Jem – Frederik Pohl (1979)
‘The discovery of another habitable world might spell salvation to the three bitterly compelling power blocs of the resource-starved 21st century; but when their representatives arrive on Jem, with its multiple intelligent species, they discover instead the perfect situation into which to export their rivalries. Subtitled, with savage irony ‘The Making of a Utopia’, Jem is one of Frederik Pohl’s most powerful works.’
Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz SF Masterworks paperback edition. (no 41)
In this satirical novel, black comedy at its blackest and ultimately bleakest, the earth is divided into Blocs and is at an uneasy peace. One bloc is responsible for fuel, one for food and one for people (i.e. Human Resources or workers)
Then, a life-bearing world is discovered by the People’s Bloc (comprising mostly of what we would term the lands of The East). America, which is part of the Food Bloc, channels its outrage through the person of Margie Menninger, the daughter of a high-ranking politician and the holder of a high rank herself in the army. She seduces a hapless linguist and persuades him to apply for a grant to visit the new world, an act which in itself demonstrates Margie’s forethought and cunning, but is nothing to what she does later.
Jem, or Kung’s World, turns out to be home to three intelligent races. One is ratlike and lives underground, another takes the form of an enormous asymmetrical crab, and the third is a species of gas-filled jellyfish-like creatures which float around in the sky. Apart from occasional dining on each other’s children, the three races live together in peace.
Once all three Blocs have camps ensconced, a war begins between them and its escalation drags in the unfortunate alien beings.
Like several other really good SF novels, it holds up a mirror to Humanity as a whole and has a horrible ring of Truth to it.
This could be an allegory of how more advanced cultures have invaded other countries and used their natives as fodder or tools of war. It could be a chilling prophecy of how we actually would treat any alien race with whom we come into contact.
The fact that this novel is actually quite funny makes the truth of its message all the more important.