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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“The Warehouse”

It is said that truth is stranger than fiction. In Rob Hartís near-future novel ìThe Warehouse,î fiction may be a little closer to the truth than we would like.Global warming. Overpopulation. Crumbling infrastructure. Communities turned to dusty ghost towns. The American dream has become the American fantasy. But a megacorporation called Cloud is the solution to what ails the world ñ- at least, according to its founder and CEO, Gibson Wells.Gibson opens the story with a blunt statement: ìWell, Iím dying.î He then announces a celebrity-style farewell bus tour to visit as many U.S. MotherCloud facilities as possible before cancer takes him. MotherClouds are places where Cloud employees work, live and play. With job security, housing, entertainment and health care under one gigantic roof, Gibson says, ìWhen youíre here, youíll never want to leave.î Two of his newest Cloud employees would disagree.We first meet Paxton and Zinnia at their in-processing. Paxton was the CEO of his own small company until Cloud appropriated his invention. He wryly observes, ìI just got hired by the company that destroyed my livelihood. Öî But in a world of limited job opportunities, he admits that Cloud provides ìsafety, and cool air, and fresh water, and a place to sleep. Here was a job and a life. …î Paxtonís prior experience as a prison guard lands him an assignment in Security, where he becomes part of a task force working to uncover illegal drug trafficking at MotherCloud. He also finds himself attracted to fellow new-hire Zinnia, a mysterious woman who initially rebuffs his attention.Zinnia has her own reasons for being at MotherCloud, but they have nothing to do with the job since she already has one as a corporate spy. She is assigned to be a picker ó one of many workers who hustle around the warehouse plucking seemingly random items (ìBook. Phone charger. Snow boots. Sunglasses. Medicine ball.î) from bins to be shipped to a multitude of customers. It is the kind of job where one day looks much like the next, but that suits Zinnia just fine. She decides that the affable Paxton could provide her with useful inside information and starts meeting him for dinner, drinks ó and more.Gibson Wells likes to describe the good that Cloud is doing for society and the planet, but Paxton and Zinnia quickly learn what life is really like at MotherCloud. Every employee must wear a smart watch known as a Cloud band that helps them navigate the facility, grants access to rooms and elevators, and continually tracks the wearer. Housing is dormitory-style in tiny apartments with a shared bathroom on each floor. Cracks in MotherCloudís shiny faÁade appear in the form of ìout of orderî signs and repair crews. Unlike the eternally happy workers in Cloudís slick marketing videos, these employees are underpaid drudges resigned to the cronyism, sexual harassment and discrimination that were supposed to be things of the past. And that ever-popular Cloud Burger? Well, letís just say Zinniaís accidental discovery of its secret ingredient is probably one of her major regrets.As the story progresses, there is a pervasive sense that something is building ó something that will throw a curveball none of them will see coming. When Paxton learns that Gibsonís tour will stop at his MotherCloud, he weighs his job against unloading a barrage of scathing remarks to the dying CEO if he gets the chance. Meanwhile, Zinnia is devising ways to use Gibsonís visit to further her own goals. But an unexpected message from her real employer changes her plans and sets her, Paxton and Gibson on a suspenseful collision course that ultimately reveals even more of Cloudís disappointing little secrets.Hart has created a fascinating and quite plausible world where rampant consumerism fuels corporate dominance. (Or to quote Gibson: ìThe market dictates.î) Telling the story from these three points of view provides very different perspectives of the same reality, yet they mesh together well. Hartís punchy narrative and keen details will keep readers flipping the pages in anticipation of the next surprise at MotherCloud.At the end, however, ìThe Warehouseî begs one question: Is this book fiction or prophecy?

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