The space merchants

The space merchants / Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth. Originally published 1953.

The space merchants is the 1953 science fiction classic about an overpopulated, resource-starved future where rampant consumerism has caused advertising agencies to be the most powerful organizations in the world.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Mitch Courtenay is a high-powered advertising executive on a future Earth ruled by advertising agencies. Courtenay is assigned the task of creating an advertising campaign to recruit colonists for a colony on Venus.

So how is it?

It’s pretty intense satire wearing a science fiction costume. The space merchants is Mad Men meets Philip K. Dick, and it’s a great ride.

It’s an incredibly forward-thinking novel, coining, among others, the term “R and D” as an abbreviation for “Research and Development” as well as the use of “survey” as a verb.*

The space merchants is slightly given to hyperbole. The advertising agencies are so powerful that they have the population utterly convinced that their lives are getting better, despite massive water shortages and an infrastructure where powered transportation has become nonexistent. It’s cutting satire at its best, which places it far ahead of most of its contemporaries, to my mind. Dropping the rayguns and space travel in favor of focusing on society means that the book has aged far far better than most similar works.


*At least according to the OED.


well honed satire

Features a plot full of intriguing twists and turns


The hyperbolic nature of the satire could be offputting to more staid readers

Features the classic “colonization of Venus” trope that has aged very poorly


Generally, I suggest this for fans of classic science fiction. I also recommend it to science fiction fans who have busy schedules and don’t want to read books that are too long. People looking for satire might enjoy it, as long as they aren’t put off by the setting. (I never realized how many people had an instinctive hatred for science fiction until I worked in a public library. I’m not sorry that I don’t have to sit through unprompted rants about how fiction that isn’t meticulously realistic is terrible anymore)

Other books recommended for fans of this one/if you like these books you might like The space merchants:
Brave new world / Aldous Huxley

The forever war / Joe Haldeman

1984 / George Orwell

Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury



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