Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Genre(s): Dystopian Science Fiction
Release date: August 20th, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Published in 2019
As you know, because of the American Worker Housing Act, and the Paperless Currency Act, you do not earn a minimum wage. But you get that money back in a variety of ways – through generous housing and health care plans, and through unlimited use of our company transit system, as well as…
I didn’t go in to this book expecting to find happiness. I came in knowing this was a dystopian novel. I knew this would be a soul-crushing and painful depiction of an all-too-possible future. However, somewhere between the first page and the last, I was lulled into a sense of complacency, and I was caught off guard by what a damn punch to the gut this book ultimately ended up being. If you’re looking for something optimistic with a happily ever after, I highly recommend looking elsewhere – but if a critique of modern capitalism and the market that’s being built by large online retailers such as Amazon…. you’re in the right place.
The Warehouse is set is an alternate future in which a large Amazon-style corporation called Cloud has eaten up nearly all of the business in the United States. At least, we can only hope it’s an alternate future – it’s a little too plausible, and could easily be “the future” rather than “an alternate future.” Hart’s vision of late-stage capitalism hits far too close to home when one considers the stories coming out of the warehouses of Amazon even today. Workers must maintain a minimum star rating in order to remain employees at Cloud – out of five stars, employees must maintain a three star rating to avoid being fired on the quarterly Cut Days. If an employee drops to one star, they are terminated immediately. In the titular warehouse, employees must run themselves ragged, eschewing breaks and safety, in order to make their daily goals. The plot follows two workers within a Cloud facility, Zinnia and Paxton.
She tried to think of something that would translate to Hey, I’m cool, but finally Miguel said, “Stay hydrated. Hit your numbers. Don’t complain. If you get hurt, walk it off. The less you have to talk to the managers, the better.” He took out his phone, typed something, and held it up for her to see.
Don’t even SAY the word union.
Zinnia nodded. “Got it.”
Zinnia has been hired to perform a bit of corporate espionage, to discover how Cloud is managing to power their facilities. Cloud is given generous subsidies due to their green power initiatives, but the numbers simply don’t add up when you start to look at the power sources vs estimated power consumption. Her employers are unknown to her, but have promised her a generous sum of money if she can gain access to the Cloud network. Her interview and orientation to Cloud occur at the same time as Paxton’s, and Paxton is immediately smitten with her. Unfortunately for Zinnia’s extracurricular job, she’s been stuck in the warehouse as a runner. As luck would have it, Paxton manages to snag a job with the security team. While Zinnia may not be looking for love at the moment, she’s not one to turn down a potential espionage resource.
Zinnia ran it through her head. Security guards probably had unlimited access. And she could social engineer the shit out of him; he was straight and had a penis.
If Zinnia weren’t so thoroughly human, it might be tempting to label her a femme fatale. She certainly does use Paxton for her own ends… but at the end of the day, you’re rooting for her too. When she encounters a manager abusing his authority with the women on her floor, you had better believe she’s right there in the thick of hit showing him what’s what. Zinnia and Paxton serve as excellent foils for one another, and it’s sometimes a little painful seeing the way they view their relationship with one another so differently. For Zinnia, it’s fucking. For Paxton, it’s making love. Yet, despite that, Zinnia’s barriers are slowly, gradually lowered as the story progresses.
Zinnia nodded, reclined on the futon, her head swimming. Paxton handed her a glass. They clinked them together and drank and Paxton pushed his head down toward her crotch, and she went a little breathless until he dropped his head in her lap and rolled over, looking up at her, wanting to cuddle like some girlfriend-boyfriend nonsense. She wanted to admonish him, tell him to get to work, but he was still smiling, and that smile really was the thing she liked best about him.
It was an honest smile.
Paxton, in contrast, is about as genuine and guileless as they come. For him, Cloud is meant to be a “temporary” stop on his path. He has a bone to pick with the company – Cloud bankrupted his own small business – and yet he, too, slowly falls victim to the system. It’s a devious blend of both risk and reward, where workers are gradually bogged down further and further within the system until exiting it is prohibitively expensive.
A lump formed in Paxton’s throat. He didn’t know what to think of that. On one hand, it meant another rope tying him to this facility. But the more he thought about it, the more it felt like this place was the whole world, and everything else on the planet had withered away and died.
In working for the security team, Paxton provides us with an inside view of the system and how it’s perpetuated from within. Even the security team is subject to the same rules and regulations that the other works are required to abide by, including the quality scores they must meet to avoid being fired on the infamous Cut Day. Paxton provides contrast not only to Zinnia, but also to the CEO and owner of Cloud: Gibson Wells.
Gibson has recently been diagnosed with cancer and who he will choose to name as a successor is a hot topic of conversation. We see him primarily through the lens of the blog posts he writes as he travels across the country to various Cloud facilities. Gibson’s blog posts have that subtle veneer of skeeze to them that will get your hackles up if you’re even slightly sensitive to that sort of thing. He’s a “good ol’ boy,” who’s simply doing it for his wife and daughter, doncha know. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He believes in hard work. He grew up out on the farm, shooting guns, going hunting (and of course he used every scrap of the animal – can’t be wasteful!), trying to make his dad proud. Yet at the end of the day… it’s clear he’s drank his own Kool-Aid. He doesn’t see people as human beings. He seems them as a resource. Even his family are, ultimately, pieces to be used and played across the board to further his own goals.
The world is in a sorry state, and I’m trying to help. Has everything I’ve done been perfect? Hell no. That’s the price of progress. Making Cloud was like making an omelet, just like any business. Some eggs had to be broken along the way. Not that I ever felt good about breaking eggs. It’s never something I took pleasure in. But the end result is the thing that matters. You know what I’ve always said, and what I’ve been saying for years: the market dictates. Nearly had that tattooed on my shoulder at one point, during a period of youthful folly. I never went through with it – I’m not too proud to admit I’m afraid of needles – but it is on a piece of paper that I stuck above my desk on that first day I started at Cloud.
Let’s break this down:
First: He’s humble. He knows he didn’t do everything perfectly when he formed his business plan. He knows something people are hurt by it. But! He’s sorry about it.
Second: Even if people were hurt, it was worth it. It’s what the market requires. It’s what society requires. The sacrifice of some for the good of many. He’s just trying to give back and help the world.
Third: He’s only human, after all. He’s just like you. He’s afraid of needles. He writes himself motivational notes. He’s vulnerable.
Quite frankly, it’s a good thing the author decided to go into writing anti-capitalist novels rather than marketing or government… Rob Hart has the corporate propaganda angle down pat. The Warehouse is not only a fantastic critique of the direction our society is headed, but also an excellent story taken on its own with an interesting and engaging cast. The world-building is subtle with small details hinting at the state of the world outside of Cloud. Beef has become a an unaffordable luxury, local shops are closed and dusty. Overall, this book is highly recommended.
Recommended for fans of:
- Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
- A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?
Drop me a line in the comments below!