Funny and doom-drenched, The Employees chronicles the fate of the Six Thousand Ship. The human and humanoid crew members complain about their daily tasks in a series of staff reports and memos. When the ship takes on a number of strange objects from the planet New Discovery, the crew becomes strangely and deeply attached to them, even as tensions boil toward mutiny, especially among the humanoids.
Olga Ravn’s prose is chilling, crackling, exhilarating, and foreboding. The Employees probes into what makes us human, while delivering a hilarious stinging critique of life governed by the logic of productivity.
[A]n unforgettable novel about the psychic costs of labor under capitalism…Dreamlike and sensual, The Employees shouldn’t be missed.
Ravn asks us to envision a future in which the machines, rather than the humans that create and maintain them, lead the workers’ revolution.
—Lauren Nelson, LARB
The Employees is a short book, but it contains multitudes. Ravn’s open love, pity, and compassion for her strange yet familiar creations is poetry.
—John Crowley, The Boston Review
Few stories today are as sublimely strange and their own thing as Olga Ravn’s The Employees. This disorienting, mind-bending expanse recalls as much the poetry of Aase Berg as the workplace fiction of Thomas Ligotti. Something marvelously sui generis for the jaded.
Transporting and ephemeral—an unforgettable novel about the psychic costs of labor under capitalism. Dreamlike and sensual, The Employees shouldn’t be missed.
God died, and soon the Earth will too, but in this Danish dystopian novel told in vignettes from laborers floating on a spaceship in the 22nd century, work remains.
—Jacob Rosenberg, Mother Jones
The most striking aspect of this weird, beautiful, and occasionally disgusting novel is not, as its subtitle implies, its portrayal of working life on the spaceship….What The Employees captures best is humanity’s ambivalence about life itself, its sticky messes and unappealing functions, the goo that connects us to everything that crawls and mindlessly self-propagates, not to mention that obliterating payoff at the end of it all.
—Laura Miller, The New York Review of Books
In its imaginative world, the utopian dream of surveillance capitalism has finally come to fruition. Aboard the Six Thousand Ship, where Ravn’s protagonists live, activity and language are carefully shaped around work…Ravn creates a world that is complementary to our own and yet far more menacing.
—Jessica Loudis, The Nation
Wry, melancholy, disquieting—The Employees is an intriguing specimen when it comes to workplace narratives. The generic title begs for the text to be read as broadly representative, yet the book resists the neatness that more blatant metaphors might provide. There are, notably, no cartoonishly evil corporate overlords, for example. The company itself is nameless, faceless.
—Laura Adamczyk, The AV Club
Olga Ravn’s The Employees unpacks like a miraculous gift, alive with changes. Peeling off the first wrap, things look eerie, then at the next mundane, and while the crackle might sound like laughter, it also shivers with terror or poignancy. Short as the novel is, some chapters just a few lines, it’s intense, sumptuous, and utterly distinctive.
—John Domini, The Brooklyn Rail
This is more than a clever reframing of sci-fi tropes, although it’s that, too; the employees’ voices themselves, some of them desperate, some of them meditative, form a touching, alienated chorus, narrating a tragedy that for many will ring eerily true.
A book that strikes a rare balance between SF philosophy and workaday feeling all while whirling through space.
The Employees asks important questions about what makes up human consciousness, and also, critiques corporate language that can make its way into our lives sometimes without us knowing. It’s very funny. It’s very interesting. I definitely recommend checking this one out.
—Corinne Segal, WNYC
In brief numbered statements delivered by the human and nonhuman crew of the Six Thousand Ship to a shadowy committee, Ravn seeds her narrative with direct and allegorical reflections on transhumanism, disappearing nature, and the ambiguities of being embodied…The novel is by turns queasily exact about what is seen—skin pitted like pomegranate, an object’s furrows oozing some nameless balm—and willfully obscure. Ambiguity is everything: “I don’t know if I’m human anymore. Am I human? Does it say in your files what I am?”
—Brian Dillon, 4columns
An achingly beautiful mosaic of fragile characters managing their longing, pain, and alienation.
What might result if Ursula K. Le Guin and Nell Zink had a baby.
Beautiful, sinister, gripping. A tantalizing puzzle you can never quite solve. All the reviews say that the novel is, ultimately, about what it means to be human. What makes it exceptional, however, is the way it explores the richness and strangeness of being non-human.
Everything I’m looking for in a novel. I was obsessed from the first page to the last. A strange, beautiful, deeply intelligent and provocative investigation into humanity. The Employees is an alarmingly brilliant work of art.
The Employees is not only a disconcertingly quotidian space opera; it’s also an audacious satire of corporate language and the late-capitalist workplace, and a winningly abstracted investigation into what it means to be human.