One of many collaborations between Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants was also Pohl’s return to writing after working as a literary agent. The novel has an interesting textual history. Written under the title Fall Campaign, it was serialized as “Gravy Planet” in Galaxy magazine, whose editor, H. L. Gold, thought that the ending was incomplete and demanded that Pohl and Kornbluth produce an additional three chapters to show what happens to the colonizers after they reach Venus. When the novel was published in book form, these chapters were omitted from the text, although they have since been reprinted in Our Best: The Best of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (1987). Pohl has made minor revisions to the novel’s text; for example, a reference in the first edition to “Western Union and American Express Railway” became a reference to “United Parcel and American Express” in the 1985 edition. More than three decades lapsed before the publication of the novel’s sequel, The Merchants’ War, written by Pohl alone. The two novels were collected into an omnibus volume, Venus, Inc. (1985).
The Space Merchants is the story of Mitch Courtney, a “copysmith star class” in a future in which advertising dominates the world and outlawed “Consies” (Conservationists) are regarded as dangerous and deluded radicals. Mitch’s big break in the corporate world occurs when he is given the assignment of “selling” Venus, convincing the people of Earth that the inhospitable planet is actually a paradise begging for colonists. As he attempts to do this, Mitch finds his life threatened from all sides as he discovers the truth about himself, his profession, and his wife, Kathy.
Despite obvious attempts on his life, Mitch takes his work very seriously, and in trying to eliminate incompetence and inefficiency in the agency, he fires most of the San Diego branch of the Fowler Schocken advertising agency and leaves for Antarctica to confront Matt Runstead. When he meets Runstead, Mitch realizes that he has walked into a trap. Upon passing out, he is sure that he is as good as dead. When he wakes, however, Mitch learns that his fate is actually worse than death: He has become part of a lower-class consumer labor crew, contracted to work for five years at the Chlorella plantations in Costa Rica. His name and social security/identification number have been changed, and the world thinks that he died in Antarctica.
At the Chlorella plantations, Mitch learns how...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)