When does the line between utopia and dystopia begin to merge? When you owe your soul to the company store.
Hart (Take Out, 2019, etc.) is best known for his private eye novels about Ash McKenna and a novella co-written with James Patterson (Scott Free, 2017), but he’s tapped a real vein of the zeitgeist with this stand-alone thriller about the future of work that reads like a combination of Dave Eggers’ tech nightmare, The Circle (2013), the public’s basic impression of an Amazon fulfillment center, and Parzival’s infiltration of IOI in Ready Player One (2011). In the near future, following a series of mass murders at retail outlets, traditional commerce is dead. Every need has been ported over to Cloud, a worldwide fulfillment facility where anyone who wants to survive works—those who don't either give in eventually or are a customer—in something of a feudal society where algorithms decide your role. Cloud is the brainchild of Gibson Wells, a mad genius who is dying of pancreatic cancer but whose role in the story is assured by his broadcasts to his millions of employees. Our two leads are Paxton, a former prison guard whose entrepreneurial invention was co-opted by Cloud and who has reluctantly taken a security job with his enemy’s empire, and Zinnia, a secretive operative with deadly skills whose role on the product-picking floor is only a means to an end. While touching on income inequality, drug addiction, and corporate espionage, Hart creates a compelling and intriguing thriller that holds up a black mirror to our own frightening state of affairs. Hart dedicates the book to a real victim, Maria Fernandes, who worked part time at three different jobs and accidentally suffocated on gas fumes while sleeping in her car in 2014. That’s a profound inspiration, and Hart has written a hell of a prosecution of modern commerce and the nature of work, all contained in the matrix of a Cory Doctorow–esque postmodern thriller that might not turn out the way you hoped.
Part video game, part Sinclair Lewis, part Michael Crichton; it adds up to a terrific puzzle.