The Warehouse

Written by Rob Hart

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Warehouse
Bantam Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: August 13 2019

“Damn Fine Story”

That’s the phrase that came to mind in attempting to describe this extraordinary novel, one that forces the reader to think deeply as to where humanity is headed, while it entertains.

Told from three discrete viewpoints the narrative strands converge to paint a dystopian picture of the near future, where the convenience of online delivery has overtaken bricks and mortar shopping. The technology we thought would set us free, has now become the chains that ensnare us.

Hart’s breakthrough novel is set in the very near future; climate change is upon us, the Earth barely habitable unless humanity is confined to the safety of giant cities that are not just home, but also a place of work.

We start with a blog post from a dying man named Gibson, the creator of ‘Cloud’, a system of online sales that has morphed into mega cities that distribute goods by drone throughout America. Gibson is proud, bordering on evangelical when reviewing his life-work; one that he believes is the salvation of mankind. But scratch that veneer of benevolence, and one sees that there is a price to pay.

Then there is Paxton, an almost broken man, a former prison guard forced into servitude when his small business is driven out of commerce thanks to the monopolistic ‘Cloud’. Down, but not out, he seeks employment in one of the ‘Cloud’ mega-cities when his life options have narrowed.

On the trip to ‘Cloud’ he bumps into Zinnia, the final perspective in this narrative prial. The mysterious woman hides her true-self behind the façade of a teacher rendered unemployed by the march of technology, with mass video-teaching. Zinnia is an agent, one embroiled in industrial espionage: her route to escape the dark future she sees enveloping America.

Told in alternating viewpoints, the story starts to merge as the true cost of convenience for the consumer is revealed. Bricks and Mortar shopping has become almost untenable by not only the baking climate, but an incident alluded to as ‘The Black Friday Massacres’.

These ‘Cloud’ distribution centres have become sprawling mega-cities, not unlike the giant commercial cities in China, where workers live and work under controlled [and controlling] circumstances.

Written in a dispassionate style, not unlike the work of the late Michael Crichton, The Warehouse acts as warning on how reality may evolve when the interface with technology becomes malign, from its benign origins. Though the merit lies in Hart not falling into the trap of penning a polemic, but a thought-provoking and exciting story.

There’s an echo, a homage to that famous green biscuit that the late Harry Harrison made room for, and one that Charlton Heston, the doyen of 1970s dystopian SF dramas investigated. Though I found myself also reminded of more recent strands from filmmaker / writers Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser.

But in the end, Rob Hart’s The Warehouse is beyond a cautionary tale, it is an addictive narrative that grips the reader as if hypnotised by the red laser light from the ubiquity of the barcode scanner.

With high-concept novels, or films it is critical that the pay-off is worthy of the set-up, and in this scary novel, Hart delivers the goods making the reader put down the book and whisper damn fine story”.

Though once the book is put down, you will find yourself re-reading it for the nuances you may have missed as you tore through the pages. It also makes one ponder that perhaps it would have better buying this novel from an independent bookshop, rather than from an online retailer. As ever, consumer choice remains with us, but one thing that is a certainty – this novel is extraordinary in its audacity, but even more intriguing in its execution as a damn fine piece of writing.

Probably the most important novel you’ll read this year.

Editor’s Note: This short piece from the writer Rob Hart explains more.

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