The Unicorporated Man - Book Review

Title: The Unincorporated Man
Authors: Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
Publisher: Tor

This novel is about a man with a terminal illness who is revived about 300 years after having himself cryonically suspended. The technology of the time is able to cure his illness and restore him to vigorous health. However this man Justin Cord is different in one remarkable way from everyone else. Every other person is incorporated at birth with at 100,000 with the government getting 5% of the shares; the parents getting 20%. Other shares are sold to pay for raising and educating the child. When the individual becomes an adult the control of what stock remains is in control of that individual with the proviso that no person can own less than 25% of themselves. But not Justin Cord since he in unincorporated because he was cryonically suspended prior to the incorporation. And this seems to cause a lot of consternation. Particularly in one of the higher level employees of the largest corporation who early in the novel is attempting to trick Cord into voluntarily incorporating.

Cord has several sources of assistance in his adjustment to his new world and explaining the disasters that wiped out huge portions of the humans while Cord was suspended. One is a DijAssist which might be considered a cross between a smartphone, networked PDA and personal computer in a small portable form factor that has all data and personal information stored on the network so that if the unit is lost you just forget it and obtain a new one. Other assistance comes from a cast of characters; Omad who finds the cryonic chamber in an abandoned mine, Neela the "revive specialist" and others. At times the novel suffers because these characters are just a bit too stock and a littel too predictable.

Which brings me to one of problems I had with the book. The book makes the point that a romantic connection between a revival specialist and a revivee is considered a serious problem in the new society. Yet here we have the revival specialist and the revivee falling for each other and it is obvious that it is going to be an issue right from the beginning. It was so obvious that it detracted from the flow of the story. Why have the stereotype of woman as nurturer? At times it was almost painful to read. Why not have Neela be the person out exploring in the mine and have Omad as the revival specialist. That would have been a fresher approach.

Another problem with the book is that it needed another pass by an editor. There are several places where I think the authors were too close to their text and thus did not spot some lines that detract from the flow of the novel. As a reader I find it annoying when authors drop in a line which kicks the reader out of the reading experience with a "What???" reaction. Unfortunately the authors have a dozy in this novel where in discussing the issues related to destroying one system without considering what would replace it there is this: "It's almost always something or someone worse. Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and Ahmadinejad, to name but a few." Ahmadinejad??? Give me a break. First let us be clear that I think Ahmadinejad is a very dispicable person. And it is possible that in the future Ahmadinejad might do actions which justify placing him on a list with Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler and Stalin. But Ahmadinejad has not done those actions yet and is not likely to do so. First remember that Ahmadinejad is not changing a society he maintaining the status quo. Secondly consider that Ahmadinejad is more of a threat to start a war with neighboring countries than do internal purges in Iran on the level of a Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin.

In addition to the above example about where another pass by editor would be helpful there is the section about the DijAssit and their association. Was the DijAssit section included as a hook for the next novel? Supposedly the authors have a three book contract with Tor so there are still two more novels and it makes sense that one or both might be sequals to this one. But that section is not well integrated into the book and is rather distracting.

The novel seems to have generated interest partially because it deals with the concept of incorporation. As a general concept selling shares in future income is not a new concept and the novel does pay homage by quoting Milton Friedman discussing financing education by shares in future earnings. But note the difference; Friedman is discussing shares in future earnings not shares in the individual. And this makes a big difference since in the system described in the novel where a person lived or worked could be determined by the shareholders with a majority of that persons shares. Which is why owning a majority of your own stock is a goal for many in the novel however unrealistic that goal may be. Of course Justin Cord does not want to be incorporated.

The issues of liberty, social organization and other topics from political philosophy are a backdrop for the novel and are sometimes discussed explicitly by the characters. One of the difficulties with writing this type of novel is providing information to the reader without a series of obvious "As you know Bob" sections. The authors did fewer of these than I expected and the opening pages of the book which introduce the characters of Omad and Neela show a lot of work went into introducing the characters along with a basic outline of incorporation.

The initial concept behind this novel might be interesting but for me the novel just does not meet my expectations. For people like me who are already familiar with the idea of shares in future wages the idea of shares in a individual is not that much of a leap. It takes more than interesting ideas to carry a novel and in this case some of the novel seemed at times formulaic and the characters too stereotypical.

I will close this review with a little thought experiment. Recall the end of the novel where the crowd is chanting "ONE FREE MAN" and then Cord gets them to chant "ALL FREE MEN". Consider for a moment that instead of the protagonist being a man named Justin Cord that the protagonist had been a woman named Justine Cord. The initial chant would have been "ONE FREE WOMAN"; how would the chant have been changed by a Justine Cord? Perhaps to "ALL FREE WOMEN"? This would have made for a very interesting twist.

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