In the 1950’s, the advertising world (like psychology and the massive influx of people from cities and into the suburbs) was a popular subject for American writers, humorists, satirists, cartoonists, commentators, and other entertainers. It was only natural, then, that works of science fiction would address the subject, among them Shepherd Mead’s The Big Ball of Wax (1954), Robert Silverberg’s Invaders from Earth (1958), and J. G. Ballard’s “The Subliminal Man” (1963). The Space Merchants, however, is perhaps the earliest and most famous of such work.
Although it has long been an element of science fiction and proto-science fiction, satire in genre science fiction generally was held to low standards until the 1950’s. Under the editorship of H. L. Gold, Galaxy magazine published many examples of short, satiric stories during the decade. Besides Pohl and Kornbluth, writers such as Damon Knight and Robert Sheckley acquired reputations as satirists. In addition to satirizing advertising, Pohl turned his sights on sports in Gladiator-at-Law (1955), done in collaboration with Kornbluth, and on the insurance agency in Preferred Risk (1955), done in collaboration with Lester del Rey under the pseudonym Edson McCann. The Space Merchants remains the best-known of his satirical works, and its influence can be seen in a number of subsequent works forecasting futures in which a particular...
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