There is so much I want to say about this book. It is so jammed packed with interesting ideas and characters that there are a million places to start.There is so much I want to say about this book. It is so jammed packed with interesting ideas and characters that there are a million places to start. Perhaps I’ll just get the crude and vulgar out of the way first.
The world of Jennifer Government reads like an Ayn Rand wet dream. Corporations have free reign in what is called the United States of America but actually comprises North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and the British isles (or, for you George Orwell fans out there, Oceania). The government makes Nozick’s Night-watchman state look like Soviet Russia and even most basic services are provided by companies.
The teacher jotted something in his folder. McDonald's sponsored schools were cheap like that: at Pepsi schools, everyone had notebook computers. Also their uniforms were much better.
But all is not happy go lucky in this Capitalist Paradise. Where the government does not have a monopoly on violence, those that deal in violence are attracted to the highest bidder. A corporate Cold War is on the verge of heating up, and in this case the customer isn't always right.
The battle lines have been drawn. Every Team Alliance company is in competition with every Team Advantage company. Every customer who flies T.A. airline will buy a computer from Compaq instead of IBM. Boeing is with us because otherwise United Airlines won't buy from it.
With this as the backdrop we are introduce to a wide cast of characters whose threads eventually get entangled with each other and much bigger events.
John Nike (because in this world you are your job, or at least your last name is your company) is what John Galt would be if Ayn Rand had a halfway decent editor. He condenses Jon Galt’s (in)famous ninety page radio speech into two paragraphs that absolutely represent the spirit of the age:
Look, I am not designing next year's ad campaign here. I'm getting rid of the Government, the greatest impediment to business in history. You don't do that without a downside. Yes, some people will die. But look at the gain! Run a cost-benefit analysis! Maybe some of you have forgotten what companies really do. So let me remind you: they make as much money as possible. If they don't investors go elsewhere. It's that simple. We're all cogs in wealth-creation machines. that's all.
I've given you a world without Government interference. There is now no advertising campaign, no intercompany deal, no promotion, no action you can't take. You want to pay kids to get the swoosh tattooed on their foreheads? Who's going to stop you? You want to make computers that need repair after three months? Who's going to stop you? You want to reward consumers who complain about your competitors in the media? You want to pay them for recruiting their little brothers and sisters to your brand of cigarettes? You want the NRA to help you eliminate your competition? Then do it. Just do it.
He is a ruthless, amoral, sanctimonious, asshole and thrives in the world corporations have constructed.
It's my job to increase sales. Is it my fault that [killing kids to create buzz] was the best way to do it? If Government had the muscle to enforce the law, it wouldn't have made economic sense, but they don't and it did. this is the world we live in. If you don't take advantage of the rules, you're a sucker.
If it doesn't have a dollar sign in front of it, isn’t connected to a board of directors, or doesn't wear a short skit, he isn’t interested. He is pure id in the empire of id.
Jennifer Government, the book’s namesake, is a bit rougher around the edges, hemmed in by Government limitations that prevent her from seeing justice done. In order to pursue a murder investigation she has to convince the victims' families to pony up money for a budget.
"The Government's budget only extends to preventing crime, not punishing it. For retributive investigation, we can only proceed if we can obtain funding."
She fit nicely into the loose cannon cop trope while still delivering both a softer side with her daughter, and a more interesting backstory than most who populate the trope.
In a way, Jennifer felt bad, busting into such a nice place in full riot gear and scaring the crap out of everybody. But in another, more accurate way, she enjoyed it a lot.
The world itself is quite dystopian. All the places in the USA are homogenized (be they LA, Australia, or England). The overwhelming cultural impulse is to do anything to get ahead, to get yours and to hell with other people. People have internalized this to the point where that commit immoral actions (child abduction, murder, assassinations, etc) or suffer psychological breakdowns when they finally burn out. It is a culture driven by consumerism and consumption at the cost of overseas workers, the environment, and our shared humanity.
Thankfully things like this:
The cheap roads were clogged, even at six-thirty, but he was only four blocks from a premium Bechtel freeway and that was eight lanes, two dollars a mile, and no speed limit.
Well, at least emergency services will never devolve into this:
"Sir, I need to know if the victim is part of our register. If she's one of our clients, we'll be there within a few minutes. Otherwise I'm happy to recommend-" "I need an ambulance. I'll pay for it, I don't care, just come!" "Do you have a credit card, sir?" "Yes! Send someone now!" "As soon as I confirm your ability to pay, sir. This will only take a few seconds."
(Goddamnit world, this book was not supposed to be a how to guide!)
Anyway, doomsday prophesying aside, this was a very fast read. Chapters were just a few pages long and the action jumps among a wide cast of characters. The writing is sharp (see below for some of my favorite quotes) and Barry does a great job bringing this Calitalizm nightmare to life. I did think the ending was a bit lacking, much like Lexicon, but I greatly enjoyed this book in spite of this. If you like economic dystopias or just think the setting sounds fun then by all means check this out.
Also, if you are feeling ambitious, start and run your own nation at Nationstates, a site affiliated with this book.
Now, without further ado, fun/horrifying quotes:
Companies were getting a lot tougher on labor contracts these days; Hack had heard stories. At Adidas, if you quit your job and your replacement wasn't as competent, they sued you for lost profits.
"I want to commandeer your vehicle for Government business. We pay three hundred dollars per hour of use, plus any necessary repairs. Also, you have the satisfaction of knowing you've helped prevent crimes in your community." "Three hundred up front?"
Companies claimed to be highly responsive, but you only had to chase a screaming man through their offices to realize that wasn't true.
There was no place for irony in marketing: it made people want to look for deeper meaning. there was no place in marketing for that, either.
There are lots of other brilliant and funny lines as well, you should read it and see them for yourself! ...more
First off, this is more like a long academic paper than a book. Tainter has a thesis whereby he attempts to explain the collapse of all complex societFirst off, this is more like a long academic paper than a book. Tainter has a thesis whereby he attempts to explain the collapse of all complex societies (quite a tall order of business) and goes about this by establishing a lot of background information and existing theory review in the first part of the book.
I am by no means an archeologist (professional or amateur) but was able to make my way through this part, picking most of what Tainter was trying to communicate. I'd say to give the early sections a shot because they do form the basis for his later arguments. Sort of scary in retrospect how many complex, seemingly stable societies basically evaporated over the course of only a few generations and that civilization as we know it has a relatively short existence compared to the totality of human existence. Civilization is more the exception than the rule.
So the crux of Tainter's argument is that the development of a complex society is predicated on the explotation of low hanging resources. The investment to acquire these resources is (at first) easily outwighed by their benefits. This allows for the support of specialized roles that do not necessarily contribute to the sustainability of the society (aristocrats, priest castes, etc.). Subsequent resource extraction (be it in the form of new mines, new agricultural lands, or new conquests) have a lower return on energy invested generating a smaller surplus to sustain the complex society.
Eventually a society will reach a point where existing resources or potential new resources cannot maintain the level of complexity the society currently has. The result is a decline in public works/investments, the loss of centralized control and influence, and the loss of the periphery regions of the society (and not always a peaceful or gradual process). Eventually the society will "decline" to a level of lower complexity: more local control, less public works, etc.
To Tainter the story of a complex society is a race against the resource clock. To maintain and expand complexity (which is a good strategy when new resources are low investment accessible) a society must continue to increase the amount of resources available to it to support classes that do not contribute to resource expansion. Just to maintain the status quo new resources are needed and when they are not available the center of the complex society begins to crumble.
I really enjoyed this book because of the unique perspective Tainter presents in explaining the collapse of complex societies. The examples he provides are quite illustrative and can provide guidance to the challenges we face today. I'm not going to lie, this book majorly bummed me out, but I'd rather we had this perspective and a chance to avoid past mistakes than blindly blunder into the same fate that has befallen many past societies....more
An entertaining story that takes place before the events of A Game of Thrones, during a time when Westeros was still ruled by the Targaryon Dynasty. IAn entertaining story that takes place before the events of A Game of Thrones, during a time when Westeros was still ruled by the Targaryon Dynasty. It tells the story of a hedge knight that got in over his head while trying to do the right thing. The events in this graphic novel are actually mentioned in The World of Ice and Fire history book and they have a major impact on subsequent events. As far as the art goes, it was nothing ground breaking but did a good job conveying the action in the scenes. I think I probably would have enjoyed the novella (also called The Hedge Knight) a bit better since the comic format didn't allow for the expansive and descriptive prose Martin is known for. Still, all things considered, this was an enjoyable read....more
An absolutely smashing, fast paced space-opera with cool ideas, great humor, and a rather well thought out universe. Nothing terribly deep, no deep poAn absolutely smashing, fast paced space-opera with cool ideas, great humor, and a rather well thought out universe. Nothing terribly deep, no deep political thoughts that Starship Troopers had or self reflection on war that The Forever War had, but the characters and plot are very engaging.
So, in the future, instead of nifty powered armor to fight in humanity instead uses nifty genetically engineered bodies to stick of mind of old people in (for reasonable reasons as the book explains). Augmented by some other cool technology the protagonist, John "Yes my name is very vanilla" Perry embarks on a military career at the ripe young age of 75.
The action is fast paced but never feels rushed. We follow John through his basic training and early missions, being introduced to this strange universe as he is. Naturally not all goes as planned and john finds himself in the middle of a major military crisis.
The book does an excellent job of balancing the action (which, while more prevalent than the Forever War and Starship Troopers, is by no means the majority of the story) with character development and some introspection about life (and alienation) in the colonial military. Scalzi populates this universe with fascinating institutions and political relationships that we would go on to brilliantly expand in the subsequent books.
All in all this is a really fun (if too short) ride. It is great as a stand alone story as well as being the door into the fantastic universe Scalzi has built up....more