“The Warehouse: a Novel” (Crown), by Rob Hart
Futuristic thrillers such as “1984,” ”Fahrenheit 451″ and “The Handmaid’s Tale” succeed because the plots harbor more than a few kernels of truth that make the stories believable. Add Rob Hart’s whip-smart thriller “The Warehouse” to that oeuvre. The engrossing plot not only seems that it could happen, but also, in many ways, is happening now. We have met the future, and it is here. Hart creates a world that seems as normal and plausible as your own neighborhood but, at the same time, is frightening and devoid of freedoms.
The massive tech company Cloud claims to be the “solution” to a crumbling America as it dominates retail sales and the labor market. People are too afraid to go to stores after the Black Friday Massacres, events chillingly referred to in passing. Need a book, a razor, or a cooking utensil? Just order it online through Cloud and it will be shipped immediately, arriving via a drone. MotherCloud’s mega warehouses are located throughout the United States, where employees live and work. (No need to ever leave when everything you would ever need is there on the perfect climate-controlled premises.) Workers wear color-coded shirts to show the roles they have — security, technology, packing the boxes — and CloudBands guide them throughout the facility and record each expense they incur.
“The Warehouse” is narrated by three characters — multibillionaire Gibson Wells, who started Cloud and is planning to visit as many MotherClouds in the “contiguous United States” as he can after learning that he is dying of pancreatic cancer, and two new employees. Paxton is a former prison guard who went bankrupt when Cloud ruined his startup and Zinnia is a corporate spy hired to infiltrate Cloud and possibly destroy it. It’s telling that the last names of only a few managers are known.
The intersection of these three characters and how Cloud affects each fuels “The Warehouse.” Mundane activities such as sleeping late or eating what is supposed to be the very best hamburger take on a chilling aspect when each moment of your life is recorded. Beneath the facade of a utopia, Cloud teems with racism, sexual assault and betrayal. The expense of living at Cloud isn’t much different than those company stores where coal miners incurred debt they could never pay off. Somewhere along the line Wells didn’t just create a business, he also bought the U.S. government. “The Warehouse” explores which is more important: safety or freedom?
Hart has been making a name for himself with his critically acclaimed Ash McKenna series and as one of James Patterson’s co-authors. “The Warehouse” should be his breakout novel.