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The Warehouse
by Rob Hart

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 18, 2019

Another e-ARC I received from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I started it on Monday, which would have been an appropriate time to release it, or at least Tuesday since that's the day of the week usually assigned by publishing. But The Warehouse won't be out for another month, August 20. I assume that was scheduled far in advance, but they missed an opportunity by not releasing it on Prime Day. It was readable, mainly for two of the main characters, and not that predictable, but also not that memorable. I'm rating it just 3 stars on Goodreads, although a more accurate score would be somewhere between that and 3.5, but not high enough to round up to 4.

The third main character, whom I did not like, is Gibson Wells, founder and CEO of Cloud, an internet based retail company best described as Amazon on steroids. I recall someone recently joking about what their future life might be like, leaving a Prime job, driving a Prime car, on Prime highways, parking in the driveway at their Prime home. Cloud incorporates everything into one complex known as a MotherCloud. People who work as pickers in the Cloud warehouse, and all other employees, live in adjacent Cloud dormitories, shop at Cloud stores, drink and eat in Cloud restaurants and bars, are cared for by Cloud doctors and nurses. Each employee wears a different color polo shirt: red for pickers, brown for tech support, green for service workers, blue and tan for security, white for management. A couple more are mentioned late in the story, separated from the others and unknown to the majority of Cloud employees. It's a lot like the "company towns" in mining communities of years past. Paid in credits instead of dollars, with housing costs deducted, and other expenses paid through swiping your proprietary Cloud watch, which you are required to wear everywhere. The watch gets you access to everything and everywhere you're allowed, you can't even leave your apartment without it, or else you're flagged by security. The watches are supposedly programmed to each individual, so everything you do is tracked, and you can review your job performance rating at any time. Ratings are from 1-5 stars, with 5s being a rarity, 4 optimum, 3 average, 2 requiring lots of extra work, with a 1 meaning immediate termination.

Gibson Wells is dying of pancreatic cancer. His chapters are in first-person, a blog explaining his life and history, of how and why he formed Cloud, all leading up to the imminent announcement of his hand-picked successor. Other chapters are in third-person, covering the actions of Paxton, former CEO of his own company which had been driven out of business by Cloud. He is resigned to applying for a Cloud job, and while he would prefer to be a picker, he is assigned to security, since before starting his business he had worked as a prison guard for fifteen years. The other main character is Zinnia (not her real name), whom Paxton meets on their first day interviewing for the job. She gets a picker position, but they develop a friendship, and more, over the next few months. She is actually a corporate spy, hired by an unknown person or agency, perhaps another business threatened by Cloud, to infiltrate a MotherCloud to steal proprietary information. One of the major questions she has on her own involves Cloud's claim of its power needs and consumption. She doesn't believe they are completely self-sufficient from their solar and wind farms. Do they have another undisclosed source of power? If so, what type and from where? Are they stealing from municipal grids? Her day to day life in the warehouse is all too believable, considering the horrendous stories coming out of Amazon fulfillment centers. Long hours, few breaks, constant scrutiny, including having to pass through electronic security after each shift to discourage theft. A process that can take up to an hour depending on how many pickers' shifts end at or close to the same time, and of course it is after they've clocked out for the day. Zinnia is told on her first day, via text, not out loud, to never utter the word union.

There are several things I expected to happen that didn't, most involving Zinnia's activities in and around her apartment. Since the watches track everything there are very few security cameras, although even today those can be extremely small and hard to detect. Plus, her TV is bound to have a camera and/or microphone, and when she orders something from the Cloud store it is delivered inside her apartment when she's not there. Plenty of opportunities for security to observe her movements, to figure out what she's doing, but that never happened. Paxton is oblivious to her agenda, and inadvertently gives her helpful information regarding security protocols. There are several side stories: an abusive supervisor; a drug ring distributing Oblivion, a synthetic heroin derivative; the maybe/maybe not romantic relationship between Paxton and Zinnia, which continues even after her cover is blown. Some of those are resolved, others aren't, including the vaguest hints of life outside the MotherCloud. The implication is that most towns are dead or dying, very high unemployment, and larger cities stagnant with multiple problems, including infrastructure, pollution, climate-change. If the plight of the world is that dire, who are Cloud's customers? Cloud employees for sure, but outside it must be confined to the upper classes. Then again, I suppose it's just about everyone, since high crime and squalid conditions keep most people at home, and most are likely on the public dole. Gibson's cheery optimism rings hollow. He talks about how unions ruined everything, how businesses should be able to regulate themselves, how everything should be privatized, even if not by Cloud. The common talking points of conservatives today. Cloud may be operating through green energy, but it doesn't appear to have benefited many besides themselves. And the less said about CloudBurgers the better.

As I said at the beginning, readable due to a couple of sympathetic characters, the all-too-real scenario, the need to find out answers to pertinent questions. But not enough of those questions were answered sufficiently for it to be satisfying. The average rating is higher than mine, so many might like it more than me. I can't give it a harsh thumbs-down, but neither can I give it a recommendation.

PS: Yes, I understand the irony of my comments about Amazon, considering this site is an affiliate. In defense of that, that association began over 18 years ago, before they became the behemoth they are now, and the idea was to get a bit of income off the sale of books and movies I was reviewing. My own purchases from them have gone down quite a bit lately, mainly reserved for Kindle books, so at least that is not contributing to the bad conditions at their warehouses. Even when I buy a print book or Blu-Ray I frequently go through a third-party seller or off Ebay.


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Rob Hart

August 20, 2019

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