Best 1952 Adventures (2)

By: Joshua Glenn
June 22, 2017

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1952 adventure novels. Happy 65th anniversary!



Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s Golden Age sci-fi adventure The Space Merchants (serialized, as Gravy Planet, 1952; in book form, 1953).

Because I’m a science fiction fan who works in the esoteric outer reaches of consumer research (semiotic brand analysis), people occasionally wonder whether I was somehow deeply influenced by The Space Merchants, at an impressionable age. Not so. But I do like this proto-Idiocracy, cyberpunk-ish dystopian adventure, in which ace copywriter Mitch Courtenay, whose agency has just landed the plum assignment of persuading inhabitants of the overcrowded and exhausted Earth to voluntarily emigrate to new colonies on Venus, is kidnapped by rebels who want him to articulate their movement’s “functional and emotional benefits” (as marketers put it) instead. Huge, amoral and trans-national corporations have taken the place of governments, in Pohl and Kornbluth’s story, and advertising has become the vehicle by which the masses are deluded into consuming more, more, more. Venus, meanwhile, is a hellhole — it will take generations before colonists can live there in anything but harsh conditions. What will Courtenay do?

Fun fact: Originally published in Galaxy (June–August 1952) as a serial (with a better title: Gravy Planet), The Space Merchants helped introduce such marketing and sci-fi neologisms as “R&D,” “Muzak,” and “soyburger.” In 1960, Kingsley Amis suggested that The Space Merchants “has many claims to being the best science-fiction novel so far.”

POHL & KORNBLUTH 1952 June cover of first serial "Gravy Planet" by Emsh


Let me know if I’ve missed any 1952 adventures that you particularly admire.


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