Tag Archives: the space merchants

Science vs. Nature

“The Conservationists were fair game, those wild-eyed zealots who pretended modern civilization was in some way “plundering” our planet. Preposterous stuff. Science is always a step ahead of the failure of natural resources. After all, when real meat got scarce, we had soyaburgers ready. When oil for civilian purposes ran low, technology developed the pedicab.” (pp. 18-19)

“I definitely am, however, a guy who gets sore when he pays new-protein prices and gets regenerated-protein merchandise. The texture of the shashlik we both ordered was all right, but you can’t hide the taste.” (p. 33)

Within these extracts, Pohl and Kornbluth criticize the notion that human science can always overcome the human-inflicted failures of the natural world. For example, a transition from traditional cars to pedal-based vehicles would be viewed by the reader as backtracking technological development. Furthermore, Courtenay’s dislike for unnatural food implies a superiority of natural food. Such attitudes still hold relevance today when considering the consistent depletion of natural oil reserves and the contention over genetically modified foods. Additionally, the significant portion of today’s people, industries and governments with a laissez-faire attitude towards environmental conservationism, and the debate that such an attitude incurs from those more environmentally-minded, holds great relevance to the somewhat prophetic setting of the novel.

Pohl, Frederik, and Kornbluth, C.M. The Space Merchants. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011. Print.

[The Space Merchants]: Chlorella’s Predatory Lending

“The pattern of the B labor contract was quite clear.  You never got out of debt.  Easy credit was part of the system, and so were irritants that forced you to exercise it.  If I fell behind ten dollars a week I would owe one thousand one hundred dollars to Chlorella at the end of my contract and would have to work until the debt was wiped out.  And while I worked, a new debt would accumulate” (Pohl and Kornbluth 1).

When we discussed in class how Pohl and Kornbluth each engaged in critique within The Space Merchants, this quote was one of many that sprang right to mind.  While certainly critical of any form of contract that seeks to exploit the poorest members of society during the 1950s, it was especially thought provoking within today’s context with regards to the idea of predatory lending.  Predatory lending, was essentially the practice of praying upon unassuming individuals, by offering them “too good to be true” loan rates on things like cars and homes, and waiting for the person to default on their payments by virtue of the misrepresentation, and reacquiring the property.  While functionally a cheap way for these lenders to make money, the people who were taken advantage of were effectively coerced into taking a deal that would otherwise have been bad for them, much in the same way that Mitch was coerced into working for Chlorella.  Another similarity is the idea of the cycle of debt that accrues, where in both cases, Mitch and the individual, each struggle against massive rates for either interest payments or products, each perpetuating a system, where no matter how much one pays in, there is no way out.  Finally, is the idea that no matter what happens, the victim will be straddled with a new debt.  Even if somehow Mitch or the victim of a subprime mortgage/rate, manages to pay off their original loan, it will often have to be done on the backs of taking out other loans, borrowing money through practices like payday loans, the opening of new credit lines, and even just borrowing from those around them.  In any instance, it creates drastic harms and establishes a system which both Pohl and Kornbluth would stand ardently against.

Pohl, Frederik, and C. M. Kornbluth. The Space Merchants,. New York: Walker, 1969. Print.


When someone believes something wholeheartedly, when someone’s entire world of thought is built off these specific beliefs, it is very hard to challenge them. As stated by Powell in Asmiov’s “Reason”, “‘You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason–if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his'” (173). Similarly, in The Space Merchants, Mitchell does not see the least bit of reason in the Consies’ cause and views the world in a very specific way that we, as readers who did not grow up with those specific postulates, might find bewildering or strange, just as the humans found Cutie’s reasoning incomprehensibly ridiculous and vice versa. While Powell’s words call to mind math or debate, the actual practice of this incompatibility between beliefs as exhibited in “Reason” and The Space Merchants is more reminiscent of certain types of religious folk, often zealots. This is seen in the actual religion constructed by Cutie and the value system Mitchell follows where Sales is god above all and propaganda brainwashing is the norm.


There’s something quite difficult about using insider language in spaces that aren’t specifically focused on the subculture, because of the fact that insider language is extremely exclusive. In certain cases, ideas about the group or the media being consumed can only be relayed in jargon, but usage of that jargon isolates people not familiar with it. Even if the people on the inside mean to be inclusive, the language utilized can create a sense of an us/you dichotomy. This is something that occurs in many of the letters that get sent to the editor in Astounding, and also, on the flip side, something that happens in the reviews of the science fiction anthologies. They appear to obey these codes by reinforcing how certain science fiction stories don’t fit into preconceived ideas of the literary canon.

This does happen in “The Space Merchants”, but perhaps with the awareness that it’s happening, because in the use of jargon like “Consies” and references to the “Walk of Martyrs”, the narrator includes us in the club by assuming we already know what he’s talking about. We’re thrown into the story as insiders, and this precludes making us outsiders, because we learn as we go. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know that Consies is shorthand for Conservationists; we’ll learn that as we go along.

insider language

Among both the advertising upperclass of The Space Merchants and in the reader ‘forum’ of Brass Tacks, an ability to consciously form ‘beautiful’ language. A reader comment (Bob Tucker, page 157) could easily encapsulate the desire of Mitchell and others to write the words which unconsciously convince consumers to consume:

shows an admirable talent of word-arranging

Just as a later part of the same letter, in which the reader mocks another reader-writer who had contributed to Brass Tacks, could serve as a mirror to the ‘common’ way the consumers themselves speak:

i think yer book is lousy and i want my monie back. the stories are punk and they ain’t even good stories. yer wholed mag is punk awful.  i dare yew to print this!

Although, while Bob Tucker intends this comparison to reflect badly on the Mr. Avery in question, in The Space Merchants the consumers’ way of speaking, in its marked difference from Mitchell’s carefully-wrought elite literary professionalism – in fact serves to make him the outsider, for a time.

(and mitchell’s way of speaking is the way i’ve been conditioned to write for classes but if i was talking about this to anyone else at all it’d probs look more like this)