If asked to write the foreword to some 20th anniversary commemorative edition, I would say that Max Barry‘s Jennifer Government is like a bottle of Diet Neal Stephenson served with a twist of Christopher Moore (or perhaps a dash of Tom Robbins?) There is something uncannily similar between Snow Crash and Jennifer Government: in the comic book pacing; in the hyperbolic and impossible but chillingly familiar geo-political climate that he illustrates; in the characters that reek of auto-erotic caricature and yet are so well-drawn, so believable and sympathetic and damn plausible. You can see Y.T. dropping out of school because of girls like Haley McDonald’s. You can see NRA franchises competing against La Cosa Nostra in the burbclaves. You can imagine Hiro Protagonist sub-contracted by Jennifer Government to fend off Violet ExxonMobil. You wonder how the milieus of these novels aren’t linked.
But even if you haven’t read Snow Crash, even if you aren’t making those comparisons, you will find this one wholly enjoyable. It has an immediate start, thrusts you headlong into the story-already-in-progress but makes sure to catch you up just as quickly. And it never loses this momentum. The chapters coming at you fast (each about 3-5 pages) and are fairly dialogue-driven. Before you know it, you’ll find you’ve burned through 100 pages. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. The narrative draws you in, the prose gets out of the way, and the characters encourage you to get invested.
Borderline 5 star review. There is a whimsy to this tale that draws on a lot of familiar dystopian capitalist tropes (e.g., the libertarian anarchy of free market capitalism run amok); it borders on cliche but doesn’t quite cross the frontier into hackneyed territory. That it gets that close, that the prose taps its toes on cliche’s fences is where we lose the fifth star in the rating. But that the narrative goes there so unabashedly, in all of its over-the-top banality — that is a beautiful thing.