The Unincorporated Man
by
Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin
Tor, 2009


The Unincorporated Man is a science fiction novel set in the far future, with strong social and economic themes. It won the 2010 Prometheus Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society, which tells you a lot about it; however, it is worth reading even if you are not particularly interested in the political aspect.

Justin Cord is a wealthy industrialist who is dying of cancer. He decides that his best bet is to have himself cryogenically frozen until medical science can cure him. But being somewhat paranoid he doesn't go through one of the existing clinics, instead having his R&D department build him his own personal self-sustaining pod, which he hides at the bottom of an old mine. This works very well.

The story starts roughly 300 years later, when a prospector looking for passed-over mineral veins finds the abandoned mine, and, miraculously, the still functioning pod. By this time medical science has reached the point where reanimating the dead (given an intact brain) is a routine procedure... But there are a number of unexpected twists to the future. The most important of these, as far as Justin is concerned, is that everyone is required to incorporate -- the value of their shares to be determined by their income and future earning potential. And while they are not required to sell shares in themselves, that is the easiest way to get some operating capital. And they are required to give 5% of their stock to the government in lieu of the antiquated practice of taxes. Justin, being a red-blooded American Libertarian refuses outright to have anything to do with this system.

As it so happens, Justin was reincarnated by one of the largest corporations in the Solar System, and they are quite interested in getting a good chunk of his stock. Justin is, after all, the oldest living human, and through a fluke of history, one of the few pre-collapse names that made it into the history books (he invented the worker-less factory, among other things). Justin has to scramble to get a legal defense together, figure out how to turn his hoarded treasures into a money-like substance, and dodge both the media coverage and corporate espionage attempts. Thankfully, there is enough new technology, new sociology, and new-old 'history' to cover that the book does not come across as a legal thriller -- although at times it's close.

In many ways this book is reminiscent of Robert Heinlein; strong, opinionated characters, strong social themes, and a strong bias towards libertarianism; it also contains many interesting social ideas, tending towards Cory Doctorow in its ingenuity. While future technology is certainly advanced, cultural norms against virtual reality and extreme body mod (plus a rather dubious technological distinction between 'rebuilding brains' and 'replicating brains') keeps the story out of the realm of transhumanism. The authors do an excellent job of bringing the ideas of extreme libertarianism popularized by Heinlein into the mainstream. While Heinlein's libertarians managed to live without a government backed monetary system, justice system, public schools, roadways, and etc., these were small communities of highly independent and motivated settlers, and it was hard to see how these systems could work for an entire planet. In The Unincorporated Man these systems do work, and work well, on a interplanetary scale, and in a way that is quite comprehensible.

The writing style is very straightforward and often unpolished. This is not at all uncommon in the field of science fiction, and I did not find it distracting, but there is admittedly very little difference between characters, and character development is largely limited to changes in philosophy and personal goals (again, very Heinlein-y). The story is somewhat formulaic, but not predictable in either ideas or plot. Overall, I very much enjoyed it, and would recommend it if you like writers like Heinlein, Doctorow, Charles Stross, and John Varley. I would not recommend it as an introduction to someone who is new to science fiction.

The Unincorporated Man has two sequels, The Unincorporated War and The Unincorporated Woman.

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