Corporate thriller: The power of Amazon

The book’s title – The Warehouse – leaves little room for doubt that this corporate thriller is about Amazon. The story is based in a dismal and not-too-distant future. Cities have become virtually unliveable and unemployment is very high, so people are more than willing to work for the global online store called Cloud. The company has built enormous campuses around its distribution centres all over the world to provide housing for its employees. The company founder, Gibson, believes that living close to the distribution centres saves unnecessary commuting and hence energy. All customer orders are delivered by drones. Most of the order picking in the warehouses is done manually. This is a conscious decision by Gibson in order to preserve jobs for the employees. Besides being employees, they are also residents on the company campus which includes restaurants and entertainment facilities where they spend their hard-earned salaries – so, in effect, Cloud is a closed economy.

The two protagonists are called Paxton and Zinnia. Paxton works as a kind of security guard on the campus. Zinnia is an order picker in the huge warehouse, but is actually working undercover to unearth some of Cloud’s business secrets. Besides the two protagonists, Gibson – who is terminally ill – reflects on the company’s philosophy in a series of blogs.

The book is a very compelling read which paints a detailed and believable picture of the corporate world of Cloud and the technology used, both within the company and on the campus in general. All the technological applications featured, such as the use of electronic wristbands to precisely track people’s positions, are already possible today. The descriptions of the mind-numbing, high-pressure work in the warehouse have echoes of recent real-life reports about working conditions within companies such as Amazon and Bol.com.

Besides being a cautionary tale of a dystopian future, The Warehouse is also an exciting thriller. It comes pretty close to high-end futuristic thrillers such as Jurassic Park and Prey by Michael Crichton, who – thanks to his degree in biological anthropology (summa cum laude) – was adept at weaving scientific advancements and business mechanisms into an exciting plot.

‘The Warehouse’ (2019), Rob Hart. Published by Crown. 368 pages, €17.99