Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.
Rob Hart’s stand-alone thriller is set in a near future where traditional retail commerce is dead following a series of mass shootings at retail centres on Black Friday, referred to as the Black Friday Massacres. The masses have moved away from the traditional retail model and you can now buy anything and everything online from Cloud, a company that has consumed all other retail companies and their products. It’s also the only place where you can make a living, as it’s the only company to work for. Cloud is the brainchild of Gibson Wells, the world’s most famous man who is dying from pancreatic cancer and is an important character in the book through his blog posts to his employees.
Along with Wells, the two main characters are Paxton, an ex-prison guard, whose invention was swallowed up by Cloud and Zinnia, a spy who has been sent into the midst of Cloud to uncover its secrets. Paxton hopes to escape his past and become a picker, a person who races around the warehouse picking the items that people have ordered but he is dismayed to find out that he is stuck in security within Cloud. Zinnia, who was hoping to become part of security, becomes a picker. Through their unusual friendship, both characters begin to learn more about the other’s role, trade information, and develop a relationship. As they continue to work in Cloud, they explore and find out that the idealistic portrayal of life and work within Cloud that is projected onto the outside world is less than perfect.
Hart’s book is a dystopian thriller, reminiscent of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood and Black Mirror, whilst also reminding me of Morten Tyldum’s Passengers (2016) and it works as a cautionary tale of what could happen if online retail continues to replace the traditional retail model. But it also touches on important contemporary issues including drug abuse and addiction, corporate life, and workers’ rights. The company essentially owns its employees, dictating where they live, what they eat, the type of work they do, and what they buy. Although the employees are paid very little, they are constantly bombarded with ads to buy products from Cloud, many of which are essentials, thus churning out an endless reliance on their own products. Employees are also tracked everywhere they go through GPS in their watches and they’re not permitted to leave their rooms without them. It’s a vision of the future that we are already too familiar with due to our contemporary worries about companies tracking and listening to our phones and iWatches. There’s also a storyline about the meat eaten in the facility that would give any reader pause for thought about the origins of the meat they eat. Hart tackles some of the most pressing issues we have today and presents a nightmare scenario about where we might eventually end up and it is surprisingly plausible.
Hart co-wrote Scott Free (2017) with James Patterson and has inherited Patterson’s pace and suspense. However, Hart is more skilled at character development and the relationship between Paxton and Zinnia is what drives the narrative. The book is not only gripping entertainment, it’s also an important message about where modern commerce could lead us if the monolithic conglomerates keep growing. And a lot of it isn’t as farfetched as we might think. Hart dedicates the book to Maria Fernandes, a woman who worked part-time at several branches of Dunkin’ Donuts to make ends meet and was forced to sleep in her car between shifts. She died from gas fumes in her car whilst taking a nap. The year she died, Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Nigel Travis earned $10.2 million. The book is an important reminder of the income inequality that currently exists between the heads of corporations and their employees.
Thank you to Rob Hart, Thomas Hall, and Transworld Books for providing an advanced review copy.
About the author
Rob Hart is the author of the Ash McKenna crime series and the short-story collection Take-Out. He also co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson. He’s worked as a book publisher, a political reporter, and a communications director for a politician and was a commissioner for the city of New York. He lives on Staten Island with his wife and daughter.