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Venus For Sale
on 31 July 2009
After appearing as a serial titled "Gravy Planet" in "Galaxy Science Fiction" from June through August in 1952, "The Space Merchants" by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth was published in book form in 1953. Today the work is clearly regarded as a classic, and its satirical look at what society would look like in a future where consumerism becomes the major driving force is both humorous and a bit profound in terms of how close we have come to it.
There were few awards back in 1952 so it is not too surprising that "The Space Merchants" didn't win the first Hugo when measured against Bester's "The Demolished Man", but it is a little surprising that it wasn't considered for the International Fantasy award in 1952 when Kornbluth's much inferior "Takeoff" was one of the nominees, or in 1953 when "The Demolished Man" was considered and lost out to Sturgeon's "More Than Human". Perhaps it is the humorous premise on which the future society is based, and/or the light-hearted feel of the narrative which resulted in the work not gaining favor with those who select which works are worthy of consideration for awards. It was the fans who first recognized the book with the Astounding/Analog polls of 1956 where it tied for 22nd on the list of books, and in 1966 where ten years later it still finished 22nd on the list of books, and in 1975 when the Locus poll where it was tied for 24th for all-time novel. That is a pretty impressive feat to finish in roughly the same spot in polls taken over a twenty year period.
The story is told from the point of view of Mitch Courtenay, an employee in the Fowler Schocken advertising agency and a star-class copysmith. Mitch receives a promotion to take on the job of selling Venus to people, an account which Schocken has stolen from his rival Taunton. Mitch is in love with Dr. Kathy Nevin, but is having difficulty convincing her that they should stay together. There is also the illegal political group, the Consies (short for conservationists) who threaten the consumerism-based framework of the society.
Mitch's promotion and new project have him targeted by someone to be killed, and if that is not enough he is kidnapped and his identity stripped and he is placed in a position from which he might never escape. He is forced to create his own game to escape, gain his life back, and take on not only his own personal and professional enemies, but deal with the entire conflict between the Consies and society. The book is not all that long, and the pace is quite fast, but what a great ride it is from beginning to end.