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'The Warehouse' Is Scary Because It's Plausible

Rob Hart's The Warehouse is an entertaining read as a slightly dystopian cyberthriller. But start looking at how plausible it is, notice all the ways in which the things Hart describes — awful healthcare, limited employment opportunities, and global monopolies — are already here, and it becomes a horrific cautionary tale that makes you wonder if we're already too far into a disastrous future, or if there's still some hope for humanity.

Cloud is the biggest company in the world. With more than 30 million employees, it is the place everyone uses to get everything they need. Cloud uses drones for fast delivery, and in an increasingly dangerous world, the ability to shop without leaving the house is something no one passes up. However – surprise, surprise — not everything about it is as amazing as it seems. Cloud has built a series of company towns, and they're places where working hard comes before anything else. Security is lax, racism is as present as it's always been, supervisors can harass employees without consequences, and living conditions are a few steps above those of a prison. Unfortunately, working for Cloud is the only option for most people, and the company takes full advantage of that.

Paxton invented a product, but Cloud managed to run him out of business, and we meet him as he's moving into one of their facilities to work for them. Zinnia earns a living infiltrating companies, and Cloud is her latest assignment, but this ruler of the American economy is threatening to swallow her before she can get the job done. Once the two cross paths, their lives become entwined in interesting ways as both try to navigate the unjust, shady world of Cloud.

The Warehouse is told from different points of view, giving readers different versions of the same truth. Besides Zinnia and Paxton, the most important, and the most interesting, is that of Gibson, the man who created Cloud. His rags-to-riches story is amazing, but his practices are Machiavellian --- even though he presents them as grounded in fair, logical thinking. His employees are stressed, overworked, and underpaid, but he thinks that makes them stronger and helps everyone:

Sadly, there are almost no jobs that aren't with Cloud.

Gibson, who resembles Donald Trump in many ways — including his references to "fake news" — is just one of many elements that make The Warehouse an outstanding read. Then there's Hart's attention to detail: Cloud's facilities are like prisons in terms of restrictions on residents, but their aesthetic is that of a large mall. Everything is available, but nothing feels authentic. Hart, who wrote a collection of short crime narratives revolving around food, uses food here to show the effects of homogenization:

Hart's love for crime fiction is ever-present, but The Warehouse has a level of social critique that goes above and beyond his previous work to take on all of corporate America.

Between violence, abuse, crooked security guards, fights, espionage, and a problem with drug contraband and overdoses, Hart's love for crime fiction is ever-present, but The Warehouse has a level of social critique that goes above and beyond his previous work to take on all of corporate America. Cloud allows racism to occur in its streets, but its official discourse checks every box in terms of getting it right:

The Warehouse is a fun, fast-paced read full of well-developed characters and a plot that builds to an explosive finale. It treads known dystopian ground, but the story's so close to our reality that it walks a fine line between a near-future thriller and a smart satire. Comparisons to Amazon are easy to make, and that's precisely what should worry us the most. It's also where things get meta because that's where most readers will buy the book. Nicely played, Mr. Hart.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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