canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Everyone in Silico
by Jim Munroe
No Media Kings, 2002

Reviewed by Lori Hahnel

There’s a long tradition of novels whose ideals follow the high road, novels that comment on the nasty underbelly of the human condition in our society, starting with the works of Hugo and Dickens. In the twentieth century the tradition carried on in futuristic novels from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to George Orwell’s 1984 to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Toronto writer Jim Munroe’s Everyone in Silico is part of this tradition, in spirit if not in execution.

Munroe is a former managing editor at Adbusters. Everyone in Silico is his third novel; in a twist on the usual scenario, his first novel, Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask (1999), was published by Harper Collins. Both his second, Angry Young Spaceman (2000) and this latest are self-published. Munroe’s website,, explains his stance against media consolidation and is jam-packed with advice about do-it-yourself publishing for anyone who’s interested.

Set in Vancouver in 2036, the novel shows us a world where every aspect of life has been corporatized. The author invoiced ten of the companies he mentioned for product placement, but has received no cheques to date (you can read his follow-up letters at the website). Everyone who can afford it is going for the ultimate consumer product, Self, a kind of virtual reality. Naturally, it also ends up being the ultimate scam. The three main characters, Doug, a coolhunter (what we might call an ad exec), Nicky, a genetic artist and Eileen, a grandmother in search of her missing grandson, resist the trend to different degrees in and in their own ways.

It’s a little bit William Gibson, it’s a little bit Douglas Coupland, it’s a little bit pomo. The novel is often wickedly funny, and makes a good many excellent points about the sleazy path our society seems to be headed down, particularly when it comes to the ubiquitous nature of advertising. Witness: "The steam from her cup curled around and coalesced briefly into the Starbucks logo, then dissipated." Or this variation on an old saw of Mark Twain’s: "Death and ads, he thought to himself…the two constants of our free market society."

As much as I think this novel does an excellent job of addressing the destruction our society by corporate culture, and as much as I wanted this book to be a powerful tool in the fight against it, ultimately, it is not a great read. The text is mainly composed of short paragraphs made up of short sentences, making for deadly pacing. There is a lot of dialogue and very little in the way of action or concrete scenes. It follows neither the S. F. convention of plot-driven fiction nor the literary convention of character-driven fiction. It seems to be mainly driven by Munroe’s vision of the future, and while this is an interesting vision, I’m not sure it’s enough to sustain a novel. The jargon and new words / new ideas get to be overwhelming at times also.

It isn’t until near the end that the three main characters’ paths cross and things start to wrap up, and by that time, my interest level was way down. I was disappointed. I liked the concept, I like the author’s stance and his sense of humour, I have always liked the whole D.I. Y. thing, I was ready for a good anti-corporate read. After a while, it became apparent that it wouldn’t be happening here. Still, you have to admire someone with Munroe’s ideals. Next time, maybe?

Lori Hahnel lives in Alberta.








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