It’s just business

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I love a good fictional business, especially in science fiction and fantasy. Kingdoms and nations are all well and good, but there’s something more fluid about a company, something about its aims and practices, the way it crosses borders and slides quietly into the corners of our lives, that makes it more interesting. Something that makes it, in many cases, more sinister.

What Batman made on his lunch break
What Batman made on his lunch break

Businesses of the future

Science fiction is the obvious home for this, whether it’s the corporate hegemonies of a William Gibson novel or the extreme hedge funds of Richard Morgan’s Market Forces. Corporations are the staple villains of techno-thrillers and cyberpunk, Big Brother. Its that insidious nature, that ubiquity, that focus on profit over principle that fits them so well to a world built on sci-fi and noir.

Superheroes and the business as mask

In the superhero genre corporations play a more benign and far less interesting role. They’re usually the cover operation for a superhero, whether it’s Batman, Green Arrow or Iron Man. Sometimes their nature as businesses might play into the plot, as Bruce Wayne uses his front companies to move technology around or Tony Stark faces a corporate takeover. But for the most part these are just companies as masks, empty of the stuff businesses do. Even Lex Luthor mostly uses super science for his nefarious schemes, not the more straightforward mechanism of investments and mergers.

A notable exception to the superhero pattern was Joe Casey’s last two years writing the Wildcats, under the title Wildcats 3.0. Teleporting android Spartan takes over running the Halo front company and starts using it to change the world. For the first time the alien technology the Wildcats have access to gets to change the world they live in. And then… poor sales, fascinating book cancelled due to lack of fist fights and lycra-clad women. Damn.

Monetising fantasy

There’s also a hint of business in Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy novels, with the occasional appearance by the sinister banking house of Valint and Balk. I love seeing business intrude in the unfamiliar space of a fantasy world, combining the innovations of Europe’s early banking houses with the implication of dark forces in the background. Because modern business didn’t just leap fully formed from the forehead of Adam Smith, and it’s interesting to see someone working with the grey world of their emergence.

So yes, I love a good fictional business, in all its myriad forms.

How about you? Can you think of classic examples of fictional businesses that I’ve missed? Do you enjoy their presence or see them as just one more part of the scenery? Leave a comment, let me know.


Picture by Images Money via Flickr creative commons