You know when sometimes a real-life situation reminds you of a book you read once?
Well, I never expected (or hoped) that I’d be reminded this much of The Warehouse by Rob Hart, which I read when it came out in 2019.
But with lockdown persisting and people ordering more and more stuff online, I’m increasingly reminded of this dystopian novel. I’m also reminded, however, of what bothered me about it. And since going outside is overrated these days, I thought I’d blog about it.
Less is more. Especially when writing Dystopia.
I’m not a very picky reader, but sometimes I run into a book that just bothers me. And I can’t let it go.
Dystopian novels, I can generally actually really appreciate. Brave New World, 1984 and The Circle are all on my list of books I’d definitely recommend.
The Dystopian novel usually functions as a critique on society, on socio-economical situations and political climates. The Warehouse really wants to do this, too, and in a way definitely succeeds.
However, for a dystopian novel, it didn’t really get its footing in my opinion. Despite doing a lot of dystopian elements, and issuing a lot of critique, it felt forced. It tried too hard, overshadowing the bits that did work with too much shock value.
I’ll show you what you mean.
The concept of The Warehouse is actually quite strong, and relevant. It shows a world in which ‘Amazon has won’. The world has turned into a desolate wasteland, and people are mainly holed up inside. Everything they need they order online at the same enormous company, Cloud Inc., which delivers its orders with the use of drones. Small business are bought up and cannot survive against the massive power of Cloud.
A bit like The Circle, working at Cloud.Inc. is prestigious despite its harsh working environment and steep targets. The fact that ‘Big Brother watches’ is so accepted already that it’s not really the issue of the book anymore. It’s nothing more than an accepted term under which all employees live.
This acceptance of lost privacy is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Except that in 1984, the oppression is much more emphasized, the claustrophobic atmosphere alludes from page 1 that there is going to be a breaking point.
That’s where The Warehouse, in my opinion, starts to go wrong.
Too many questions
What’s up with the two protagonists? Generally in these books, perspective doesn’t change too much. There’s a very important reason for that, since the goal of Dystopian novels is to create a suffocating atmosphere; a sense of unease. To show a situation from which one can see no escape.
By allowing the reader to switch between characters, they don’t get to feel that as strongly. They are allowed so much freedom, floating around between chapters, that the uncanny and unsettling atmosphere suffers. And along with that, the reading experience.
The Warehouse raises many questions, and keeps dancing around them. Why is the entire world now a desolate wasteland? It just is, I guess.
To be honest, I somewhat get some questions aren’t addressed. In dystopian novels it is essential to present the current situation as mundane as possible from the characters’ point of view. To such an extent that the reader gets uncomfortable. There’s something scary about people finding things normal; especially when we’re convinced that they shouldn’t. I believe the reason for this world being this way is hinted at, but I honestly can’t remember.
So it was probably global warming. Or something.
Okay. So the one very clever angle Hart takes in his book, is the ominous references to Black Friday. It’s the kind of hushed, we-don’t-talk-about-that-here scenario that really captivates attention. Black Friday: this is where it all went wrong. Where the true horror lies. Shit went down on Black Friday.
The payoff is horrible, though.
Okay, maybe not horrible, but it is horribly overshadowed by something stupid.
In a great criticism of consumer society, it eventually turns out (after many, many teases) that one time on Black Friday, Amazon put guns on sale.
And yes, what you imagine would happen, happened.
Everyone felt very safe, the end.
I’m kidding of course.
Brilliant! It’s critical of consumerism and of gun ownership, so way to go Hart for putting your foot down.
However, while that is a great reveal for us, the readers, everyone in the book already knew about this. Including both main characters.
Which meant that there had to be another big twist in order to get the format of the dystopian novel on track; one to make the characters break from the mould, and basically freak out.
So there is another crux in this book, which relates to the hamburger joints Cloud is famous for. It is mentioned throughout the novel that these burgers are amazing, and that eating meat nowadays is a privilege. Again, a great environmentalist standpoint concerning the future we’re heading toward.
But then one of the characters who *surprise* turns out to be a spy *surprise* finds a hidden tunnel somewhere and *surprise* the hamburgers are made out of human waste.
THE BURGERS ARE MADE OUT OF POO.
The Burgers are Poo.
I just can’t.
You could’ve just put ‘EAT SHIT, CAPITALISTS’ on your cover and be done with it, man.
Didn’t have to make it so literal.
Poo-jokes don’t belong in a dystopian novel. Not as horrifying crux-material, at least. The notion that the employees are being fed their own shit and are happy about it might feel like a strong statement, but it’s too on the nose.
At the same time, to my very limited knowledge, recycling human waste is already actually done to a certain extent. During space travel. To be blunt: pee is recycled for drinking water. So making poo into food is at once hilariously ridiculous and at the same time actually not that far from reality.
Which makes the horror felt at this ‘reveal’ a bit… meh.
It takes away realism from the rest of the narrative, and makes the whole thing a bit silly.
And that’s too bad.
About the spy thing
The fact that one of the main characters turns out to be a spy is another thing that makes this book a bit difficult to read. And makes her difficult to like.
Again, the dystopian narrative works when the reader gets the feeling that they themselves are immersed into this crazy world, with no chance of escape. The immersion is essential, and they have to achieve that through the eyes of the protagonists.
This book has two, which already makes that a bit more tricky.
One of them even turns out to be a different person with a different agenda. Even though we, as readers, have been in her head and read from her perspective. Sure, there were some indicators that there was something more going on, but for the kind of narrative this novel aims at, this doesn’t work. She does a complete 180 and ‘has been working for the competition all along’.
Now in The Circle, when Mae realizes what has been going on and betrays her loyalty to The Circle, it feels real. It feels impactful. It feels important.
Because we’ve been on this journey with her, we’ve seen her change and adapt and slowly reveal the truth.
We don’t get much of that in The Warehouse…
And that’s really sad.
The criticism was definitely there.
The human connection that was supposed to ground it, however, was nowhere to be found.
Only poo-jokes remain.
Just in case people don’t believe me. Here’s an article about American astronauts being totally okay with drinking filtered pee. Though apparently their Russian colleagues forego this experience: