The Unincorporated Man

Eytan Kollin, Dani Kollin
The Unincorporated Man Cover

The Unincorporated Man


Brilliant industrialist Justin Cord awakes from a 300-year cryonic suspension into a world that has accepted an extreme form of market capitalism. It is a world in which humans themselves are incorporated, their stock traded in markets, and where most people no longer own a majority share of themselves.

In this world of the free market in its most extreme iteration, Cord is now the last free man of the human race – owned by no one and owning no one.

It's a premise that Ayn Rand would love and a character that she might have created; a world recovered from the excesses and failures of government she predicted in Atlas Shrugged, at the apex of human achievement due to the capitalist system she loved and trumpeted in her egoist philosophy. And that civilization is at a turning point, due to the extreme nature of this future society's form of capitalism: individual capitalism.

Each individual is incorporated at birth, their shares traded on the open market. Using the capital raised through sale of shares, individuals finance their education, business ventures, homes and investments. Corporations--real companies, not just individuals incorporated--are more powerful than governments, and they produce and regulate their own currency, and controlling the lives of the individuals in whom they own stock.

And that's the rub for Cord. For while he was an avid defender of capitalism in the 21st century, the incorporation of the individual in the 24th century strikes him as a form of slavery. Despite the unprecedented levels of wealth and technological progress it has created, the system of ownership of others is an injustice. As Cord pushes back, fighting against the giant corporations that want to own a piece of him, he begins to reveal the cracks and fissures that will lead to systemic cultural, societal, and economic revolution.

Ostensibly science fiction, The Unincorporated Man makes deft use of futuristic technologies. We see a world of "haves," who own luxurious homes constantly and fluidly reshaping to the whims of their owners, and "have-nots" who live in "fixed" dwellings of wood and steel and who are lucky to own a small percentage of themselves. Virtual reality has not only been developed to an apex as good and better than reality, with some horrifying results. Artificial intelligence is an integral and essential part of daily life, as is physical mutation by biological manipulation. Death is all but conquered, and even taxes are merely a portion of a person's share that is allotted to the government at birth. It is, without a doubt, an amazing world.

Without a doubt, in taking principles of market capitalism to their extreme, combined with the most fantastic of futuristic technology, the Kollin brothers have hit upon an idea that is mind-popping in scope. I consider myself to be both very politically active and an ardent fan of the free-market system, but the Kollins kept me guessing, questioning, and reconsidering my assumptions and conclusions about democracy, capitalism, technology, and power. It is a libertarian world they want, and they never shy from promoting that world.

Indeed, if there are any critiques of The Unincorporated Man, it is the message in the novel, not even slightly transparent. The Kollins clearly consider the modern state of government with contempt, especially the "giving something for nothing" that modern government, in the Kollins' eyes, seems intent to do. Their argument is that of the libertarian: by providing more freedom, more choice, and more capital, they argue, we can create more wealth, not just for the upper echelons of society, but for everyone. When people have incentives to create, they do. When given something for nothing, they do not create. When too much power is accrued to one person or entity, liberty is restricted and destroyed.

This is reinforced when the near utopian society of the far future, rather than continuing on to further glory, begins to fracture under the hubris and weight of unscrupulous and corrupted corporate bureaucrats faced with, as the premise states, one man "owned by no one and owning no one."

The plot itself wobbles under the clear eyed idealism in the Kollins message. Nothing bad ever seems to happen to Cord. He always comes out on top, losing nothing in the process. Despite being the protagonist, the problems and obstacles that the Kollins set up for him feel almost contrived. As Cord overcomes each, I began to feel like he was like Midas, that everything he touched would turn to gold. He is, as the saying goes, lucky in love and life, and nothing in the story seems to slow that feeling. As a result, the novel occasionally seems to lack the tension that builds and creates tension in the plot and characters.

In spite of the heavy handed message and lack of serious plot tension, the creativity and speculation with which the Kollins create their world gives the novel wings. It's a world that is alive, vibrant, interesting, and, as science fiction is supposed to be, thought provoking and, occasionally, mind blowing. Most importantly, I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed talking about it. I recommend it without reservation.