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File:JenniferGovernmentBookCover 6582.jpg

Jennifer Government is a 2003 novel by Max Barry, a Dystopic tale of a corporate run world. Set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, the United States has become a globe-spanning corporate empire including the western hemisphere (except Cuba), the British Isles, South Africa, India, Japan and Australia, a recent acquisition where most of the book takes place. A map provided in the book identifies some countries as "affiliates" and others as "socialist" and "fragmented markets." Taxation is a thing of the past, people take the surnames of their employer company, and business is basically above the law since so few laws remain.

The story begins when Corrupt Corporate Executive John Nike signs employee Hack Nike up for a new guerilla marketing scheme, killing a dozen customers that buy the latest model of their shoes to raise street cred. After Hack outsources the kill to NRA via the privatised police, the Government gets involved. The investigation is led by Jennifer Government, a single mother / secret agent who seems to have a personal stake in solving the case. Another story thread follows Hack's girlfriend, Violet (later Violet ExxonMobil) getting caught up in the war between US Alliance and Team Advantage, two "Customer Loyalty" programs that are effectively competing with each other and the government for control of the nation, and Hack getting involved with a group of anti-capitalist activists.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Billy Bechtel (Later Billy NRA) is laid off as Bechtel closes down their tank factory and he decides he wants to go skiing. Several misunderstandings later he is a part of John Nike's ultimate plan: to overthrow the government. We also follow stock trader Buy Mitsui, who is a bystander to the initial Nike shootings who ends up dating Jennifer.

Often compared with the Dystopia novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Jennifer Government flips the basic premise on its head by looking at a world where the state has too little power. Taxation was abolished long ago, which one character points to as the beginning of serious problems since it removed people from any sort of investment in the larger society, and almost all government services (Including law enforcement and road repair) have been privatized. The Government only has the power to investigate crimes against private property and life, and only the funding to help those who can pay.

The book suffers in some places from too many characters, and the presence of several intertwining storylines means that a lot of characters do not get the screen time they deserve. Strong points include Barry's comedic wit and the book's complete indifference towards being sued for any of the monstrous things its (named) corporate entities do. Consider the fact that the primary story is about Nike contracting a man to kill children and you realize that Barry has some serious pelotas a-swingin'.


The book contains examples of:

 "You're arresting me? Are you serious? I don't belong in jail!"

"And yet," she said.

  • Character Title: After the protagonist, Jennifer, an employee of the Government.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The extremely sharp Nike swooshes that are used as door handles at Nike Town are mentioned at the beginning of the book and show up again during the climax.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: John Nike, who initiates the plot by deciding that the best way to improve sales of the newest Nike product line is to kill random teens who buy the shoes.
  • Deconstruction: The novel deconstructs the Dystopia fiction genre by flipping its idea of totalitarianism, and exploring the flaws of a society where there is no authority to force accountability for those who have power. That is, in fact, lampshaded, when John Nike thinks about how almost all the books writen before the establishment of the current order predict a future dominated by a powerful evil government and considers it an utterly implausible vision.
  • Deliver Us From Evil: After being dumped by John Nike after getting pregnant, Jennifer quit her corporate job and became a Government agent.
  • Driven to Suicide: Buy becomes depressed after the girl to whom he gave money to buy sneakers is killed because of the very same shoes. However, he does not know how to use the (very) expensive gun he purchases, and ends up calling Jennifer and asking for help on making the darn thing work. One Thing Led to Another...
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Buy Mitsui gets so drunk that he cannot even properly navigate his wallet after he sees Hayley get gunned down for her shoes.
  • Dystopia: Anything goes if you have the money for it. Everything is privatised, down to emergency services.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Nike VP of Global Sales finds the extremes that John Nike goes to repugnant. The leading executives of U.S. Alliance are also quick to denounce his plans of a wholly unregulated market as incompatible with their desires once they see them in action, and are more than willing to hang him out to dry.
  • Expanded States of America: Europe, China and Cuba are still independent, but Australia is a recent acquisition and most of the rest of the planet has been incorporated into the American economic empire.
  • Facial Markings: Jennifer's barcode tattoo.
  • Groin Attack
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: The Police, and NRA, though both are closer to mercenary services. The NRA even has a private airforce and tanks. Tanks! Not just knockoffs or ancient Russian Surplus, either- the M 1 A Abrams is specifically named, though it could well be obsolete by the time the book takes place.
  • Meaningful Name: People use the name of their employer as their surname, hence all these Billy Bechtels and Jennifer Governments.
  • Mega Corp: US Alliance and Team Advantage, two corporate alliances including the most powerful companies in every field, US Alliance most of the strongest.
  • One Steve Limit: Of course you are going to have problems with this once you reduce everybody within a corporation to their first names.
    • The first two characters we meet are John Nike and John Nike.
    • The mix-up between Bill NRA and Billy NRA provides some of the crucial plot developments of the mid-point of the novel.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: How people in the United States view "Socialist" countries, such as most of Europe, including the belief that the government will cripple the siblings of disabled children in order to make sure that they are equal. A teacher points out that the socialist countries do not actually do that.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: It is not that the executives want to give power back to the government, they just recognize that if there is no regulation or outside moderation then corporations will destroy themselves and drive away their own customers.
  • Private Military Contractor: Both The Police and the NRA, though The Police are more Law Enforcement, Inc. as mentioned above.
  • Privately-Owned Society
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Hayley McDonald.
  • Saintly Church: The churches run free hospitals.
  • Scannable Man: Jennifer has a barcode tattoo under her eye (it is the UPC for a Malibu Barbie). The tattoo is explicitly stated to be purely cosmetic. On the paperback version's cover, they arranged to learn the book's UPC in advance and replaced Jennifer's tattoo on the cover with it so that the book's front cover was scannable too.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Corporations eventually got so powerful that they were able to essentially get almost all of the rules abolished. There are a few characters who want to finish off the rest.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: You pretty much need this attitude to be content working for the Government.
  • Sex for Solace: Buy blames himself for the death of the girl who was killed for the shoes that he helped her buy. He goes out to try and wash away the guilt, and winds up going home with Sandy John-Hancock. The next day he recognizes that he will probably never call her again, which is a pity since she actually seemed rather nice, and he later hooks up with Jennifer herself.
  • Skeleton Government: Taxes were abolished years before the events of the book, these days the government mostly tries to prevent crime as it happens, and investigate them if the victims can pay for the investigation.
  • Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: A rare bird in these times, a dystopia on the libertarian end.
  • Strawman Political: To the point of self-parody.
  • Tattooed Crook: Corporate logo-tattooed skinheads.
  • There Are No Good Executives: Bounced back and forth a bit. The ones we have any extended interaction with, anyway (except maybe the Pepsi kid) are pretty much greed on legs, but the corporate executives ultimately vote against John Nike's plans and eject him. They are not exactly saintly, but apparently Even Evil Has Standards.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: At one point, there is a reference to one of the main characters working on the '96 Pepsi campaign, so Word of God is there is an element of Alternate History in there as well.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Averted, surprisingly without any lawsuits.
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