As an entertaining read, this thriller is a success, with splendid characterisation, mounting tension and fear of a seemingly disastrous outcome.
Set in a near-future USA where the corporate giants have gobbled up the entire existences of most of the population. Imagine an Amazon-type mega-warehouse in every city, the sky filled with locust-like drones delivering the on-line purchases of the world. The thousands of workers scurry amongst the vast shelving to collect the order and deposit it on the myriad conveyors to send to dispatch.
Elsewhere in the vicinity of these mega-stores, communities have shrivelled and died. Ghost towns abound as mom & pop stores, then even medium-sized businesses close. Work is almost impossible to find, outside of the warehouses.
The workers live on site in tiny cubicles, wearing sensor wrist-straps which track their every move, open the door of departments where they are allowed to go, order and pay for their own purchases.
Developed by Gibson Wells, The Cloud is at the top of the heap, and purports to be a benevolent employer, giving employment, food and accommodation to millions. Wells is dying; taking one last tour of his kingdom. Who will take over when he goes – his 2IC or his daughter?
Ex- Prison guard, ex-inventor, Paxton, defeated by the Cloud who took his invention and destroyed his little company, in desperation seeks employment there, and is accepted as a security officer. Enroute, he meets Zinnia, who gets taken on as a collector. Her wrist-band limits her to few doors, but her clandestine mission needs access to more, which dictates a blossoming friendship with Paxton who has access to many more.
The drama of Zinnia’s corporate espionage mission, and manipulation but growing fondness of Paxton, is gripping. Although the concept of the consumerism crocodile swallowing up all competition is thought provoking and even relevant, it is not quite convincing. It ignores the question of where the vast quantities of jobless and poverty-stricken would find the money to pay for their orders from Cloud. Food production, except for the shocking in-house recycling method described, is also otherwise ignored.
Still; an exciting good read. The cover of the Bantam Press Imprint that I received as an ARC from Penguin Random House, South Africa, is very clever, with figures caught up in the book’s bar-code!