I’ve always suspected that there is a bit of a hidden curriculum in almost every dystopian novel or film I’ve ever read or seen. The curriculum goes as follows: life is awful and from that awfulness one person will rise up (Guy Montag (Farenheit 451), Winston Smith (1984), Bernard Marx/John (Brave New World), Paul (Player Piano), Case (Neuromancer), Neo (The Matrix), Detective Frank Thorn (Soylent Green), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), etc. to lead the charge against the status quo and (more often than not) fail. Of course quite often they only succeed but not because they subvert the status quo in the revolutionary sense, but find some other work around. It’s a message that says two things: 1) you can’t overthrow the system, yet 2) the system can be challenged by one person. Hell, one of the foundations of Western Society (Christianity) also says that there is one person (Jesus Christ) who fails and is crucified, but ultimately wins because he scores a victory in the afterlife, but can’t change anything about this one so why bother.
So I was expecting Rob Hart’s The Warehouse to follow a similar path. And it, sort of, does. The story is told through three different perspectives: Gibson, Paxton, and Zinnia. Each one has a unique view on this dystopian world where increasingly more and more people are living at and working for a monolithic corporation (far from urban centers) that dictates every moment of their lives. At best it’s sort of an indentured servitude only there is really no place else to go. They really don’t have much choice.
Much of the action takes place with the MotherCloud, a small city, warehouse where people are kept in line by a rating system and inhabitants/workers run the risk of being down-graded out of a job and housing based on how they perform against certain metrics. As expected one character is the revolutionary, Zinnia, who is charged with infiltrating the MotherCloud and bringing it down. Another, Paxton, is portrayed as just another person down on his luck who needs the work/housing and because of his work experience finds himself employed by the security apparatus, while at the same time getting entangled with Zinnia. Finally, there is Gibson, who really doesn’t do anything but write a blog as the founder/owner of MotherCloud, and is presiding over the transition of control as he is dying of cancer. Through these three perspectives Hart tells a compelling and disturbing account of a world consumed by an Amazon like corporation.
In painting this dystopian vision, Hart also manages to point out some very troubling implications in our own lives as well, including capitalism’s opinion on food and opioid addiction. The story is well paced, the characters are believable with clear motivations, and the choices Hart makes about what a future world could look like seem entirely possible. However, I found limiting the story (with one short section exception) to just one main location to be a bit claustrophobic. Of course, one could argue that is by design, and I’m inclined to think it is. I just wanted to understand what the world outside of MotherCloud was like. Someone has to be buying all the products that Zinnia is grabbing and loading up? I also like that he brings up an in-book conspiracy of MotherCloud banning dystopian novels when in reality it’s not that they don’t publish dystopian novels but that no one reads them, which I found to be a pretty important observation. It’s as if we are all just sitting in the pot feeling the temperature rise but no one can be bothered to jump out, no one wants to heed any warnings at all anymore. And that may be the most important observation of all. Things are not going the way we want them to, and yet we are so consumed by our own daily struggles we really can’t do much about it.