The Merchant’s War – Frederik Pohl

Every time I stumble some list of the best novels in such and such genre, I always end up saving the list and tracking the books down. Often this is in some kind of hope that doing so will help improve my own writing. Of course, I never bother asking certain sophisticated questions, such as who is the person who wrote the list and why does their opinion matter at all.

One such list paid off extremely well by suggesting Frederik Pohl and C.M.Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants. I enjoyed that book immensely, so much so that I went on to read some others by Pohl (but none yet by Kornbluth). Those books have also paid off.

Well, I guess it had to fail eventually.

The Merchant’s War is a sequel to Pohl and Kornbluth’s novel, but written solely by Pohl due to Kornbluth’s death. It follows Tennison Taub off of Venus and back to earth, where he experiences a fall from grace and ultimately questions what side he should be on, Earth’s or Venus.

Anyone who read the first book likely felt pretty bored by that sentence, and is likely wondering if this book follows the same beats as the first. Largely it does, and save for the fact that this book begins on Venus while its predecessor ends on it far too much of what happens in this book feels exactly the same..

Something about this book didn’t square with me. I started to feel like something was wrong with the plot points during the scene in the restaurant where the protagonist is presented with a bill for all the Mokie Coke he drank and cannot recall drinking any of it. Whatever I hit upon was correct, because this amnesia is never really returned to throughout the story. Nor did I find Taub’s initially demotion to be all that convincing, as it felt somewhat forced for the plot than anything else. I know I am not dealing with Hurbert Selby Jr, but the addiction scenes felt a little ham fisted as well.

It could also be that there was some amount of thematic burnout from this book. These days, it seems that everyone and their dog has anti-consumer culture tendencies. Maybe that was not the case when Pohl and Kornbluth wrote the first book, or when Pohl wrote this one. But for me a lot of this felt like old hat.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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