An online warehouse gone rogue. Driverless cars, hijacked: Fiction that feels eerily possible.

Washington Post Entertainment 2 months ago

Dystopian thrillers often play out in the near future. In Rob Hart’s “The Warehouse” and John Marrs’s “The Passengers,” two deeply disturbing entries in this genre, the near future seems three hours away: Virtually every plot beat seems plausible and imminent.

Consider Hart’s titular warehouse, a vast place called “Cloud.” As workers fill orders, Hart describes items lining the shelves: “Alarm clock. Shower radio. Digital camera. Book. Phone charger.” Remind you of a recent online order?

But Hart envisions a place that goes beyond offering everything you used to find at the mall. Cloud’s founder, Gibson Wells, claiming to be the richest man in America, says the place is “ ‘more than a store. . . . It could provide relief to this great nation.’ ”

And indeed the nation and the world need relief. A financial collapse, no doubt set in motion by Cloud, has come to pass. One small village now consists of a “row of low-slung buildings, old businesses now empty, the signs faded or fallen, the parking lots full of weeds.” Above a superhighway, insects gather in “great black swarms moving back and forth across the sky.” In India, there are mass migrations from areas that have fallen below sea level.

For desperate, displaced Americans, Wells has expanded his warehouses into residences, called MotherClouds; there’s one in every state in the country. In a series of blogs, Wells describes the new society he has created with them. Early on, he struck an agreement with the federal government to take over the FAA. He abolished unions. To keep his residents informed, he created the Cloud News Network. “Anything else,” he insists, “is just fake news.”

In an eerily prescient moment, Wells threatens to assume even more power and “put this lumbering old beast of government out of its misery,” he writes. “I am the one to do it,” he explains, “because I am exceptional.”

Hordes of Americans are desperate to live and work in Cloud’s apartments, even if accommodations are “more like a crowded hallway than an apartment.”At Cloud, residents must wear CloudBands, which monitor and direct their every movement. There are compensations. The CloudBurger, available only on site, is “one of the best and most affordable fast-food burgers in the country.”

Hart, the author of a series of detective novels, spins out his plot at the biggest Cloud complex in the country, a place that looks as if it had been “dropped from the sky by an uncaring hand.” Here a man and a woman infiltrate the hordes shoving their way in: Paxton, a former prison guard, seethes over losing a patent to Cloud and seeks revenge; Zinnia, on assignment from an unrevealed agency, plans to uncover Cloud’s tax dealings. What the pair learns about Cloud and its management may convince readers to forswear online shopping and buy at any independent local stores they can find.

Set in and around London, Marrs’s “The Passengers” plays on other near-future fears. This unsettling thriller begins as eight people head off in their driverless cars. They’re scarcely on the way before their vehicles take unplanned turns. “Alternative destination being programmed,” a “softly spoken female voice” tells them. The doors lock, their windows turn opaque so the drivers can’t motion for help. Then a male voice announces: “From here on in, I am in charge of your destination. . . . The only thing you need to know at this point is that in two hours and thirty minutes from now, it is highly likely you will be dead.”

In Birmingham, meanwhile, jurors arrive to serve on the Vehicle Inquest Jury, a government panel charged with determining fault in fatal accidents involving autonomous vehicles. They scarcely begin deliberating when the same voice that informed the eight drivers of their fates speaks over jury room speakers. Identifying himself as “the Hacker,” the man says he devised the hijackings, and he’s broadcasting scenes of the hostages in their cars on TV and on all the major social media sites.

To bend the jurors to his will, the Hacker reveals he’s amassed myriad details of their private lives: He knows “your credit card numbers, the call girls you hire, password, bank statements . . . the emails you’ve sent.” In other words, he has your data and plans to broadcast it.

The Hacker then reveals he’s guiding the cars to a head-on crash; but he makes a deal with the jurors and his worldwide audience: He’ll spare one life, but the jury must pick the survivor. The debate begins.

This setup suggests a reality TV show with deadly stakes. But Marrs laces his fast-paced tale with delectably mordant satire. The event, a man exclaims, has turned into “the most hashtagged global event since social media began.” At hijacking sites, onlookers take selfies with the imprisoned drivers.

In this dark world, though, Marrs finds light. Awaiting their fates, the hostages reflect on their lives. The prisoners respond from their hearts, revealing thoughts and feelings that far surpass anything the Internet has collected about them. We see that technology amasses facts but cannot plumb souls. In the downbeat, despairing worlds of both these thrillers, this upbeat, inspiring theme shines.

Gerald Bartell is a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan.


Source link
Read also:
Chicago Tribune › Opinions › 2 weeks ago
This week, a Lisle company tests its quasi-driverless semi truck on the Jane Addams Tollway. Yes, Illinois should ready itself for a driverless future.
Business Insider › Finance › 4 days ago
Walmart is partnering with robotics company Nuro to deliver groceries in driverless vehicles. The vehicles, called R2, are custom built for deliveries and have no seating for drivers or passengers. Walmart has previously announced driverless delivery...
The Sun › 1 month ago
DRIVERLESS cars could be stopped by snow and leaves, causing gridlock on motorways across the country. Automated vehicles could bring cities to a standstill when encountering everyday obstacles on the road, a new report has found. A recent...
Reuters › Technology › 1 month ago
Russian internet firm Yandex will begin testing its driverless cars in the United States next summer, the company said on Wednesday.
The New York Times › Technology › 1 month ago
Russian internet firm Yandex will begin testing its driverless cars in the United States next summer, the company said on Wednesday.
Telegraph › 1 month ago
Driverless cars are set to carry human passengers on Britain’s roads for the first time, a government-backed consortium has announced.
Telegraph › Automobile › 1 month ago
Whether drivers like them or not, autonomous or driverless cars are coming soon to a road near you.
The Sun › 3 weeks ago
A NEW fleet of driverless cars are tackling some of the country’s most congested roads to prepare them for tricky real-world situations. Eight Jaguar I-Pace SUVs have hit the road across the UK to help fine tune their on-board driving systems...
Forbes › 1 month ago
Even as investor enthusiasm waxes and wanes, the industrialization and commercialization of driverless cars offers tremendous opportunities (and challenges).
One America News Network › Technology › 2 weeks ago
By Nadezhda Tsydenova MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's largest lender, Sberbank , has added driverless cars to its list of technology ventures, by teaming up with AI transport developer Cognitive
Sign In

Sign in to follow sources and tags you love, and get personalized stories.

Continue with Google
OR