The Warehouse by Rob Hart (2019)
It’s a bleak world as corporations grow in strength to effectively govern the planet. In the US, the foremast Capitalist enterprise is known as Cloud. It’s a retail behemoth that dominates all aspects of life there. If you manage to secure a place in the workforce, you stand to benefit from a life of servitude. If you don’t, you get to live in the wastelands of an overheating and decrepit world.
Paxton once had his own business, before Cloud muscled in. Now he has nothing, barely the price of a coffee. He finds himself with little choice but to join the monster that has stolen his dream if he wants to survive. During the application process, he notices the beautiful Zinnia. She too appears desperate to become part of a corporate machine that will stop at nothing in consuming all competition. But is she all that she seems?
Gibson is the chief of Cloud. He’s the man responsible for setting the whole thing up. He came from nothing to create the most powerful and wealthiest company that the world has ever seen. But Gibson is dying. The cancer is slowly taking him and his money can’t prevent it. He decides to tour the US and the Cloud facilities there as he reminisces about his life. If a person can convince themselves of just about anything, then Gibson has managed to kid himself that Cloud is benevolent. His employees and the wider global population may feel differently.
After induction, new employees are assigned their roles within the company according to what Cloud feels is most suitable. Paxton is sent to the security department at a particular Cloud facility whereas Zinnia is a ‘Picker’, tasked with finding the products in a massive warehouse and placing them on the correct conveyor belt. Gibson feels that his company needs the human touch and so has neglected to automate large parts of his business. It helps that there are so many people who really need the work and there is no minimum rate of pay.
Both Paxton and Zinnia soon realise that Cloud is more like a prison than a place of employment. Workers live on-site in various dorms. Different jobs mean different t-shirts. Toiletries, food and essentials are purchased at the facility and the costs are not cheap. There is, as stated, no minimum rate of pay and a failure to meet quotas, therefore, means a deduction of pay. Gibson is apparently able to justify it all in his ramblings presented throughout the book.
Spoilers from here on in.
It emerges that Zinnia has chosen to infiltrate Cloud for an unknown contractor to engage in some industrial espionage. She’s mostly a cold person, detached from the worries of others. Zinnia doesn’t have time for empathy. It costs too much. But Paxton has taken a major shine to her and she finds herself falling for him, slowly, but falling nonetheless. Paxton, for his part, is completely smitten with Zinnia, so much so that he can’t see that she’s casually using him to gather information on the security protocols for the facility. He feels embarrassed that he’s becoming immersed in the Cloud way of life, one which appalled him before joining. It’s one where the system bleeds the humanity out of the person and makes them into a drone, useful only if making profit for the corporation. Cast aside if not.
As Zinnia moves her plans forward, and as Paxton ponders a future with her, Gibson travels ever closer to their particular plant as he continues to congratulates himself on all that he has built. It does appear that he is somewhat oblivious to the truth of Cloud, or perhaps he realises but has chosen to ignore the harsh conditions to be found there. Does he believe that Cloud is acceptable as an alternative to the outside world, even if it is extremely flawed?
Paxton’s position as he rises through the upper echelons of the security team becomes invaluable to Zinnia as she tries to find out what makes Cloud tick. Something just doesn’t add up for her and she is determined to find out what it is, payment or not. After a serious incident involving a rapist within Cloud, they both get the day off and decide to rent a vehicle and drive through the wastelands. Zinnia is due to meet her contractor who has new directives. Paxton is still ignorant to her motivations. There, they encounter outlaws who are part of a small resistance hell-bent on destroying Cloud. It proves to be a pivotal meeting that has massive repercussions for all.
The Warehouse is an extremely well-thought out story. It’s slow to get started and perhaps promises little initially. But, when it gets going it’s electric. The concept might be said to be loosely (and tentatively, for legal reasons) based upon the Amazon business model. Cloud is a super-huge online retail outlet that pays poor wages and treats staff abysmally. It has ‘Pickers’ and employees pee into bottles rather than get docked pay for toilet breaks during 10-hour shifts. Over-time is optional but refusing is frowned upon. Amazon has also been accused of all of these vile practices. Cloud turns its employees into machines and Amazon has been alleged to have turned its employees into ‘robots’. Cloud employees are routinely injured due to time pressures and stresses. Amazon employees are said to be regularly hurt during work, with ambulances being called on-site 600 times over 3 years to UK warehouses alone.
The novel has a great cast and Paxton and Zinnia make believable leads in it. The other characters are reasonably consistent and the settings plausible. The action is steady and the plot has enough zip to keep the reader engaged. One flaw that Rebel Voice identified is the supposed shock of Zinnia’s discoveries. They aren’t really all that bad. The most appalling thing about Cloud is the manner in which it dehumanises its employees, and this is secondary in the book to what is found by Zinnia. In reality, whether in a dystopian future or now, the way in which multi-national giants are making automatons of people is sickening, and governments are facilitating this with nonchalant glee.
Rebel Voice is a staunch opponent of making people slaves to the machine. In a time of advanced technology, we should find life easier. Yet the opposite is true. Machinery and computers do the work, but people are serving the technology. Life is faster in the western world. Financial pressures have not lessened. Most of the adult population have become wage slaves, punching in time until they die. Are we living or merely existing?
The Warehouse sounds a warning about the path we have taken. There will be those who will declare that this scenario could never happen. Really? Never happen? 50 years ago, gullible citizens would have said corporations such as Amazon and Blackwater could never have existed. Look how that turned out. 150 years ago, corporations such as The East India Company routinely exploited local people for profit. The truth is, and it is the truth, global conglomerates are persistently manoeuvring themselves into positions of total global control. They own the governments because they fund the election campaigns. They dictate markets. They decide wars. They determine what the people should believe. They rule via debt and advertising.
In 1987-88, there was a US TV series called Max Headroom, which was based upon the premise that TV stations would eventually rule the world. Whoever controls the flow of information would control the populace. TV networks even controlled the governments. Take a look at our world today. Who is elected and who put them there?
If delving into the ponderables of a dystopian future is your thing, then The Warehouse is your book. If thrillers are your cup of tea, then put the kettle on and pull up a chair for this story. If you just enjoy a good read, one that is a little different from what you have previously ventured into, then pick up this book. Just don’t buy it from Amazon or the irony may kill you.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. This is an interesting take upon the rise of global corporations and their increasing grip upon the planet. It takes the trend of dehumanising workers in the multi-national workplace and uses it for the setting of a thriller. It has flaws but is still a recommended read by Rebel Voice, if only to see just how bad society is going to get unless we do something now. Note: we can’t rely on corporate politicians to do the right thing as they are bought and paid for and not by us.