I stumbled across The Unincorporated Man by brothers Dani and Eytan Kollin in my GoodReads recommendations a few weeks ago and the description immediately piqued my interest. The Unincorporated Man explores issues around social justice, individualism, and freedom. As an enthusiastic reader of Saint Augustine, Kant, Locke, and Rawls you might see the immediate appeal the Kollin brothers’ utopian / dystopian future of social, political, and economic equality of opportunity holds for me.
The Kollin brothers craft an intriguing socio-economic future which literally left me riveted to the edge of my seat for the first third of the novel. If you just burst out laughing over the visual of someone eagerly yearning for macro-economics, my only defense is at least I fly my nerd flag openly. Nevertheless, I think you will agree the economic system and world building of The Unincorporated Man almost singularly makes it a compelling novel.
The novel revolves around Justin Cord, a cryogenically frozen 21st century American resurrected into a 24th century in which individuals sell shares or equity in themselves giving up a percentage of their future income to investors in return for immediate cash. Individual Corporation attempts to harness capitalism to align personal interests with the good of other individuals and the collective. By owning a percentage of the future income of another, the owner is invested in the overall personal good of the worker rather than just the product of their labor, but the owner also gains some limited control over the worker’s life choices. Essentially, Individual Corporation attempts to turn selfishness into a virtue at the cost of individual freedoms. Does this remind you of any other morally reprehensible social arrangement cloaked in pseudo-scientific language?
The world of The Unincorporated Man is far from an intriguing thought experiment. Platforms currently exist for individuals to sell stock in themselves to investors for a percentage of an individual’s future income over a set term, making this novel a terrifying and intriguing possibility. Predicting the mess that might be appear from a poorly regulated futures market in individual equity or unscrupulous elites exploiting exotic options excites a perverse glee in me. Financial engineers the world over may rise to the challenge, but I suspect getting bogged down in the intricacies of The Unincorporated Man’s economic system is beyond the point.
Similar to most science fiction, The Unincorporated Man is fundamentally a mirror of contemporary society exploring the meaning and relation of freedom to the individual and collective. The Kollin brothers’ libertarian bent shows prominently (e.g. the reader is repeatedly force feed the evils of fiat currency) and offers an intriguing critique on the limitations and responsibilities of contemporary rights based freedom. The dangers of centralized economic power in the hands of corporation, household debt by proxy, and social mores as means of restricting personal autonomy feature prominently and offer an important reminder to citizens and leaders alike. I largely disagree with the conclusions the Kollin brothers reach; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey along the way.
While The Unincorporated Man is filled with big ideas which challenge and explore contemporary norms, that is about all the novel has going for it. The plot line is contrived and forced with several unresolved and essentially pointless side plots in a poorly imitated parade of classic 1960s and 1970s science fiction tropes. Character development leaves much to be desired. The main character oozes a ridiculous combination of machismo and rugged individualism better set in an over-the-top Western conjuring up some romanticized illusion of America’s golden age rather than a serious exploration of social justice and economic theory. The leading lady is a one dimensional caricature of 1950s femininity. Overall I find the writing style and structure flat and uninspired.
Yet the often horrendous writing and character development of The Unincorporated Man should not deter you from the novel. In the vein of Ayn Rand, the authors’ choice of fiction is simply a tool to explore libertarian ideas and perhaps a better choice given the likely alternative dry tomb of ivory tower erudition. We’ve all enjoyed a trashy poorly written book (my guilty pleasure is young adult zombie novels) and in terms of writing quality, little more is on offer. I can already visualize the abysmal stiff B-list acting and overblown special effects of the straight-to-video movie adaptation. But, the Kollin brothers have done a brilliant job encouraging contemplation, reflection, and at least in my case some heated rants to my cat and my Kindle about some truly great and worthwhile ideas which more than compensates for the limitations of plot, characters, and writing. In the end, there’s little more you can ask for.
Total number of pages: 479, FoA pages: 17,306 (The total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)