“The Warehouse” By Rob Hart. Crown, New York, August 2019. 368 pages. $27. One of the most appealing things about “The Warehouse,” the new near-future, near-dystopian thriller by Rob Hart, is its familiarity. Rob Hart’s version of the United States is just over the next ridge, a place that’s hotter, drier, lesser, but not really so different. It’s as if you turned a page, fell asleep and woke up to find yourself in this new place whose evolution feels perfectly logical. Gibson Wells has built 50 complexes, each a MotherCloud, where people live and work. There’s one in every state and each one accommodates hundreds of thousands of workers in need of the work but resentful of the circumstances. Each Cloud resembles a massive Amazon-type warehouse expanded to include medical facilities, restaurants, bars and living quarters akin to a high-end airport terminal. It takes a long time to walk most places. Everyone wears wristwatches that track, direct and inform them via a vast satellite system that also conducts a complex drone operation that delivers products to customers. Drones are so thick overhead that they turn the sky black. Pickers who pull product from shelving wear red shirts, security wears blue shirts, supervisors wear tan shirts. The work is laborious, demanding and the stress is unrelenting. Workers are rated daily on performance. If they fail to score at least two stars, they are immediately terminated. They are docked in pay, at times, and charged for just about everything they use or need. But the system has, in certain ways, vastly improved life on earth. Those working at Cloud are no longer starving to death. And the use of drones to deliver merchandise has radically reduced carbon emissions. Slowly, however, Cloud has taken over the manufacture of just about everything, putting people out of business and drying up entire towns. Cloud founder and leader, Gibson Wells, considers Cloud to be the best thing that happened to the world. And that’s where the story really takes off. He is an earnest and likable character who believes himself to be a committed humanitarian. Readers, and workers at Cloud, tend to believe him. Everything he does, he says he does for his extended Cloud “family.” We meet him at the end of his life, shortly after a diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer. He decides to blog so that he can be more forthcoming about his incredible success as an entrepreneur and to set the stage for the transition to come. His successor has yet to be announced and he wants a smooth transition. Paxton, who had invented and manufactured a product that Cloud distributed more cheaply than he could, reluctantly came to work at Cloud. He is resentful and has visions of confronting Gibson or, at least, inventing another product and leaving Cloud. He pursues a romantic friendship with Zinnia, an attractive young woman who also considers Cloud a short-term stop on her way to Europe. Zinnia is, however, much more than a new picker. She is a corporate spy, assigned to find out how Cloud could operate mega-cities while consuming so little energy. She is competent, experienced and produces results. She keeps her mission to herself and uses Paxton, who has quickly worked his way up to a high-level security job at Cloud, to conduct her investigation. Paxton, torn between a need to please and his burning resentments, has some inkling that Zinnia needs to be watched. The world, much of it uninhabitable, needs creative thinkers like Gibson Wells. But his vision is somehow off. It’s up to Zinnia to figure it out and it’s up to us to keep reading and thinking about a world compromised by overuse and neglect and consumption. Rob Hart, in this fine breakout thriller, has done a masterful job braiding all his clever strands to form a strong and passionate story about people pushed to their limits. Who, if anyone, will act for the greater good? And what, we begin to wonder, is that greater good? Rae Padilla Francoeur can be reached at Rae@RaeFrancoeur.com.