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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Five (Future) Corporations You Don't Want to Mess With

Today Briane Pagel is joining us to tell us about... I'm not sure what he's telling us about, actually. Take it away, Briane...

“I hate corporations,” a rather bellicose new employee told me one day at my old job, when we were discussing some sort of regulation or other.

“You work for a corporation,” I pointed out to her, at which point she looked rather embarrassed. 

Has there ever been a more potentially malignant organization than the corporation? We're more or less geared to hate them (even though most of us work for one, I bet) from the earliest days of US History classes: the corporation was something spawned by Robber Barons to allow them to pave the US with railroad tracks and the blood of immigrants, while they smoked cigars moistened with baby’s tears. (Chapter 2, History 101 Textbook.)

This sort of reputation makes corporations the go-to bad guys of any sort of science fiction, and the fact that the US Supreme Court declared corporations to be people right around the time they also declared that companies can use your genes without paying you for them only added to that reputation.  So it’s no wonder that I picked a corporation as the root of all evil in my book Codes, is it?

In Codes, the corporation (which goes unnamed throughout, the anonymity adding to the sinister nature of the company) that is behind all the evil has begun a program to clone human beings – against their will—and implant them with computerized personalities, which can be tweaked to make the person a better worker, or more loyal, or instill other features.  But the company doesn't just make clones (which are called Codes… hence the title.)  They are also slowly taking over the city around them.  When people call the police in that city, company security shows up. The same for other government services, such as the department of health.  The corporate employees can set up other dummy corporations and infiltrate the internet, and they're able to kidnap people and hold them without any sort of repercussion – they do it in broad daylight.  It’s pretty apparent, throughout Codes, that the company is not only powerful, but so powerful it can flaunt it, with most people in the city just accepting this as a fact of life.

That’s pretty bad, right? But it’s not like I’m the first person to make the link between “anonymous shareholders forcing the company to seek profits at all costs” and “nihilistic vision of a society where that is condoned.” There’s, as I said, a rich history of corporate badness in movies, television, and books. I could probably do the top 100 of these, but I've limited it to the five best (or worst). 

5. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams. Perhaps not so much “evil” as “inept,” Sirius was responsible for such abominations as the talking doors that smugly waited for you to open them, elevators that eventually have existential crises, and my favorite, the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser, which engages in an in-depth probing of the user’s likes and dislikes to craft a particularized beverage meant to provide the ultimate drinking experience, and then dispenses something almost, but not completely, unlike tea.  The complaints division for the company sprawled over three planets, and the company’s motto, “Share And Enjoy,” was built right into the company’s headquarters, the buildings being shaped like the letters – but then they sunk halfway, so that the buildings appear to spell out “Go Stick Your Head In A Pig” in the local language.  Not the kind of company you’d want to deal with, at all.

4. Rosen Industries: (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner): The makers of replicants, androids built to mimic humans exactly, but who ultimately tend to go rogue and want to kill humans, the Rosen Corporation is so awful it created a replicant specifically designed to trick the best test available to sort out who is human and who is not – and then didn’t tell her she was an android, but used it to seduce bounty hunters so they couldn't keep killing replicants. (Fun fact: Phillip K. Dick set his story, originally, in the far-distant year of 1992.  Later editions have now set it in 2021.)

3. Ilium Works, Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut.  I couldn’t find out if the corporation in this book had a name, or if in fact the corporation was simply the US government; set in a post-WWIII society, the corporation is busy automating everything, which has the effect of replacing anyone who’s not an engineer or a manager; those people have the choice of menial labor or receiving a stipend to live on. When Paul, the main character, begins to dislike this system, he eventually decides to rebel against it, leading to a brief (and unsatisfying) armed conflict.

2. The entire planet Proton, The Apprentice Adept series, Piers Anthony.  Another one I’m not entirely sure is a corporation, but it sure seems like it.  The citizens of Proton are insanely wealthy – the 1% of the 1% of the 1% ad infinitum as a result of mining protonite for fuel.  They've set up a system in which they hire ‘serfs,’ people who work for them for 20 years, receiving their pay in a lump sum at the end.  20 years of work pays enough to make a serf wealthy on any other planet, but barely buys one’s way into society on Proton.  The serfs, though, have almost no freedom, must live and work entirely naked, and exist solely to please the Citizens.  Oh, and many of the Citizens are aware that their planet shares an alternate space with an identical magical planet, one they intend to raid of its magical energy because their own protonite is running out.

1.  The General Oblation Board, His Dark Materials Trilogy, Phillip Pullman  I suppose it’s not technically a corporation, since the G.O.B. was a branch of the church, but I had to include this organization because it’s just so evil: Run by Mrs. Coulter, a beautiful but cold woman, the G.O.B. was tasked with finding a way to rid humanity of Original Sin – and opted to do that by experimenting with the children of Philip Pullman’s phenomenal alternate-Earth. I'd rather face off against any three on this list than take on the Board.

What’s your (least!) favorite corporation from a book?

Briane Pagel is the author of Codes, available on Amazon and through Golden Fleece Press.  He blogs at Thinking The Lions
Thinking The Lions: http://www.thinkingthelions.com
Codes, on Golden Fleece Press:  http://goldenfleecepress.com/catalog/fiction/


Briane said...

Thanks for getting this up, Liz!

Angela Brown said...

This is pretty interesting. Yep, I work for a corporation and shall remain commentless in regards to my feelings for it lol!

Now I have to check out the various books I have to see what corps in them are so evil, or inept, as to warrant a mention.

Andrew Leon said...

What about Dune? I'm sure the... man, it's been too long since I've read it, and I can't remember. :/

dolorah said...

I kinda dug the Proton society though. Didn't seem all that bad, until you visited Phase, that is. Still, to be uber rich!! I forget his name, but I really felt sorry for the main android villain in Blade Runner. He had valid points of complaint.

The infamous THEY seems to be the culprit in many of these books, yours as well.

Sounds intriguing Brian. I'll put your book on my TBR list :)

mshatch said...

Thankfully I do not work for a corporation. I did however, make them evil in my scifi novel as well ;)

Briane said...

Angela: That corporation probably already knows you posted something here! Better say something nice about them, quickly.

Andrew: Dune could be its own post. The Guild? The Bene Gesserit? Those are two that spring to mind, although the Bene Gesserit weren't maybe a corporation.

Dolorah: I'm not saying Proton was all bad. As a teenager, especially, the idea of a totally naked world was pretty cool. Now, as a 46-year-old guy who doesn't work out much? STILL PRETTY COOL. Except for the part about having to work all the time...

MsHatch: I'll have to find your book. We'll have an Evil Corporation-off!

Liz A. said...

Corporations. Ugh. Better not comment more than that...