The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century (Paperback)

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The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century By Olga Ravn, Martin Aitken (Translated by) Cover Image
By Olga Ravn, Martin Aitken (Translated by)
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Staff Reviews

If 2001: A Space Odyssey was also about chilling, unnameable workplace minutiae... well, here you go. In the far future, a spaceship orbits a planet littered with strange objects, and the ship's crew—janitors, captains, all—become obsessed with these mysterious mementos. A story of dread and survival, both existential and physical, to be read in a morning, quaking over your coffee. You won't forget it.

— From Spencer R.

This deeply unsettling collection of statements from the human and humanoid crew of a space-faring Six Thousand Ship in the 22nd is as successful at establishing stakes through minimalist writing as it is at problematizing production-focused workplace culture. The similarity Ravn implies between the states of mind and being of the humanoids and the alienated human crew bears particular mention as evidence of the skill and heart with which this book was written.

— From Sophia

A strange and eerie little book, written through a series of HR reports and interviews with crew members aboard a spaceship, orbiting an unusual planet that houses a string of unusual objects that suddenly appear on the spaceship.  The human and humanoid crew begin to feel curious. Awareness and confusion seeps in the humanoids; the humans begin to remember snippets of another life. Soon, tension is drenched in existential dread and mutiny comes aboard. Perfect for the freaky weird readers who love to feel despair.

— From Javi

Written as a series of staff memos from the human and human-ish crew of the Six-Thousand Ship. Eerie, philosophical, funny, and foreboding. I was waiting for something horrible to happen with every turn of the page. But like in a fun way! Wheee!


— From Tania

February 2022 Indie Next List

The Employees is haunting, poetic, sterile yet bursting with sensation. A series of reflections on what it means to be human, to spend life working, disconnected from the natural world and others. For those who ask ‘is this all there is?’”
— Henry Williams, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC


Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize and the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize, The Employees reshuffles a sci-fi voyage into a riotously original existential nightmare

Now in paperback, The Employees chronicles the fate of the interstellar 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 hilariously stinging critique of life governed by the logic of productivity. 

About the Author

Olga Ravn (born 1986) is a Danish novelist and poet. In collaboration with the Danish publisher Gyldendal she edited a selection of Tove Ditlevsen’s writings that relaunched Ditlevsen readership worldwide. Her novel The Employees was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. SOPHIA HERSI SMITH and JENNIFER RUSSELL are translators living in Copenhagen. Together, they have translated fiction and poetry by Danish writers such as Tove Ditlevsen, Marianne Larsen, and Rakel Haslund-Gjerrild.

MARTIN AITKEN has translated numerous novels from Danish and Norwegian, including works by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Peter Høeg, Ida Jessen, and Kim Leine. He won the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of Hanne Ørstavik’s Love.

Praise For…

A deeply sensory book, suffused with aroma and alert to tactility... 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… This clever, endlessly thought-provoking novel catches something of our recursive search for the nature of consciousness; a question that answers itself, a voice in the darkness, an object moving through space.

— Justine Jordan - Guardian

An alarmingly brilliant work of art
— Max Porter

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.
— Mark Haddon

What might result if Ursula K. Le Guin and Nell Zink had a baby.
— Tank Magazine

An achingly beautiful mosaic of fragile characters managing their longing, pain, and alienation. This gorgeous, evocative novel is well worth the effort.
— Publishers Weekly

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

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

A book that strikes a rare balance between SF philosophy and workaday feeling all while whirling through space.
— Kirkus

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.

— Jeff VanderMeer

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 - New York Review of Books

Product Details
ISBN: 9780811234825
ISBN-10: 0811234827
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: February 7th, 2023
Pages: 144
Language: English