Synopsis: Three hundred years ago, eccentric billionaire Justin Cord froze himself in hopes of being revived in a different world. When he’s awoken, he finds himself in a society where individuals are incorporated, buying and selling shares of family and friends and people of interest. Despite the benefits touted by his revivalist, Justin is uneasy about incorporating himself, and that decision is enough to change the world.
The Unincorporated Man first caught my eye a couple years ago at Barnes and Noble. While the premise was interesting enough that I wanted to read it, I didn’t have the money to spend full-price on a recent release hardcover. Instead, I noted the title and went on my way. (To be fair, this happens all the time in bookstores). Cut to several weeks ago where I saw it at the public library. I checked it out.
The prose is long-winded but easy to follow, guiding the reader through the world in which the book is set. Sometimes it feels like a textbook without specific dates. However, the world is well-developed and the characters move naturally within it. I sometimes found myself stopping to think about the worldbuilding and how the world would be executed in my own. But I’m a sucker for awesome world-building, and this book delivers.
The book’s strongest section was when Justin learns about the horrors of virtual reality and the part it played for the collapse of his world. Before this section, these horrors are only alluded to by Justin’s friends. The reader and Justin learn together the effects of virtual reality and why the other characters act as they do towards it.
The beginning of the narrative made many references to people called DeGens, which was never clearly explained. It’s mentioned that Justin was going to further look into DeGens and who they are in that current society, but the narrative doesn’t follow through. Perhaps DeGens play a larger role in the sequels–this is the first book of a four-part series after all. Which means there is more to explore regarding this world, or rather, regarding the fall of this world.
As a whole, you can argue that the book is a libertarian manifesto. The only major law in the world is that you cannot force anybody to do anything against their wishes. Justin and his revivialist Neela have a conversation similar to this regarding pedophilia, and I think it’s a good example of how the world in the book works. A pedophile can legally have computer-generated child porn because no one was harmed in the creation of it. A pedophile cannot legally have child porn with real children because the children were coerced into doing something they did not want to do. However, with the computer generated porn, no one can coerce the pedophile to remove it from his files. BUT his stock value will certainly decrease and people would stop associating with him because there is no profitable advantage in doing so. Even though pedophilia by itself is not illegal, it would still be disastrous for the pedophile. If one of the pedophile’s stockholders questions a decision the pedophile made, they can order a psychological audit (shorted to psyche audit).
A psyche audit basically rewires the neural pathways of the brain. Something like pedophilia or kleptomania would be “fixed” and may result in a personality change for the person who underwent the psyche audit. Sometimes the person is unchanged after a psyche audit, and when this happens, they can order a psyche audit on the person who requested the psyche audit. Even so, the psyche audit was the first sign that this was going to be a dystopian novel. People are re-educated/re-wired/brainwashed by the system to ensure the system’s survival which would then ensure humanity’s survival.
So then we have the final third of the book, which was much slower than the beginning parts. Where the beginning parts were intriguing in the “What is the full name of this mysterious stranger who awoke from three hundred years of suspension?” and “How much money can I get by selling all of the stuff I brought with me?” The ending parts were slow in that nothing much happened. Sure, there was a riot in an asteroid and Justin declared the outer planets of the solar system free from the control of the major corporations, but the book ended as soon as it was getting better again. Perhaps that’s just more incentive to read the next book.
The Unincorporated Man is recommended to people who enjoyed 1984 and anything by Robert Heinlein. Other books in the series include The Unincorporated War, The Unincorporated Woman, and The Unincorporated Future.