Page Turners

The Warehouse and the Mundanity of Dystopia

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As I’ve discussed recently, a major theme of the storytelling of 2019 has been the slow realization that we’re essentially living in an economic dystopia, courtesy of rampant capitalism and class warfare. Which, has led to quite a bit of engaging, and often depressing stories. And, it’s not just the movies that have had success taking stabs at the oligarchy ruining our lives, literature has gotten in on the game too! Which brought me to a very highly regarded new novel that was published this year, and that I saw quite a bit of positive buzz. I’ve never read a novel by Rob Hart, but I’m very glad that I took a shot on this book, because it’s actually a hell of a good time, while also becoming one of the biggest bummers I’ve read this year. Because when I learned that this was essentially a speculative fiction dystopia book about a world that’s been overrun by a thinly veiled Amazon that has reached a state of prominence that they’ve reinstated the company town system, I knew that this was going to be something special. I just don’t think I was expecting the amount of punches it was going to land on the horror of our impending reality.

The novel focuses on a company named Cloud, that in the near future has essentially become the most important and powerful company in existence. It’s a retail company that specializes is delivering things by drones, essentially replacing all commerce in the country, if not the world, thanks to some massacres that happened in brick and mortar stores on a Black Friday. And, we follow three different points of view with our examination of Cloud. The first and least reliable source is the founder of the company, writing a series of blog posts about the history of the company, his own personal beliefs, and the path that Cloud took to global dominance, all in the face of his impending death from cancer, Gibson Wells. We also see things from the point of view of Paxton, a man whose small company was destroyed by Cloud, and has now applied for a security job within the massive distribution facility, much to his shame, and Zinnia, a corporate spy who has been hired to infiltrate Cloud and find dirt on the company, specifically around its energy practices, which her employers believe are fraudulent. We then follow Zinnia and Paxton as they get welcomed to the strange, cult-like world of Cloud, an entirely underground facility where you work, live, eat, and occasionally enjoy your free time, all within one massive mall.

Zinnia realizes that in order to get the information she needs, she’s going to need more access, because she’s been placed in the picker department, the folks who go, find, and send out the various objects people buy, which doesn’t come with much authority. Thankfully, she’s able to get close with Paxton, starting an initially fake relationship with him in order to pump him for information and get access to the inner depths of the facility. And, while Zinnia is taking advantage of him, Paxton is dealing with a mysterious drug epidemic hitting the facility, which he’s been tasked with quashing. But, eventually things hit a very pitched point when they learn that Gibson is going to be visiting their facility, and Zinnia gets word that she will now be receiving an even larger bonus if she manages to kill the founder of the company. She does attempt a monorail crash that would kill the old man, and in the process gets some glimpses of the true, even more unsettling answers to how Cloud is getting its power, and the larger picture plans that they have for literal global domination, sending herself and Paxton down the path to hold the future of the company in their hands.

The Warehouse is one of those books where I was kind of worried that it was going to think it was much more clever than it actually was. You know, like the Circle. Both take thinly veiled versions of real life companies, and try to weave a story about how easily that real company could slide into an oppressive dystopia, while all feeling a little obvious. And yet, this novel does some inventive things that I really ended up appreciating. Yes, it’s easy to see a company as massive and omnipresent as Amazon becoming an evil entity, and this story takes all of that and gets to some really interesting places with a somewhat obvious premise. I mean, it’s horrifying but also very possible that Amazon will make their infamously nightmarish warehouses into places where their employees are forced to also live, being trapped in a company town, shopping at the company store, and being paid in company currency. It’s entirely possible, and the novel manages to show how easily we could slip into that world. And, sadly, it’s a very mundane path. Yeah, there were these infamous Black Friday massacres, but the true answer was just that people wanted convenience. They continuously allowed themselves to give up personal freedoms in exchange for a seemingly easier life, and by the end of the story we get an entirely possible scenario where this company could quite literally take over the world, overthrowing world government in exchange for some sort of corporatocracy. It’s a nightmare, but a shockingly mundane one, and one that seems like it could easily happen. Which, makes it all the more nightmarish.

 

The Warehouse was written by Rob Hart, 2019.

 

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