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Average: 2 (1 vote)

2labz's picture
Written on Monday, March 23, 2015
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Pros: an interesting premise
Cons: buried under political preaching

Justin Cord woke looking at an angel; except she wasn't actually an angel, she was a "reanimation specialist." In the three centuries the richest man in the world been in cryogenic suspension, society has changed: a lot. Soon after Cord went to "sleep," society collapsed. Alaska became the world capital, and those quirky Alaskans had some new ideas. In keeping with their libertarian ethos, every living person, all forty billion of ‘em, is now a corporation. From Mercury out past Pluto, everyone starts from birth with 100,000 shares of stock. Of that, 5,000 belong to the government; 20,000 to the parents; and the rest will be cashed in raise the kid. Once of legal age, the citizen gets what’s left. A universal stock exchange lets everyone trade in the shares of everyone, including yourself. The idea is to own the majority of your own stock, which (the theory has it) lets you do what you want. The stock of people with special talents is more expensive; ditto for people who have good jobs or are famous for something.

Cord, however, posed a problem: no one owned any of his shares, and he refused to buy the shares of anyone else. For this principal, Cord became a target of the most powerful corporation in the world, CGI, and of the chief corporate hatchet man Hektor Sambianco. Why all that loathing? To CGI, Justin Cord embodied an unimaginable threat to the socioeconomic system. For that threat alone, Cord must be neutralized. They must either force him to incorporate or kill him. CGI had a formidable foe, though: Justin Cord had spent one lifetime fending off such attacks already. Could Cord remain The Unincorporated Man? Stay tuned...

Speculative fiction is especially difficult to write successfully: not does an author need to provide a solid plot and believable characters, his readers expect a future that’s a logical extrapolation of the present. That’s why there was so much post-apocalyptic spec-fic during the Cold War, and why predictions of catastrophic sea-level rise are common in current literature. Even if we don’t really buy the author's vision, the willing suspension of disbelief means we’ll accept that anything is possible. As long as the narrative hangs together, readers will go along. The author who must struggle to force a future to fit some predetermined notion is the author who fails.

Eytan and Dani Kollin base first joint project on a tectonic change in society, one that unites all the remaining humans in a new socioeconomic system of personal incorporation. The brothers are obviously eager to explain how their vision of hypercapitalism is the best of possible worlds, alternating between lectures on the infallibility of free markets and warnings of the evils of any government too large to fit in an elevator. In their system, government's sole purpose is contract with private enterprise for the largest of projects, such as developing interstellar travel. Any other function handled by governments of the 21st century - education, justice, transportation - are "better" handled by private corporations in the Kollins’ version of the future.

The Kollins postulate a future that, while unlikely, could certainly occur in dire circumstances (it’s amusing as well as a little chilling that the father of the personal incorporation movement was a "minor elected official from Alaska..."). The predictive part of a scifi writer’s duty is satisfied, although the concept of personal incorporation has flaws that the authors choose to ignore. As for the other responsibilities of an author, the brothers are less successful. Their plot resembles a poorly-configured tightrope: taut at the ends, but badly sagging at the middle. The Unincorporated Man sags because so much of the novel's middle is taken up by gratuitous passages lauding the libertarianism that forms the basis for the fictional society. Few characters are likeable; and major characters are such tropes that could be Kabuki actors. Writing is clumsy and there are editing lapses, dangling plot threads unbelievable coincidences, and occasional problems of continuity. It won’t win any awards from proofreaders.

Works of fiction sometimes thinly disguise political preachments, such as Michael Crichton's heavy-handed anti-climate change screed State of Fear. The Unincorporated Man takes the practice to extremes, as the Kollin brothers follow the script written by AM radio talking heads: nothing outside their philosophy deserves respect so it must be mocked; all government is by definition ineffective; the "tax man" is an evil demon who might as wear a black robe and carry a scythe; government courts must beg the private sector for assistance because they can't afford anyone who’s more than mediocre. he Kollins’ future is a capitalist paradise.

There are, however, still snakes in that paradise: a meeting of the most corporate board in the system reads like of an episode of "The Apprentice"; and that corporation’s are equally as repugnant as anything any democratic government has ever – bribery’s routine and murder contracts are let with barely a wink and a nudge.

The Kollin brothers wrote what more or less could be a white paper for a 23rd-Century Libertarian Party. Fine: but don't be fooled by the praise heaped on The Unincorporated Man by fans. Its lengthy defense of some future libertopia notwithstanding, when you come right down to it the book is still a work of science fiction, and really not a very good one.

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2labz doesn't recommend The Unincorporated Man. Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin

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