The Space Merchants, published by Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth in 1953, is a satirical science-fiction novel that eviscerates advertising and consumerism. It is a novel that remains culturally relevant, perhaps more than ever.
The world of The Space Merchants is so dominated by consumerism that companies vote for American senators, that advertising agencies actually fight for contracts, and marketing is so omnipresent that it appear on airplane windows. There are those who disprove of this corporatocracy are labelled as ‘Consies’, a term I’m certain derives from ‘conscientious objector’. Despite the treatment of Consies being based on American Communists, Consies are more concerned with the environment than the economy. Pohl and Kornbluth also mention the Greenhouse Effect, and how economic growth cannot go on indefinitely.
Mitchell Courtenay is a marketing guru entrusted with recruiting volunteers to colonise Venus. Problem is, all reports indicate that Venus is an inhospitable hell-hole. Sabotage leads to Mitchell being stripped of his power and privilege, and joining a Consie conspiracy. Things snowball from there.
Mitchell’s first person narration is entertaining and punchy. I’ve already shared Pohl and Kornbluth’s thoughts on poetry, and there’s plenty of similar material. To be honest, I’m a little envious of how good the writing produced by the two authors are.
I didn’t remember reading any dates in this book, so The Space Merchants manages to avoid doing anything silly like set a space-faring empire in the Eighties. It does loses a point for the antiquated gender attitudes displayed by Mitchell and the other characters, although women’s rights going downhill in the future is depressingly plausible. The only thing about the Space Merchant’s World that doesn’t seem plausible is mankind ever colonising Venus.
The Space Merchants could potentially be made into a very good sci-fi film. In the front-matter Rediffusion Television copyrighted in 1952, but Wikipedia tells me that no film or television adaption was ever made. CBS Radio Workshop also did an adaption. Andrew Nicholl would be the ideal director for a modern movie adaption. I would want The Space Merchants film to be along the lines of Gattaca with a hint of The Fifth’s Element‘s satirical fun.
The Space Merchants is a good book, and more relevant now than ever. Go read it sometime.