Sunday, March 06, 2005


For those of us who spend at least forty hours a week on a cubicle farm, understand what "prairie dogging" is and have done it at least once, then this story... may not be as fun as it is to those of you who don't. In fact, it may be downright terrifying.

Personally, I fall into the frozen-in-terror category; I recognized people here. Where is here? The Calvin C. Nelson HMO offices, place of employ for the day for professional temp Envy St. Clair.

Envy enjoys the variety of tasks and people that come with impermanent employment, but if being a temp means sometimes you end up in a hellhole, then at least you get to leave after a while. The folks at the CCN HMO offices never get to leave -- the HMO isn't real; it's a laughably unethical psychiatric experiment where the office workers are the subjects. Cubicle farm as both cause and container for insanity, which of course isn't that far from the truth. (Especially where the Shrew earns her pittance.)

Envy wasn't supposed to know any of this -- she was hired by the doctors in charge to perform the real data entry, but a series of simple coincidences has her being treated as the newest inpatient. She is assigned to a styrofoam computer, the "e-mail" is delivered by an office intranet that is a man with post-its stuck to him, and there are people tucked inside the stands for the (fake) fax and copier to make the appropriate noises.

Life on the seventh floor is more Huis Clos than The Office and Envy, who realizes something is up when she discovers the infirmary, eventually decides to just play along -- her data entry involves feeding documents into a shredder labeled "data entry" -- until the latest breakdown by a test subject brings realization on all parts and she is sent home, where it is in turn revealed that she is perhaps more than she appears.

I found the end pages a bit random and obscure, but on the whole this was quite enjoyable in a sort of uncomfortable way -- as I said, I recognized people -- and I recommend picking it up. Damon Hurd, as ever, has a good ear for human voices and Rick Smith's depictions of the office workers/test subjects added to the feeling of unease.

Talk to your LCS or order it directly from Hurd and Smith at their website.


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