The Merchants’ War by Frederik Pohl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this sequel to The Space Merchants, written decades earlier. Pohl’s wit and satire are on full display through the entire novel. This is a futuristic world which is run by advertisers and advertising with protesters having migrated to Venus to escape. There are armies that “attack” aborigines to get them addicted to advertised products. It’s pretty funny. Tennison Tarb is a senior ad exec stuck on Venus, but due to go home to an earth that’s polluted and run over with billions of people. He has a love interest and there are numerous plot twists and his career goes up and down throughout the novel. He almost immediately falls victim to a new kind of advertising on his return to earth and starts drinking Moke-Koke, a seriously addictive beverage that’s a combination of chocolate, coffee, and cocaine. As this book was published in 1984, you can bet Pohl is aware of the powerful pull of cocaine at the time, so when Tarb becomes a Moke Head, he kind of beats it into you, but it still fits the story. Toward the end of the novel, Tarb discovers a Venusian plot to beat earth at its own game and essentially keep Venus advertising-free. The plot is at the highest levels of the advertising world, but he agrees to help them (to save his own skin), going against everything he believes in. By the time the rather abrupt ending rolled around, I found it very surprising and somewhat hard to believe, but I still give Pohl credit for a fairly original book and awfully good writing. Not everyone will like this because it’s not hard sci fi, but if you like some wicked humor mixed with futuristic worlds, you might enjoy this book. It’s a fun read.