Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Company Man The Company Man
by Robert Jackson Bennett

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

The Company Man is a social and political essay disguised as a novel. Nothing wrong with that -- it's a grand old tradition that stretches back at least to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and probably even further. But it's odd to see a such novel told from a right wing point of view.

The setting is a steampunk alternate early twentieth century. The eponymous company is McNaughton Western Foundry Corp. which, by 1919 (when the novel takes place) has become the world leader in technology -- and hence, by implication, it is a powerful force in the economic and political arena as well. Indeed, it is so powerful that it averted World War I by threatening to cut off the production of military hardware.

McNaughton's innovative technological breakthroughs came from the work of Lawrence Kulahee, an eccentric inventor who died in 1904. The company continued to grow despite his death, and by 1919 his home in the former fishing village of Evesden has become a large city full of industrial smokestacks and slums. It is a raw, cruel place; there are dozens of murders each month. One of the murders prompts the police to contact Cyril Hayes, a man who plays a strangely undefined role in McNaughton's security force. As Hayes tries to determine whether the nameless corpse is affiliated with McNaughton, he is also assigned to investigate the union movement, which is suspected of sabotaging the corporation's factories.

Hayes has an unusual talent: he can establish a telepathic connection with people that grows stronger the longer he's in contact with them.

His dual investigations of both the murder and the union violence eventually converge once he begins to believe the stories told by the workers who claim that McNaughton's mysterious machinery is trying to talk to them...

Depending on your place in the political spectrum, you will either love or loath this book. To its credit, it does blur the lines of conflict a lot, but nevertheless at rock bottom it does tend to rely on the rather simplistic "big business good, unions bad" equation that drives far too much capitalistic entrepreneurship. The characters are walking, talking clichés and the strings being pulled by the puppetmaster author are sometimes rather uncomfortably visible.

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