I’ve done some unpleasant jobs over the years in an effort to support myself while writing and continue paying the bills. I’ve worked in various factories, as a builder’s laborer, as a mail clerk, as a fitter and machinist, and on one occasion I considered gaining employment in the adult film industry…just kidding. However, I have very little first-hand experience of the business world.
One writer who does understand the ins and outs of the business world, having worked as a technical writer before gaining success as a horror novelist, is Bentley Little. If you haven’t read any Little, you should. He’s one of the smartest, wittiest, and most insightful authors at work today in the area of horror and supernatural fiction. He wasn’t dubbed “the horror poet laureate” by Stephen King for no reason.
Little is a maverick and a nonconformist, and in his latest novel, The Consultant, he explores the timely theme of Big Brother in the workplace. The story revolves around family man Craig Horne, a senior employee at a software company called CompWare. When the company begins to have difficulties after a promised merger falls through, they decide to hire a consulting firm—called BFG—to review and streamline their business practices.
Enter Mr Patoff, BFG’s representative. Tall, thin, and wearing a red bow tie, at first the consultant comes across as annoying, invasive, and rather peculiar. It soon comes to light that he’s downright sinister and creepy, and that, rather than helping CompWare and its employees, he’s carrying out a mysterious agenda of his own—one of total domination and possible non-human significance. Under his authority, cameras are installed all over the building, employees are subjected to painful and horrific drug tests, and bizarre and random changes are made to office protocol.
There are more than a few grains of truth in this piercing workplace satire:
“Things are going well,” the consultant said. “Not just here but everywhere. Businesses are becoming more efficient, doing more with less. The economy’s coming back, and they’re not hiring, not wasting money on people. They’re staying lean and mean, boosting profits but not payrolls. It’s part of the overall strategy, and we’ve been working on it for a long time. Why do you think we came up with email? Why do you think we invented smart phones?
“We’ve got them checking their email at home, on vacation, at night, on weekends. They’re working even when they’re not at work. And all those overtime hours are free! It’s why we can keep cutting staff and raising profits. We keep them off guard by making them think they’re always about to be fired or outsourced, and we’ve got them!”
The Consultant is one of Little’s most enjoyable and profound books yet. Parts of it border on genius—including the ending—and I hope it achieves the recognition and success it so rightly deserves.