One of the more interesting things that came up during the process of judging last year’s PKDs was the fact that no less than three of the five judges listed a single out-of-print book among their favorite SF reads of all time. I actually don’t believe this is a coincidence. Over the years I’ve encountered an amazing number of professional SF writers who consider Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s THE SPACE MERCHANTS, first published in book form in 1953, one of the finest SF novels ever written.
In the future of THE SPACE MERCHANTS, America is run by advertising agencies, the President is a mouthpiece of multinational corporations, and the population is divided into “ad men” and consumers. The ad men rule the world from their luxury high rises, while the consumers make and buy Chicken Little, Coffiest, and all the other cheap consumables that power the futuristic trickle-up economy. Consumers who strike it unlucky or ask too many questions get shipped down to Latin America as migrant workers on the nightmarish algae farms.
THE SPACE MERCHANTS paints a cynically prescient picture of post-industrial America that makes a lot of contemporary SF feel quaintly nostalgic. But the book’s real value is in its clear, economical, impeccably crafted writing. In 170 stripped-down pages it offers what amounts to a Strunk and White of effective SF writing techniques. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to write your first SF novel or your twentieth. Read this book — really read it, with a pen in your hand — and you will be amply rewarded. (You will also never eat Chicken McNuggets again, but that’s another story. . . .)
Sadly, however, copies are getting harder and harder to find. Gollancz and St. Martin’s Press have both valiantly fielded editions in recent memory. But at the moment THE SPACE MERCHANTS is out of print and seems likely to remain that way for the forseeable future. So let’s start a grassroots movement, fellow SPACE MERCHANT fans. Sign up here if you want to see it back in print. and
we’ll see if we can’t find some sympathetic editor and make it so.