny - then as I went on through the book it became more and more disturbing because I could see how this could happen.
I think it would make a great film but only if it retains the sensed of humour that runs right through the book.
I think its a great wake up call and very provocative - globalisation and marketing get a throughly deserved sideswipe in this book - and you get a good laugh - Enjoy !
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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2004
I picked this book up on a whim to pass some time while travelling and became instantly hooked. Set in a fictious future where major corporations (e.g. Nike, Microsoft) rule the US (which includes the UK and Australia) and where money can buy anything/everythin, the book introduces the reader to several characters (whose surnames are the companys they work for, e.g. John Nike, Jennifer Government) and gets you gripped with funny edge of your seat action.
I've given the book the full 5 out of 5 and recommend it too everyone, include those not really into futuristic, business or just general books - its a must read.
Before you read the book ask yourself "How far would a company go to sell that dream product?".
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on 16 March 2004
Let's start with the positives - within a very short space of time, the writer has made the central conceit of the book, that your surname is that of your company because you are all branded, go from mildly ridiculous to utterly plausible. When midway through, the bad guys dismiss Violet because she has no surname, you too are thinking "loser"
He has also created one character, John Nike, who utterly dominates the book, a Gordon Gekko for the globalisation-generation, a man with no redeeming features, who speaks the way they speak, a corporate man through and through.
The book has as its main theme the idea that corporations and brands shove government aside and the free market takes full control. The only things the government does are the non-profitable things, punishing people for doing wrong and catching them. It is such a logical next-step for dystopian fiction to go from the US system of funding health-care to the police only investigating crimes if the victim's family have insurance or funds to pay for the investigation.
The book has quite a few occasional flourishes like this - the moment where John Nike calmly explains to the various CEO's of corporations who are all part of the same loyalty card scheme why blowing up the President's aircraft makes good business sense, the original premise of Nike making demand for a new brand by randomly murdering some of the original purchasers, Jennifer's tattoo.
But I have to agree with the other reviewers, the book is full of cardboard characters and too many of them. There are plenty of people whose story you think you are following and about half-way through, the only person you really are interested in (care about is far too strong) is John Nike. When he's corporate, he is scary and believable, when he is stereotypical bad-guy arranging kidnaps, he is not. The difference between him blandly responding 'F*** off. John' to a blackmail email and the nonsense he spouts to Jennifer about having her child hostage really show this up.
The writer had an idea that he could well have made a decent 1984 style book from - taken to its logical extreme, what would living in a branded world be like, but seems to have veered off into light Terry Pratchett style comedy, and then panicked and thrown in a thriller, a love-story or two as well, just for good measure. The problem is, that it then ends up being an unfocussed story. I'm jealous as hell that I didn't think of the idea and it was an enjoyable read, but I think the writer could have made so much more of this with some judicious editing.
Trying to make a previously superficial character's death poignant and moving is the very worst part of the book and it stumbles quite badly a couple of times. But, to be honest, you have to buy it for John Nike, a splendid character.
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