Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Employees

The Employees / Olga Ravn
trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken
TO: Book*hug, 2022, c2018
150 p.

Olga Ravn is a Danish poet, and this novel does have a rather poetic form. It's told in a series of reports from employees of the Six Thousand Ship, engaged in space exploration near a new planet called New Discovery. 

Each employee has a slightly different viewpoint on what they are doing there, and each report is a complaint or record of experience, told to a team of investigators. Why are they there? Because there is some labour unrest and the Company wants to find out what is going wrong. 

The ship is staffed partially with humans and partially with humanoids. But the existential question of who is human and who is made is growing. And with it the questions of who has value, and what being human means. This arises in the face of productivity as the prime value; humanoids are made to work and only work. But when the crew takes on strange new organic forms from New Discovery, they start to change the balance of work and existence on the Six Thousand ship. 

The investigators are anonymous, we only hear from the varied employees. Some wish to only be more productive, asking if there was a glitch in the last update: "if so, I want to be rebooted." And some are more practical, like the cleaner: "You might say it's a small world, but not if you had to clean it." 

As they share their reports, the story grows, until the labour uprising moves into violence. And then the Company decides to cut its losses; it's willing to lose an entire ship and the investigative team rather than deal with any existential questions of employee rights. But what is going to happen to this crew? Read and find out. 

This is a brief book, but a shocking and powerful one in its brevity and its 'futuristic' setting -- which doesn't feel too unfeasible, really. It brings up some valuable questions for readers now, like the value of life if you aren't being productive, and what being human means aside from work. Vital questions that have certainly been in focus for many during the past few years. Definitely a timely and intriguing read here. 

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