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Company by Max Barry

In a world where elevator numbers go the wrong direction and employees are fired for not accomplishing goals that were never set lies the setting of Max Barry’s novel Company, an engaging piece of bureaucratic satire.

For Stephen Jones—reduced to simply “Jones” as part of a company study—the entire system is out of sync. For his co-workers, everything is normal, and Jones’s constant search for meaning baffles them.

Zephyr Holdings is big in, well, whatever field it’s in. The problem for Jones is that nobody seems quite sure just what field that is. Actually, nobody has a clue. What’s more, nobody else seems to mind, or even notice. The entire network can be crashed by an infinite call-forwarding loop, the company’s only customers are its own departments and if corporate employees sometimes feel like rats in a lab, they’re not entirely wrong.

When underlings begin to foment an honest-to-goodness revolution within Zephyr, it’s reminiscent of students rioting in the streets, complete with angry mobs and a charismatic leader. The world created within the microcosm of the corporation begins to take on the characteristics of its own separate society, and when the people are unhappy, they are driven to their logical ends.

Questions of love, jealousy, greed, ambition, camaraderie and corporate ethics all work their way into a scenario that is delightfully implausible and at the same time almost inspiring for anyone who has ever worked in, or even simply dealt with, a bureaucracy.

Barry smoothly blurs the line between the reasonable and the ridiculous, so that at times you have to look behind yourself to find it. Grim corporate humor combines with a wit reminiscent of Douglas Adams in a thoroughly enjoyable style that perfectly complements the absurdity of the story.