Rich Erlich, SF Courses (etc.)
<SF Study Guides Disk; StGd Space Merchants>
Study Guide for Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth,
The Space Merchants (1952/1953)
1. Bibliographical matters and background: "A condensed version of" The Space Merchants "appeared in GALAXY magazine under the title Gravy Planet." William Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (an indispensable aid in finding stories) indicates the condensed version has never been anthologized or collected; the Index to the S-F Magazines, 1951-1965 (usually called "The NESFA Index") gives the dates for "Gravy Planet" as Galaxy for June, July, and August 1952.
Pohl, Frederik, and C. M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants. 1952. New York: Ballantine, 1953.
Pohl, Frederik, and C. M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants. 1952. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.
The page numbers in the annotations below are to the Ballantine edn. Unfortunately for us, the "St. Martin's Press mass market edition/March 1987" was set from different plates and has different pagination. Chapter number are the same, and to help you locate pages, I give a translation chart blow.
Ballantine Edition St. Martin's Edition
Chapter # Chapter #
Ballantine Edition St. Martin's Edition
Chapter # Chapter #
PARTICIPATION POINTS POSSIBILITY: Supply St. Martin's page numbers for page citations below.
A work very close to The Space Merchants is Pohl and Kornbluth's Gladiator-at-Law, published in Galaxy for June, July, and August 1954 and published as "an original publication—not a reprint" (?) as a Ballantine Books Science Fiction edn. in 1955 (rpt. 1962, 1966, 1969, 1972—and now apparently out of print).
Pohl's sequel to The Space Merchants is The Merchants' War (NY: St. Martin's, 1984): see for Pohl's "correction" to what he now feels is an unsatisfactory end to The Space Merchants. (He's undoubtedly said that in print somewhere, but I just heard it from him in conversation at a conference.)
For development of themes similar to those in The Space Merchants (overpopulation, ecological disaster), see the later works: John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up; Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room! (and Soylent Green, the film made from Harrison's novel).
A brief but possibly complete survey of the criticism on The Space Merchants can be found in John P. Brennan, "The Mechanical Chicken: Psyche and Society in The Space Merchants," which also offers an interesting reading of the novel—Extrapolation 25 (Summer 1984): 101-114; a polite, if firm corrective to Brennan's too-quick assumption of utter consistency in The Space Merchants can be found in "Reaction Time" in Extrapolation 25 (Winter 1984): 378-379, a brief note by R. D. Erlich. (CAUTION: A cynic might think my "reaction" was just possibly motivated in part by Brennan's reference to my work on The Space Merchants as "a rather mechanical and flippant analysis," whilst I thought it more rigorous and witty). The Erlichian essay is "Odysseus in Grey Flannel: The Heroic Journey in Two Dystopias by Pohl and Kornbluth," par rapport 1 (1978): 126-31. If King Library doesn't have this obscure journal, ask me if you want a copy of the essay.
2. Utopias/Eutopias and Dystopias: A (e)utopia is an imaginative work that describes a Good Place—a good, perhaps ideal, society. A dystopia describes a Bad Place, an unambiguously bad society. "Dystopia" is sometimes used interchangeably with antiutopia, but I'll restrict "antiutopia" for works that are not only about The Bad Society but also use the presentation of The Bad Society as an attack on the idea of utopia. (E.g., Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is an antiutopia.)
To be quite exact, we should speak (also) of "euchronias" and "dyschronias," since most recent utopian and dystopian stories have been less about places than about times (significantly, the most famous dystopia has a time title: George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the title sometimes given in just numbers and the movie titles always given as 1984). I won't be that exact.
The earliest works with strong utopian (and dystopian) elements would be the prophecies of Isaiah et al.: the Hebrew prophets, esp. in the vision of the good world under Messiah (and the horror shows if people don't shape up). The earliest formal utopia I know of is Plato's Republic. For our purposes, though, you can get a sufficient idea of what formal utopias are like from Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516, which gave the name to the genre with More's New Latin pun [from Greek ou 'not, no' + topos 'place,' with pun on eu 'good' + topos: for Utopia as the Good Place that is No Place]). Formal utopias are concerned almost exclusively with telling us about the Good Society. Note, though, that even the Republic and Utopia use literary devices to "sugar-coat" a little such relatively bitter pills as satire and political philosophy. At the very least, a utopia of even the formal variety will usually give us a frame of some sort: a dialog between Socrates and his friends, a strange tale told us by a traveler like More's Raphael Hythloday who's just returned with interesting news from some Nowhere (or a traveler like us in the Strange Land of Nowhere, which we see from his point of view or—at least in S.F. variations—from the view of his host [see Robert Silverberg, "A Happy Day in 2381" and/or The World Inside]).
3. Utopian and Dystopian Stories and Novels, Utopian/Dystopian S.F.: Note the constructions of the phrases—the nouns are "Stories," "Novels," "S.F.", and the "Utopian" and "Dystopian" are (mere) modifiers; this is significant.
Outside of militantly artsy-craftsy stuff, stories and novels tell stories. In order to tell these stories, they set up imaginary worlds. (Every work of fiction sets up its own "secondary world.") In mainstream, "mundane," fiction, these worlds are almost all background. In S.F., SF, and fantasy, this "background" is of great interest; the world and the plot compete for our attention.
We might, then, set up a continuum. At one extreme would be the formal utopia, where our interest in the story is minimal (and where the plot is minimal); if our interest in the story got any less, we wouldn't have literature but philosophy or futurology or PoliSci or some exotic form of satire. At the opposite extreme we'd have works such as the films Rollerball, Clockwork Orange, and A Boy and His Dog: dystopian works, indeed, but ones in which we really care about what happens to the main characters,
The Space Merchants is a dystopian novel, rather close to the films I mention in terms of our interest in the story it has to tell—but also a satire on our world and a warning to us of what will happen IF THIS GOES ON. (Well, plus some WHAT IF: What if the advertising agencies really took over?)
4. Tense: The story-telling tense in English is the past tense; it's usually, "Once upon a time and long ago." Still, there's a sense in which More's Utopia is a present tense work (if not grammatically present tense): Utopia is a large island, right now, but far away. As Earth was explored, there were fewer and fewer places to locate utopia, with maybe Lost Horizon (1933) the last work that could show a full society that had somehow escaped our attention. Nowadays, if you want to show a Terran utopia right now, you have to limit it to a very small place, or get really ingenious. You also run into the problem of figuring out how a small Good Society can exist in our world and not run into problems with what Ursula K. Le Guin calls, "the neighbors": all us militantly nonutopians, who're numerous, armed, and dangerous. Consider H. G. Wells's comment that
No less than a planet will serve the purpose of a modern Utopia. Time was when a mountain valley or an island seemed to promise sufficient isolation for a polity to maintain itself intact from outward force . . . . But the whole trend of modern thought is against the permanence of any such enclosures. (A Modern Utopia, 1905, ch. 1, section 3)
As people began to believe in Progress, it became possible to locate utopia in the future. So, in a sense, most 19th- and 20th-century utopias have been "future tense" works. And so are our dystopias.
We've learned something in the 20th century: change isn't identical with Progress, and the chances of our developing an Earthly Hell are as good as (or a bit better than) our chances for an Earthly Paradise; our chances for dystopia seem higher than our chances for utopia (the secular and less extreme versions of the Hell and Garden/Paradise). So contemporary utopias are probably far less than ideal (The [merely] Good Society will suffice) and "Pretty far from now and very far from here"—as in Le Guin's The Dispossessed—and/or as ambiguous as The Dispossessed (or totally ambiguous, like Frank Herbert's The Santaroga Barrier). Nowadays we're likely to get a world-wide dystopia, like 1984 or Brave New World—or The Space Merchants.
5. Point of View and Narrator—and Tone: Mitchell Courtenay is both the protagonist and Narrator. This means a lot of first-person sentences and a lot of interest in this "I." It means that we can't see directly into anyone's head except the Narrator's, and we can't know anything about the story that the Narrator hasn't learned. Note that we tend to sympathize with the protagonist-Narrator of a story: we must at least empathize or we literally can't get the story (if we don't want to see from the Narrator's "point of view," we can't read the story at all). Note also that for most of the story, according to the value system of the story, Courtenay is "an ill-tempered, contriving Machiavellian, selfish pig" (ch. 3, p. 33).
"Tone," saith the handbooks, "is the author's attitude (as we infer it from the text) toward his or her subject and audience." Pohl and Kornbluth do not approve of the world of The Space Merchants. They do not approve of Fowler Schocken Associates, over-population, the god of Sales, modern peonage, advertising, and Mitch Courtenay (for most of the novel). They do approve of the Consies. How do we learn this? How do Pohl and Kornbluth manipulate our attitudes in this novel? How do they finally get us to approve of Courtenay?
6. Brute Force Criticism: Notes, Comments, Questions
(Again, page references are to the Ballantine Edition. See above for initial conversion table to get St. Martin's edition page numbers.)
Note what Courtenay accepts as normal: small apartments, water and protein shortages, oiled bread, spherical trusts, manipulating kids' tastes, militant advertising, hooking people on "a simple alkaloid" (later clarified: we're talking of an opiate here), eight-minute commercials, corporations controlling the US government—and a whole subcontinent.
Xanadu: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree" (S. T. Coleridge, "Kubla Khan"). The denotation of "day-tripper" in 1952 was "one who goes on a day-trip: an excursion one can handle without sleeping over somewhere"; by in the 1960s it meant even among straight people someone who "tripped" (on psychoactive drugs) even during the day (when most people must work). Legend has it that Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan" under the influence of "two grains of opium," and "day-tripper" may mean doper.
Keep your eye on Kathy Nevin; she's important. Note the uses of science and technology in Courtenay's world. Consider what Pohl and Kornbluth might think about Science and Technology. Note also the philosophical questions on PoliSci, and Courtenay's "pragmatism" (15-16).
Consider the implication of corporate "feuds" and their legal status.
Note very well Courtenay's attitude toward the Consies. How do we know that Pohl and Kornbluth disagree?
What are the plans for the exploitation of Venus? How do Courtenay and O'Shea differ on Venus (18-19).
Note Courtenay's near-fatal encounter with a falling cargo-pod of Starrzelius Verily rolled oats; it's a murder attempt. Note also Courtenay's line, "The psychologists say I am not unusually sensitive or timorous"; Courtenay's meaning isn't all there is to "not unusually sensitive" (27-28).
Is Kathy Nevin totally correct in her description of Courtenay (33)? Was I correct in accepting (above) her description of him even without "to live with"? How do we know that Kathy Nevin sees more to Courtenay than just his Machiavellian porcinity? (Machiavellian: a pragmatist with a vengeance; a politician with no values except "Seize power and hold it"—by extension, any human with the philosophy, "Hooray for me, and piss on you all!")
Development Section (Department?): Very important; they probably show us what Science and Technology can do, and the good things they could do (in a better world). Remember them when you try to determine Pohl and Kornbluth's attitude toward science, technology, and "Progress."
Note second attempt at Courtenay's murder.
"Power ennobles" (44): A corruption of "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (J. E. E. Dalberg, the First Baron Acton, 1904). Throughout, look for "modern" corruptions of our sayings; throughout, look for the power of advertising in Courtenay's world.
Pohl worked for an ad agency and develops his ideas about advertising not only in The Space Merchants and The Merchants' War but also in "The Tunnel Under the World," a very dark comedy implying that advertising people, given the power, would hold captive human beings as subjects for controlled experiments in the advertising of products.
Is the satire on advertising legitimate? I.e., does it push to an extreme (reductio ad finem) and make look grotesque and ridiculous wicked tendencies that really do exist in the advertising business? (To ask that satire be fair is like asking muggers or soldiers to be nonviolent; all you can demand is legitimacy—or the banning of satire.)
Note Schocken on feuds as part of "the whole system of checks and balances" and Courtenay's justification of the system: "It works . . ." (40). This was rather daring of Pohl and Kornbluth in 1952: (1) associating feuds with "checks and balances" may suggest the "checks and balances" in the bloodier portions of natural order and the checks on population growth; (2) the American constitution is one of checks and balances; (3) the standard conservative justification for the US system in particular and any system in general is "It works." (Rarely do we ask Cui bono?—here, "Works for whom?")
Note the difference between a misdemeanor and "a commercial offense" (45)
Note difference between O'Shea and Courtenay on what might be the "highest ideal" (Summa Bonum?).
Last paragraph of chapter: Does Courtenay start to change here? If so, does the change last long? If so, is it significant that any change follows a scene in which he is with Kathy Nevin and Jack O'Shea?
Again, note the power of advertising juxtaposed to what Development can do (and might do to better purpose in a better society).
Why is Mitch so impressed with "the wide swath around" the rocket?
Note the alphabet soup of bureaucratic names and the "handsome oak engagement ring" on the hand of the liaison man (58). There's something here about bureaucratic inertia and corruption—and scarcity value.
Pinkerton man on the Consies (59-60): (1) Pinkerton men have a long-standing tradition of service in the repression of radical activity. (2) What's his attitude toward the Consies? (3) What happens to the ethos of the Pinkerton man—our judgment of his reliability—when he says "I've had them in the wrecking room for up to six hours at a stretch and never yet have they talked sense"? (Cf.—and contrast—some Grade C WWII flick where we're told, "Ve tortured ze Americanisher pig-dog all afternoon, und he just raved on about democracy und equality.") (4) Are Pohl and Kornbluth avoiding a serious issue of their handling of the Consies—like, "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and in every revolution, a few die who shouldn't but they have to, because that's the way it happens" (Harlan Ellison, "Repent, Harlequin!") and "every birth has its blood"; aren't the Consies too goody-good to be believable revolutionaries? Don't "a few die who shouldn't" not only because the authorities catch and kill rebels but because the rebels themselves must engage in a little messy deadly violence if not a fair amount of terrorism?
End of chapter: note Hester, and Courtenay's being set up.
We learn here that Courtenay is about 30 years old (75) and quite "sound" by the standards of his world (70).
End of chapter: This is a turning point of some sort—the fall of the protagonist-Narrator. The rest of the story will be his comeback. Is Courtenay changed by his fall? If so, when—and by how much? (Read this section carefully; there may be a plot problem in the novel. Cf. and contrast what Kathy Nevin says on p. 76 with what she later says they did to Courtenay.)
Here begins Courtenay among the "consumers." Note (1) that "consumers" is Courtenay's word and that to us it may seem like an odd usage since these people seem to be producers as well as consumers—certainly more productive than any copysmith (wealth-of-the-worldwise). (2) "Consumers" is repeated a good deal from here on. Consider that repetition as a literary phenomenon to be explained. Perhaps Pohl wrote the earlier sections and Kornbluth these, and Kornbluth liked "consumers." (Pohl says that he and Kornbluth alternated every four pages—presumably every four ms. pages.) Perhaps Courtenay never thought of consumers as active (or real) people until this section; hence, he just didn't use the word much earlier. (The first "perhaps" is scholarly, the second, critical in approach.)
Thomas R. Malthus (79): The Labor Freighter is named for an early student of demography and political economy. Malthus pointed out that food production increases arithmetically while people reproduce geometrically. Hence we're going to get periodic "die-offs" (as we say today) as the human population outstrips the available supply of food. Eventually, we'll get a population "bust" (again using the contemporary term).
[Unless otherwise cited, the brief biogs. in this study guide are from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1974.]
Note the beginning of Courtenay's crash course in consumer existence, starting with his encounter with "their homosexual component" and symbolized by his new I.D. number (= Social Security Number = [for all practical purposes] his identity). If you want to see Pohl and Kornbluth retelling old stories—and I do—this is the Hero's Descent into the Underworld, mostly to gain knowledge (as Odysseus and Aeneas and Odin [= Teutonic Woden] do in the Greek, Latin, and Nordic stories). As part of such a descent/education/initiation one usually must lose oneself to find oneself (see 80-81).
Note the caste system in Courtenay's world (e.g., 83). There are similar systems in the State-run dystopias of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948/49) and Brave New World (1932). Consider the possibility that there is something in modern society that would lead these authors (plus others) to tell us about caste-ridden dystopias.
"Death" of Courtenay (83): Like, I was serious about the Descent into the Underworld business (it's an archetype).
Chlorella Corporation: I suspect this name is significant. ("Cholera"?)
Note Courtenay's interview with the "dark-glassed man at the table"; it's his introduction to the clout system, seen from the bottom (cf. and contrast 15-16 on money/wisdom/influence—and raw power).
As Courtenay moves into his job, he gets money extorted from him by a whole series of people. This may be significant for Pohl and Kornbluth's view of the human animal in general. One possible implication is that they do not see the system as—exclusively—one in which noble workers get exploited by vile Capitalist bosses. Their vision may be closer to that of the satirical and cynical rogue who tells us that "Big fish eat little fish and are eaten in turn by still bigger fish"; in such a system the moral is that drawn by the cartoon character Hagar the Horrible, "Don't be a minnow." (See 88-90.) Note also the second most favorite saying of traditional Christianity: "Greed (Cupiditas) is the root of all evils." Their favorite saying may also be significant: "Pride (Superbia) is the root of all evils."
We get introduced first-hand to debt-slavery (peonage) and the Consies. In terms of plot and the Descent archetype, it is important that Courtenay meets his rescue when he's at his lowest point. In terms of tone, it is undoubtedly significant that we directly meet the Consies after seeing the utter corruption and great evil of the established system.
p. 93: Note the ripping-off and Ad-Power.
pp. 94-95: Does the sex-advertising connection ring true for the ads you see in the world we live in? Note the connection between sex and peonage: it looks like any kid born to the Chlorella workers becomes a slave to the company, working on the ol' "plantation."
The section ending "Matt Runstead had taken over" is immediately followed by the introduction of Herrera; the introduction of Herrera is immediately followed by Courtenay's thoughts about Kathy Nevin and Jack O'Shea. This apparently casual juxtaposition is significant: we'll learn later that Kathy and Jack are also Consies. A real question, though, turns up upon reflection: Was Herrera part of the scheme, all along, to put Courtenay "on ice" but eventually get him back? Is this an intentional ambiguity, a flaw in the novel—or just something I'm misreading?
pp. 99 f.: Note how the system works to increase Sales, debt, and apathy. Consider the response Courtenay would've given at most any time before ch. 5 if you'd stopped him and asked why consumers are apathetic and lack initiative.
Note the bringing together of debt, addiction, and decline of initiative. Note just how low Courtenay gets: for him, loss of initiative would be the loss of being; he feels "hopeless, trapped" (99-100). And then—
pp. 100 f. Consie Contact Sheet One. Subtle the device ain't, but the Contact Sheet allows us to learn how much Courtenay is and will ever be an advertising man: he dislike the Contact Sheet's "appeal to reason"; we also get Courtenay's thought on the horrible things the Consies "had done . . . to a fine consumer like Gus." Is Courtenay still a "contriving Machiavellian, selfish pig" (etc.), as Kathy Nevin had described him? Did the Descent work?
pp. 110-11: Note the difference between the Consies and the advertising establishment on space flight and Biometrika (= journal on measuring living things). Do you agree here with Courtenay or the Consies?
Note also Courtenay's jealousy over Kathy Nevin and Jack O'Shea.
p. 113: What do you think of Courtenay's revision of Contact Sheet One? Do Bowen and the others accept it because moving Courtenay up is part of the scheme run by Kathy Nevin and other Consie bigshots? We won't learn of this scheme for a long time. What should we make of the rewrite here? Has Bowen been so brainwashed by the system that he thinks this crap is really good? Are we to think so little of human intelligence that we should think this ad would be more effective than the original Contact Sheet One? (Possibly: advertising seems to work.) Are we to think the Consies are a little Machiavellian themselves, willing to use such b.s. if it will help get their mission accomplished? Are we to think the Consies b.s. propagandists and ethical radical reformers, willing to use means appropriate to their ends?
pp. 114-18: Note "the gap between executive and consumer" and the different responses to the library of the representatives of those two classes. Since Herrera reads the classic American novel, Moby Dick, and Courtenay reads old ads, there's some nasty but effective satire here.
Note that Courtenay begins "to appreciate the disproportionate power that Consies could wield" by wheeling and dealing within the bureaucratic system. They may also wield such power because their value systems are ultimately better and their world-views more realistic than those of an executive like Mitch Courtenay.
Note how Gus "breaks"; " broke" is an important formula in The Space Merchants.
Ch. 10: Courtenay's Return to the living—or at least to New York City
In perhaps another "cheap shot" (in both senses, including the old one of "an easy lay-up"), Pohl and Kornbluth tell us that four of the "crumbs" didn't survive passage north (cf. slaves dying en route from Africa to America); note how casually Courtenay takes four human deaths (119).
pp. 120-21: The little scene between Courtenay and the "Consie, pure and simple" is parallel to the little exchange between Courtenay and the man on the rocket to Antarctica who commented on how sick-making the ads were. What, if anything, has changed in Courtenay's attitudes? Has the Descent/Initiation been successful? Note Courtenay again in a kind of "underworld": Pohl and Kornbluth, Erlich suggests, have some fun with The Journey of the Hero by having Courtenay flunk initiations, apparently in a competence program in which he gets to keep retaking tests until he finally passes them. (Courtenay may qualify for a classic insult: profoundly shallow.)
The couple of paragraphs describing Courtenay's new work as "Procurement Expeditor, Class 9, very elegantly tie together several motifs: shortages that require such re-cycling; the idea of corruption underlying a more or less respectable surface; the association of Chlorella with sewers (cholera idea?); just what it is that the system is getting people to eat; and the euphemism of "Procurement Expeditor" for a glorified Shit Shoveler. (Note that there may be another inconsistency here: in "Procurement Expeditor" vs. the job in "purchasing" that Courtenay was supposed to get through the Consies [117, 120]).
Note Courtenay's snobbery about his status, immediately followed by his stupid moves when making contact with the Consie (121).
Note the bed-check; a B contract seems to make one little more than a peon or slave (122).
pp. 124-5: Note life on the stairs and the "country club." Pohl and Kornbluth are telling us something about wealth: it's always relative.
p. 127: I think Hester has become a whore (or courtesan) at the country club. Try to figure out why Pohl and Kornbluth don't clarify that point. (In speaking to Miami journalism students in October of 1985, Judith Crist said that one of the very few words she'd been asked to change in her years writing for TV Guide was "whore" [they wanted "prostitute"]; maybe Pohl and Kornbluth wanted to avoid even "prostitute" for a 1950s audience. Maybe their reticence reinforces the motif of euphemism [cf. "Procurement Expediter"]. Or maybe they want to be sure we continue to think well of poor, loyal Hester and want the pathos of her new job without the problem of our thinking ill of Hester because some readers might think ill of whores.)
p. 128: Note well Courtenay on Hester. We later learn that she loves him. Even by itself, though, this passage tells us a lot about Mitch's values (as in money). Does our questioning of Courtenay's values here help establish the ethical norm of The Space Merchants? Would that make the novel politically suspect? (There's always been something more than a little subversive about the line by Jesus of Nazareth that "You cannot worship both God and Mammon" . . . .)
George Washington Hill: see 174, near the beginning of ch. 15.
p. 130: Courtenay isn't totally ignorant of pre-modern/pre-commercial civilization; he's heard of Trotsky and Tom Paine (if you haven't, look them up; they're important, "history- and revolutionwise"). Note Courtenay here as a potential fink; he still despises Consies.
p. 131: Is that "colorless fluid" a poison? If so, does that change our opinion of the Consies? Does saving humanity require killing people? Might it require killing someone like Mitch Courtenay, before he finks?
Courtenay is down again, with the new threat B. J. Taunton and crew. Again note the people on the stairs (a motif picked up in Soylent Green) and the great opportunities offered by a really overcrowded world: with enough people providing enough psychological stress, you can find someone to do just about anything. // What should we make of Courtenay's reaction to killing Hedy? Should we be upset that he's not upset at committing "femicide"? Consider the implications if "CB" is a more serious crime than femicide.
Ch, 12: From the Earth to the Moon
David Ricardo: 1771-1823; "English economist who gave systematized and classical form to the rising science of economics in the 19th century." I don't know whether to accusation is true or false, but Charles Dickens presented Ricardo's theories as much of what made the "dismal science" (Econ.) dismal. Ricardo comes through in what I've read from the Victorians as a kind of guiding spirit to the Manchester School of "robber barons" (in more recent terminology, practitioners of the more blatant forms of rip-off capitalism).
Note Courtenay's little talk with Hester (145-6). First, it's a summary for the reader, as well as for Hester, of what has happened. Second, we get to see Hester's response to Consies.
Note Hester's death. We later get the suggestion that it was a suicide (a "love-death," as the Germans say, over Mitch). Does that suggestion seem right? Does her death when we see it seem like just another attempt on the life of good old Mitch Courtenay? Is the later explanation of a love-death another grab for pathos with Hester?
Note what we've done to the Moon. Stanley Kubrick makes a similar point with the space station in his 1968 film 2001.
Note the dedication to the Cause of the Consie Burns guard. Were you surprised to find a Consie cop? It's a tribute to the power of the Consies that they've infiltrated police organizations.
The original audience in the 1950s would've found the idea that conservationists could be radical very strange: conservationists were harmless eccentrics (after all). Balancing that, however, would be the surprise of the original audience that a cop might be involved in any kind of radical activity. That would've been something out of the most paranoid of Right Wing fears: that the ever-present Commies—and the similarity of "Commies" and "Consies" is no accident—had infiltrated even the police.
Note very well that as late as the first Earth Day (ca. 1970), establishment politicians got on the Environmentalism bandwagon, and even today there are people who don't understand how literally radical—from the roots—is the environmental critique. A "World Conservationist Association" would be "persecuted by all the governments of the world" (101) because a rigorous Conservationist ideology calls into question not only Capitalism but Marxist Communism, most forms of Socialism—indeed just about any ideology from what one of Ursula K. Le Guin's characters calls "the Judaeo-Christian-Rationalist West" (The Lathe of Heaven, 1971, ch. 6).
Ch. 13: Recognition-1, in the Plot
Pawn queens (156): "to promote (a pawn) to a queen in chess."
Note Courtenay's reactions to having been a pawn. Note Kathy Nevin's reaction to the whole situation: she's got a real problem, loving Mitch while hating what he stands for "businesswise."
p. 157: Courtenay/Groby is desperate again. The Jungians tell us that we sometimes have to be reduced to desperation in order to learn (or recognize or recall) what will save us. Does Courtenay learn anything soon after this desperation? (Does he "learn" a more effective form of desperation later?)
p. 158: Note very well Kathy Nevin's speech here—it brings together much of the politics/love theme in The Space Merchants. Note especially that she recognizes the relativity of wealth, how status is really what's at stake. Mitch Courtenay still hasn't learned that. (The relativity of wealth is obvious to us, the audience, since the vast majority of likely readers of Space Merchants lead much better lives than all but the wealthiest in Courtenay's world).
p. 160: The Return of the Hero has been a standard motif from at least since Homer brought Odysseus home to Ithaca in the Odyssey. This Return may be archetypal, associated with the archetype of Reconciliation with the Father (or God). Courtenay thinks he's home, and he has ascended from a couple of "hells" to ascend into the heavens and return unto that manifestation of the god of Sales, Fowler Schocken (a surprisingly attractive robber-baron but still a false and dangerous "god"). There may also be something here at least like the motif of the Return of the Prodigal Son; see Luke 15.11-32 (and, while you're at it, Luke 16.19-32 [the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man: "Dives"]).
pp. 161-63: Note Fowler Schocken on CB, femicide, Chlorella, the C of C, and rank and weapons. Consider whether Fowler Schocken would have a weapons squad at his command if he were poor. Note well the potential violence of the system. Do we ever see the Consies get that violent?
(While you're counting the ways this book is subverting your head, add the idea of Establishment violence; to some people it's an oxymoron. ["Violent demonstrators, yelling and throwing rocks and breaking windows? The police oughta take them violence-lovers out and shoot 'em and dismember their bodies. We won't tolerate violence here!"—satiric joke from the 1960s].)
Ch 14: Courtenay Home for Recognition-2, Thematic
Vilfredo Pareto: 1848-1923; "Italian economist and sociologist, known for his theory on mass and elite interaction as well as his application of mathematics to economic analysis. * * * Because of his theory of the superiority of the elite, Pareto sometimes has been associated with fascism."
Jack O'Shea/Mitch Courtenay: There may be a rising/falling pattern with these two, called "chiasmus" or "two buckets (in a well)." Jack is falling toward his "break"; and Mitch is moving toward his unreconciling confession to Fowler Schocken; the "buckets" here may be on the same level (167-8).
"How do you resonate to it?": Throughout your reading of The Space Merchants, note the mocking of Ad Biz linguistic affectations.
RECOGNITION (also called anagnorisis): 169-end of chapter. It's ironic that Courtenay's recognition is based on Fowler Schocken's total inability to recognize reality. Note very well how Fowler Schocken's view of "reality" is based upon his status and how his distorted view of reality allows him to retain that status without feeling guilt. (For how Pohl and Kornbluth skewer depth psychology in The Space Merchants, see John P. Brennan, "The Mechanical Chicken: Psyche and Society in The Space Merchants," cited above, p. 1.) // Question: Who is the real Mitch Courtenay? Has that real Courtenay learned through suffering? If so, he'd be fairly typical of heroic types from Odysseus to Oedipus to Odin—to cover only the older "O's."
Ch. 15: Courtenay Triumphant (Temporarily)
p. 174: George Washington Hill reference explained.
p. 175: Fowler Schocken has become "the old man." What's the tone of the phrase here—respectful, pitying, flippant?
Death of Fowler Schocken (176): Final proof that Taunton can find somebody for every job.
Real question: What, if anything is the significance for "Taunton"? The Tonton Macoutes of Francois Duvalier in Haiti, would be good, but "Papa Doc" and his "bogeymen" didn't take over until 1957. Just from "taunt"? Taunton, UK, for "Bloody Assizes" of 1685? Seems awfully obscure.
Fowler Schocken's will is a mild joke, which shows a lot of class and probably makes us think better of him than we might otherwise. Our attitude toward Fowler Schocken is very important.
The name suggests something like "Fowl hunter (fowler) and butcher (Yiddish Schochen)." Note that a Schochen is a very merciful butcher and will butcher a chicken about as gently as the job can be done; but the chicken is still dead. (Pohl says that he maintains "lists of names—all kinds of names, ethnically diverse ones. And when I want a name for a character I browse through the lists until I find one that seems right. 'Fowler' came from one source. 'Schocken' from an[o]ther. If there was any consideration of etymologies or resonances it was all subconscious; what I wanted was a name that sounded like an advertising tycoon and 'Fowler Schocken' felt right" (letter of 24 May 1987 [repeated in casual conversation, summer of 1987]).
Courtenay confuses Schocken and Taunton in the scene at Taunton's agency (ch. 11, p. 135).
Again, Fowler is relatively nice. Human Evil would be neither much of a mystery nor much of a problem if its source were just monsters. Taunton didn't invent the system, and the system would be only marginally better if Taunton were eliminated. Space Merchants is no wishy-washy reformist book: the world won't be saved just by putting better people in charge of the system for a kinder, gentler unregulated Capitalism and rule by Advertising; the system has got to go.
Note the irony of Courtenay's triumph (182), and look for any further twists in Courtenay's getting what he may or may not want.
Note the perversion of justice in the treatment of Consies. The usual expression is "Better that a thousand guilty people escape than one innocent suffer unjustly"; what's happened to that expression?
Development pulls off more "miracles," and Courtenay does a good job handling technical people. Again, check such passages for Pohl and Kornbluth on science and technology. (They may standard [old] Leftists in thinking high-tech. OK as a subsystem under Socialism. Really radical ecologists in the 1960s and later were to find high-tech. a major part of the problem, not part of the solution. I'd be interested in class thoughts on this issue.)
Are we to see guns as legitimate equalizers? Has Courtenay learned the necessity for violence or the threat of violence to accomplish much in his world? Have we learned that you need status to get something done in this world—that a movement like the Consies can't do much?
How does Venus "belong" to the WCA?
How should we respond to the idea of advertising used for a purpose that's good?
If advertising is always and necessarily manipulative, assuming people to be things to be managed, can the use of advertising ever be a good thing? Even if advertising is always and necessarily evil, would its use be justified to save Venus from the Agencies and for the responsible Consies?
There are two kinds of moralists in the world (according to one theory): the hard-headed and the soft-hearted. The hard-headed realize that we live in a naughty world and argue that to get any good done, or even just to prevent great evil, we must ourselves do evil. The soft-hearted say that it's never right to do evil that good (or the prevention of greater evil) may come of it. The hard-headed school includes Capitalist and Marxist revolutionaries, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Utopians and anyone else who's ever argued Just War theory or pragmatic politics; the soft-hearted school includes Jesus of Nazareth when advising "Resist not evil," plus absolute pacifists, the Anarchists (against the Marxists on revolutionary methods), and anyone else who argues that "The means justify the end" (sic). Is The Space Merchants "hard-headed" or "soft-hearted"—or are these categories irrelevant for the book?
Ch. 18: Climax
How are berths on the Venus flight distributed? Is the method ethical?
Note the low status of the President of the USA. Look for this little irony in later works; I distinctly recall its appearing in Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).
The Big Scene here is the confrontation in the Congress. Such a scene is usual just before the end of a novel or play: frequently it occurs in a courtroom.
Ch. 19: Conclusion (with Tying Up Loose Ends ["Denouement"]
Caligula (209): Roman Emperor (real name: Gaius Caesar) in the 30s and early 40s C.E. who's had very bad press for the last 1900+ years. He could have been fairly well-known in the 1950s from the novel The Robe (later in the decade through the film); he was into fun and games, Roman style, and killing Christians. The common belief is that most of the Christian martyrs got martyred in the Roman Circus, and here Pohl and Kornbluth compare the President to a Christian martyr entering the Roman arena.
p. 211: Courtenay at least thinks he's in a desperate situation again. At any rate, he's being pushed to Venus (which is decorous, given what we've been told by Jack O'Shea).
p. 213: Note the look at the stars. Consider the possibility that "stars" are the human future: note the copywriter's mistake (early in The Space Merchants) of calling Venus a "star." Note also that Courtenay is now no bigshot but just "one of the boys."
"Hello, Kathy. Good-by [sic] Schocken Tower" (214): Does this line properly summarize Courtenay's situation? Is it a happy ending for The Space Merchants? (See below.)
"I'm reformed" (215): Any more to this than Courtenay, apparently, giving up cigarette smoking? (Trivia point: a surprisingly large number of books and stories written until very recently assumed that people will continue to smoke cigarettes in the future—and in some highly unlikely places [like space ships]. A failure of imagination among some writers of S.F.? A proper appreciation of the power of advertising to get a large section of every generation of young people hooked on nicotine, however dangerous smoking tobacco is proved to be?)
Hester: Can you buy the suicide for love theory?
7. Concluding Questions: What, finally, is the tone of The Space Merchants? How satisfactory is the conclusion? (Note that Pohl has stated in public that part of his motivation for writing The Merchants' War was to come up with a more satisfactory conclusion to the saga of the world of Mitch Courtenay and Kathy Nevin et al. The Merchants' War begins on Venus and then moves to Earth—and ends on Earth, with a revolution.)
Possibly relevant for both questions—
"Astraea: 'the star-maiden,' daughter of Zeus and Themis. She was, in identification with her mother, goddess of justice and lived during the Golden Age when the gods dwelled among men. When the wickedness of mankind increased, and the gods abandoned the habitations of mortals, Astraea was the last to leave, and took up her abode among the stars" (Putnam's Concise Mythological Dictionary).
In his classic Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Northrop Frye devotes his Third Essay to "Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths" and works out a taxonomy of the various kinds of Romance, Tragedy, Satire, and Comedy. Technically, most S.F. is Romance (with valiant space-questers replacing the valiant questing knights of medieval romances—or the questing cowpokes or US marshals of the Western). The Space Merchants, however, is Satire, but Satire with, in part, the end of a romantic comedy: the hero and heroine are joined together with a marriage to come, but a new society on Earth does not coalesce around them. The Space Merchants may be what Frye calls "second phase" comedy, a phase of Comedy as it moves away from Satire. In "first phase" comedy a bad society "triumphs or remains undefeated by the hero" (177), while in "third phase comedy" there is a concluding transformation of what Frye calls a "humorous society": not a funny one, but a society dominated by "humor" characters—characters with an obsession. "The second phase of comedy . . . is a comedy in which the hero does not transform a humorous society but simply escapes or runs away from it, leaving its structure as it was before" (180). Consider the possibility that The Space Merchants is a satire that gives us as comic an ending as its world allows: escape, but with a hint of the sort of pure comedy that Frye puts in his third stage. There's at least the hope that a new and better society will develop. Earth is so evil that Astraea flees, or at least Mitch and Kathy and the Consies do, but we can maintain at least the hope that they'll found a better society on Venus. Perhaps under control of the loving and responsible a decent society will grow on the planet of the goddess of Love and (as Venus Genetrix) of fertility.