Can you imagine what our world might look like if Amazon were to keep growing indefinitely and drive almost all its millions of competitors out of business? Today, the company employs 750,000 men and women and more than 100,000 robots and boasts a market cap north of one trillion dollars. What if Amazon were to grow to thirty million employees, with Jeff Bezos‘s net worth rising to more than $300 billion? Although he downplays the analogy in many ways, Rob Hart explores this thought experiment in his provocative near-future dystopia, The Warehouse. As the dust-jacket flap declares, “Big Brother meets Big Business,” and as Stephen King notes on Twitter, “that pretty much nails it.”
An unsettling near-future dystopia that looks all too possible
The Warehouse portrays near-future conditions dominated by elevated temperatures and economic inequality that are wildly exaggerated extrapolations of today’s circumstances. Cloud’s thirty million employees all live in the company’s MotherClouds, enormous, self-sufficient facilities that combine massive warehouses, shopping centers, and living quarters with massive solar and wind farms. Other than a small number of ultra-wealthy families, nearly everyone else in the country ekes out a living on the margins of existence in lands tormented by punishing heat.
The Warehouse by Rob Hart (2019) 348 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Cloud’s 30 million employees are virtual prisoners
Cloud employees are virtual prisoners. To leave or enter the tiny rooms where they live, or even to use a restroom, they must swipe the CloudBands on their wrists, which leave a precise record of their whereabouts with Cloud’s Security force. There are no surveillance cameras on site — because they’re not needed. Although it’s possible for employees to leave, conditions in the desert outside the MotherCloud are so harsh that they may be unable to survive.
Three central characters in this near-future dystopian tale
Hart’s tale centers on Cloud’s founder and CEO, Gibson Wells, and two young people who arrive together as new employees at one of Cloud’s massive distribution centers.
- Paxton is the embittered former owner of an innovative small company that Cloud drove out of business. Before launching his company, he had worked for fifteen years as a guard in a low-security prison, which the MotherCloud’s screening system uses to shunt him into work in Security.
- She gives her name as Zinnia Green, but that’s a lie. Zinnia is a freelance operative in corporate espionage, and she has come in hopes of gaining a job either in Security or in IT. Instead, the algorithm funnels her onto the floor of the warehouse as a picker.
- Gibson Wells is dying of stage-four pancreatic cancer. We meet him primarily through his blog, in which he ruminates about how he built the company — and about his impending death. Speculation is rife whom he’ll name as his successor, and he plays the suspense to the hilt.
Paxton and Zinnia meet on the bus carrying them to the new jobs they hope to secure with Cloud. She’s unusually pretty, and Paxton is smitten. But she thinks he looks “goofy.” Although after intake processing they’re sent to different living facilities and jobs in different departments, they meet. And the two are centrally involved in everything that transpires at the MotherCloud where they work in the months ahead.
About the author
In addition to The Warehouse, Rob Hart has written five novels and a short-story collection, and coauthored a novel with James Patterson. Although The Warehouse is, like his other books, a novel of suspense, it’s primarily what I view as science fiction — a near-future dystopia. According to Hart’s website, The Warehouse “has sold in 21 countries and has been optioned for film by Ron Howard.” He lives in Staten Island, N.Y., with his wife and daughter.
For further reading
In 2013 I reviewed The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. My review is at The Jeff Bezos story, or why I hate Amazon.com.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.