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The Space Merchants

(The Space Merchants #1)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  9,185 ratings  ·  544 reviews
An alternate cover edition can be found here.

It is the 22nd Century, an advertisement-drenched world in which the big ad agencies dominate governments and everything else. Now Schoken Associates, one of the big players, has a new challenge for star copywriter Mitch Courtenay. Volunteers are needed to colonise Venus. It's a hellhole, and nobody who knew anything about it wo
Paperback, 186 pages
Published July 10th 2003 by Orion Publishing Group Ltd (first published August 1952)
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Vincenzo Iuppa It's hard to base a recommendation off of just this book because it is admittedly unique in the genre. If you are interested in more positive sci-fi (…moreIt's hard to base a recommendation off of just this book because it is admittedly unique in the genre. If you are interested in more positive sci-fi (because even though the world in this book is dystopian it's from a pretty positive angle) I would suggest Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. If you are interested in more fiction from the time, you may really like the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (you can always start with I Robot to just dip your toes in the deep end). If more stories about ad-men is where it is at, Philip K. Dick had a rather psychedelic take in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Good luck in your journeys!(less)
J.M. Hushour I've never read the original but I noticed a lot of things that might have been updates, like more relevant "past" corporations like Enron. See also,

I've never read the original but I noticed a lot of things that might have been updates, like more relevant "past" corporations like Enron. See also,

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Apr 29, 2015 rated it liked it
I like Frederik Pohl more the more of his books I read.

Space Merchants, first published in 1952 is a science fiction gem. Telling the tale of a capitalistic-anarchic society from the perspective of an advertising executive, Pohl describes a world where ancient maxims have been turned upside down – such as “Power enables, and absolute power enables absolutely.”

Our hero is living the dream amidst a world of over-population and contract labor consumerism. Then corporate espionage and the nefarious
Bill Kerwin
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Are you one of those people who miss Madmen desperately? Do you also have a taste for classic science fiction? If so, here is a book that could have been created just for you. Published in 1953, The Space Merchants tells the story of the USA some centuries hence, a land still stuck in the morals and mores of the Madmen era, with sexist men who take their privilege as a given and take their sexy (and intelligent, and capable) women for granted.

But things are much worse in the future than they we
We hear a lot about “fake news” today, but it’s been around for awhile. The protagonist here, Mitch Courtenay, a top-notch copywriter for a futuristic ad agency, sole job is to convince "consumers" that they need things exactly opposite of what they actually need, and he’s very good at it. This future world is run by several large corporations, primarily ad agencies, and based entirely on the idea of consumerism.

The novel is of course satire, an exaggerated satire that almost reaches the level
Spencer Orey
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book freaked me out in the same way that Brave New World did years ago. This one left me a little more paranoid? Anyway, the two books would pair really interestingly well together.

The story itself is okay. The main character is generally unlikable but fascinating in how he uses his one skill to constantly manipulate his way through the world, for good and bad.

The strength of the book is the real biting focus on the total power of advertising and the treatment of people as mere consumers.
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pre-80s-sf, sci-fi
“I was becoming the kind of consumer we used to love. Think about smoking, think about Starrs, light a Starr. Light a Starr, think about Popsie, get a squirt. Get a squirt, think about Crunchies, buy a box. Buy a box, think about smoking, light a Starr. And at every step roll out the words of praise that had been dinned into you through your eyes and ears and pores.”

The Space Merchants is a different spin on the dystopia subgenre, it posits a near future where society is ruled by mega-corporatio
I first read this book for my German oral exam back in 1976, ah the English Summer of 76, what weather, what an idyllic Summer school holiday that was.
Maybe that’s why I remembered the book with such fondness. That said it certainly stood the test of time and will be one of my favourites of the year.
Great story telling, great characters and settings and just an all round excellent novel. Whether one enjoys sci-fi or not this novel is a classic and one that everyone should try.
5 stars indeed
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I was blown away by this satirical and cynical novel. I couldn't believe how fresh it felt, even sixty years after it was originally published, it's still so pertinent, so topical. I would not have been surprised to find out it was written twenty years after it was.

Reading up about the origins of this novel, I was amazed to discover that Pohl actually decided to get a job in advertising just so he could know the industry better and write about it with more authority. And yes, one certainly feels
Never have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futures that I can see being possible, but The Space Merchants is mostly here right now, and everything else (if you exchange Mars for Venus) is merely moments away. And that is a scary fucking proposition.

Pohl & Kornbluth's world is an overpopulated mess, where food and water are at a serious premium and the super-rich dominate the use of goods and serv
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi, 1audio, 2fiction
A satire of the future where commercialism is king, the raison d'etre. Unfortunately, the 1950s vibe set several centuries in the future & heavy-handed treatment made it too slapstick for me most of the time. Also, the main character (certainly no hero) was just too conveniently clueless & brilliant too often. It was well narrated, so I stuck through it & had a few laughs that I'm not sure the author intended. For instance, the blatant sexism is leavened by the obvious superiority of one of the ...more
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All science fiction fans
Recommended to Werner by: It was required reading for I correspondence course in science f
Shelves: science-fiction
Note, Sept. 13, 2019: I edited this review just now to correct a typo.

As a young man, Pohl worked for an advertising agency, and the experience left him with both an insider's understanding of, and a profound distaste for, psychological manipulation for profit, hucksterism, and the whole mentality of material consumption for its own sake. That understanding and distaste provide the theme for a lot of his short fiction; and they're very evident in this novel (which is probably the best and most p
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Everyone said it before and I am saying it too... This is Mad men thrown into a pulp SF blender with glorious results. Frankly for it's writing I would give this book only 3 stars, but I was in the mood for some light SF cheese and anti corporate messaging and this book delivered.

I was greatly surprised to find the anti corporate and nature preservationist sentiments in a book from the 50s. "When we look back we also look down" (I can't remember whose quote this is so please tell me in the comme
Originally written in the fifties, this version was updated in 2010.

In comparing the two versions together it is impressive to see how little was actually changed, mainly just trading out old company names with newer, more familiar brands.

Like the original Blade Runner film, I find that the book's predictions of corporate domination and relentless advertising are moving ever closer to reality, even if many of the specific companies referenced did not survive the journey.

Which shows, it would
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Awesome book! Hard to believe this was written like 50+ years ago, because it is so incredibly relevant to our modern times. For example: it takes a look at the dangers of imperialistic corporations & greed, the plight of workers and the ungodly conditions under which some of them have to work, the clear and unmistakeable division of class in society, the total lack of concern for the environment and the treatment of those who care about it and want change. Good grief! To say that it was way ahe ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quote from the book: "The ad was ... an appeal to reason and they're always dangerous. You can't trust reason. We threw it out of the ad profession long ago and have never missed it."

There's a lot of stuff like this, and the whole critique of advertising/consumerism is brilliant especially coming from 1952. The author anticipated things that only came out much later about how corporations have deliberately made everyday products addictive, etc. So the concept of the novel is good, and I expect a
4.0 stars. One of the better collaborations between Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Excellent world-building and an intelligent, satirical plot make this one of the better books from this period.
Jim Mcclanahan
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
First time I've read this novel in decades. I am quite sure that I considered it "far-fetched" in the 1960s. Hey, how crazy can you get: Congress controlled by corporate entities; conservationists vilified as anarchists; food and beverages adulterated beyond belief, corporate espionage driven to life/death levels; Severe shortages in fossil fuels and clean water. Hmm, so where do "chicken tenders" really come from? Maybe from "Chicken Little".

And in my undergraduate days, I worked part time for
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Classic science fiction from the 50s, by one of the great writing teams of SF, Fred Pohl (1919-2013) and Cyril M. Kornbluth (1923-1958). And a great example of social satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels."
It's set in the world of the 22nd Century, when Earth is a polluted and overcrowded world dominated by the giant corporations. Our hero is Mitch Courtney working his way up the corporate ladder of an advertising agency. His company is one of the most success
Oleksandr Zholud
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a SF novel, originally published in 1952, which contains several surprisingly modern ideas.

The title, The Space Merchants, led me to assume it will be a kind of space opera about interstellar trade. Actually, it is about a copysmith (advertisement specialist), who should sell the idea of Venus colonization to public. Unlike, say, The Man Who Sold the Moon, the protagonist is not the ephemeral ideal of the author’s views on how things should be done but the opposite. This future USA is a
Sep 23, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, sci-fi
The concept of this book was genius--the authors imagine a world in which advertisers control the world, and citizens are more loyal to their favorite brand names than their country. Mitch Courtenay works for one of the world's super advertising agencies, and he is put in charge of the newest ad campaign: selling the colonization of Venus. With Earth's current overcrowding problem, it shouldn't be too hard of a sell, but a million other factors seem to complicate Mitch's progress. There are the ...more
Adam Denny
Apr 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Written in 1950, this novel can be seen as an American response to George Orwell's "1984." One of the most unbelievable aspects of that novel was that Ingsoc, English Socialism, would somehow come to dominate the United States. What happens is far more likely; the most base and brutal expression of American capitalism taking over the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. 85% of the population are classed as Consumers, only good for what they can contribute to the economy. Congress directly ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it liked it
The Space Merchants has a very 1984 feel: the underground movement, the profession of the main character... but it's very different as well. A similar situation, if you like, but with a capitalist society taken to the extremes rather than a socialist one. I'm surprised at people saying it feels outdated; I'm with the people who feel it still seems surprisingly relevant for something written in the 1950s.

It's a very quick read, and one worth reading not so much for characters or relationships, bu
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Satire. The beginning is very funny, and throughout the touch is light & deft.
I enjoyed this reread as much as I recall my first, over a decade ago.
Read for June 2019 BotM in Evolution of SF group, q.v.

The attitudes towards women are sufficiently respectful, imo. I appreciated that Tildy, the poet of the copyrighting division, had both girls and *boys* working under her, for example. The technology never jarred me as ridiculously underdeveloped, and indeed some bits seemed prescient. Smoking on
May 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Reading this in 2016 must be a very different experience to that which someone picking up the book in 1952 might have had. Ideas that I expect must have seemed ground-breaking in the early 1950s have been widely recycled in the intervening sixty years so that what surprised me most was seeing ideas that I had always associated with the 1960s counter-culture – about the manipulativeness of advertising – the gulf between what is promised and what is delivered – and about the power of multinational ...more
Feb 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Quite simply one of the best science fiction novels published in the 1950s (only Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, Brian Aldiss' Non Stop and Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan truly compare)... This satire on the advertising industry is so far ahead of its time that I was staggered! The world it depicts resembles the future Earth of the film Blade Runner perhaps even more accurately and acutely than Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? does... I must keep a look ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly brilliant. I adore this book. And I'm really happy I read this revised edition. I would strongly suggest that everyone ignore the earlier version. This is something every college student should read. It's as vital today as it was when it first appeared.
Dan Bittner did a fantastic job narrating this science fiction novel.

I don't know what I had expected, probably a space opera, but this sci fi book wasn't that. Some parts of its view of the future in which the United States society and government are run by advertising agencies made me laugh and others made me wince.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Aug 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mid-century-sf
Science Fiction as a prescient guide to future technology and society has never much interested me. I read recently that Jules Verne kept abreast of all the latest scientific journals just to up his odds on getting something right. But even with his background research he came up mostly with plots that today are absurd given almost any background in science. Occasionally you read that some writer predicted the internet or the types of computers that we now take for granted. And they "predicted" ...more
This is a book that has aged well. The first half is way better than the last one and the prose seems somewhat disjointed in the second half comparatively, but even then this was a good experience.

It has a dystopian setting where the world is divided essentially in two parts. The producers and the consumers. Mitchell Courtenay works with Fowler Schocken Associates which is an advertising agency and is assigned the ad campaign that would attract colonists to Venus; more accurately, duping them t
Sean O'Hara
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This is Exhibit A for the proposition that science fiction novels are about the time they're written, not the future. The book is a riff on 1950s ad agencies trying to sell a Darien Scheme IN SPACE! The world is one in which capitalism has triumphed, materialism is the only acceptable world view, environmentalism is a deviant ideology, and women never libbed. Certainly some elements of this are still relevant today (the treatment of environmentalism is quite canny), but overall this is a book ro ...more
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
First published in 1952, this book shows a future with advertising agencies on top of the heap, and life isn't pretty for the rest of us. The environment is shot, cities are crowded and food tasteless (and very much GMO).

By coincidence, I was reading this at the same time as The Evening Star: Venus Observed, and unlike other science fiction from the early 50s, Venus was known to be hot and inhospitable. Scientists have a plan to terraform and colonize, led by advertising executive Mitch Courtena
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Frederik George Pohl, Jr. was an American science fiction writer, editor and fan, with a career spanning over seventy years. From about 1959 until 1969, Pohl edited Galaxy magazine and its sister magazine IF winning the Hugo for IF three years in a row. His writing also won him three Hugos and multiple Nebula Awards. He became a Nebula Grand Master in 1993.

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The Space Merchants (2 books)
  • The Merchants' War (The Space Merchants, #2)

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“There are only so many people capable of putting together words that stir and move and sing. When it became possible to earn a very good living in advertising by exercising this capability, lyric poetry was left to untalented screwballs who had to shriek for attention and compete by eccentricity.” 6 likes
“You can't trust reason. We threw it out of the ad profession long ago and have never missed it.” 4 likes
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