Book Review Travel

The Employees – a workplace novel of the 22nd century by Olga Ravn

a terrifying future draws grim parallels to the present

cw: mental illness, suicide ideation, pharmacological treatment of mental illness

17th March, 2023, 10amish

I’m on a 20 hour trip to Copenhagen right now, which feels like something that should feel more fun than it does right now, while I’m on the plane flying there.

I have a window seat, and I’m alternating between reading a novel and looking out of the window through the cloud cover down to the beaches of the Dutch coast far below the clouds.

I see golden sand beaches and try to focus on them but keep getting distracted by annoying thoughts about work, which tho I am officially not doing today, I am not able to completely ignore.

I don’t want that for myself, thinking of annoying work things while floating above the clouds. I don’t want to – and see no purpose in – the maintenance of the life that I live, the pointlessness, the emptiness, the joylessness of the existence that I have at the moment.

The wine course I’m doing at the moment finishes next week, but if I fail the exam (which I definitely will if the mock exam of two weeks ago is anything to go by 🤪🤪🤪), I’ll probably try to retake it again later in the year, which will mean continuing to study, continuing to fill time with tasks rather than with life or creativity or anything better than the absolute nothing I have allowed my life to become lol whoops

This blog – this ten year old blog – is the only thing that persists that feels of self. But it’s a fucking catalogue of misery and the fucking pictures of my fat old face I post every time I do it (out of a once self-indulgent (youth! beauty!) but now sick and self-destructive habit) just compounds how how how far away I am from any kind of liveable self.

I look like absolute fucking shit, and I basically don’t do anything ever with my fucking life except go to work, go to classes, go to do cardio at the fucking filthy local gym (which I find another deeply humiliating experience, as I look so fucking disgusting yet can’t exercise with privacy).


This novel – Danish, btw, tho I didn’t realise that until after I’d grabbed it for this 20 hour trip (translated by Martin Aitken) – is about work and workplaces, set in the far future on an investigative spaceship.

It considers humans and humanoid robots (and, also, some alien life) as comparative and different things: the robots are built only to work, exist only to work, and so too seem to be some of the humans. Maybe they are all robots, maybe none are, but all that happens to them and around them on the spaceship seems to be centred on a need to optimise their productivity, with any acts or actions that make them feel better (happier or healthier) not for the purposes of that health or happiness, but for the mutually understood fundamental purpose of workfulness.

This, right, yeah, is how real life fucking feels, especially treatment for any kind of mental illness, and this is why I’m currently unmedicated (should I be medicated? It doesn’t seem to affect my ability to miserably – but adequately – function as part of a society I abhor!) and currently not in therapy (should I be in therapy? It doesn’t seem to affect my ability to miserably -but adequately – function as part of a society I abhor!).

I don’t want to convince myself that I’m happy with the world and my life as it exists. I’m not. I don’t want to cauterise those feelings and just revert to emotionlessly skating through a meaningless existence.

Do I feel any more joy now I’m unmedicated compared to the past few years? No, because there isn’t really anything that outweighs the fact that I don’t like my life.

On the other hand, tho, I do find it easier to have potent cathartic experiences while watching films/TV/reading books etc again now, and I can have relatively frequent panic attacks again, all of which – especially panic attacks – are things that bring a moment of profound, tho brief, moment of relief after the tears/hyperventilating etc have finished.

It’s good to be able to feel that again, and I suppose maybe that’s what the end goal is, right, to always feel like you’ve just finished a panic attack and your dog is licking your face and you’re staring at the ceiling of a room you wish you weren’t in and you know, for a moment, your mind curled itself into such a ball for a second that all that existed was your body and in that second, before you have to stand up and get on with whatever deeply pointless and likely painfully boring task that caused you to spin out in the first place, for a second there was nothing but peace.

It’s kind of what valium feels like, from what I remember (tho it’s been a fucking while), and it’s certainly better than the “no feelings of anything” that existed before.

Honestly, maybe I should try to induce a panic attack every day just for the benefit of that post-panic attack feeling of joy? Is that self harm or is that self care? It’s honestly difficult to know.


It’s 21 hours later and I’m back on a plane, flying back to a place I do not care for.

It was nice, pleasant, good, to be away from my own self for a little bit, but the drip of work emails pinging into my phone, the awareness that there’s no real escape from anything and an overwhelming sense of disinterest just pounded thru me over the course of my brief trip.

I saw two films, I went to a wine bar and a Thai restaurant. I slept for a few brief hours and I read the end of this and all but the final chapter of another short novel.

In The Employees, the barriers between humans and robots blurred, and with the introduction of memory altering and uploading technology it became slowly clear that – perhaps – there was no such thing at all as any “true” humanity living on the spaceship. Or there was. Or there wasn’t.

If all we look to do is mollify and prioritise the basic needs we as living creatures require when judging those needs as the requirements to be able to function as employees, then we have nothing. I am a key and shining example of this – I always have a job, but rarely have a life.

I was wondering, as I strolled around a chilly tho sunny Copenhagen yesterday afternoon, if there’s any real and potent way to cause one to care about their own life without causing depression.

Like, I don’t really care about my own life on a profound level. It doesn’t fucking matter to me. It’s boring, it’s disinteresting; surely the simplest way to get some kind of frisson back is the introduction of peril, right? Put oneself in danger, at risk, of terrible repercussion? Maybe this would work, I dunno, but this also sounds boring, too.

What would peril archieve? More panic attacks?

I don’t care enough about anything to be stressed, I don’t have any goals or targets in my life that are both realistic and interesting to me.

I suppose, ultimately, I just don’t see any purpose in pretty much anything that ever happens to me, and working full time is ultimately a theft (it’s more a coerced purchase rather than a theft) of life, of existence; we may as well be (I may as well be) a fucking robot on a spaceship with no deep feelings other than those we’ve been programmed to have because those feelings are believed to assist with productivity.

The Employees, of course, is an excellent, thought provoking and – and I always mean this as a compliment when I say it – short novel that draws attention (or drew attention to me) to the utter vacuousness, joylessness and tedium of any kind of reality that remains rooted in the current socioeconomic system.

Christ. I need a holiday that’s more than 24 hours long. No, that’s bullshit, I need to get a life that doesn’t bore me fucking senseless. And I don’t think I have the patience, the drive, the talent or the intellect to ever fucking do that.

What a fucking mess. It could all be solved by killing myself, of course, but how how how to do it – and I do mean this – safely and responsibly? Without traumatising others, without risking failure and with it longer term physical injury?

Christ. I don’t know.

21 hours in Copenhagen hasn’t made my life worth living. Travelling back to fucking London is making everything feel worse, too. I feel more boxed in, smaller, less free, less hopeful, less able to see alternative lives for myself every second I approach.

I’m going to have a shit day today, I’ll maybe have a shit day tomorrow (tho tomorrow might be ok) and I’m definitely going to have shit days every day for the six days after that.

There really is nothing for me. I’m a robot fucking employee. Turn the programme off. Turn the fucking programme off. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

1 comment on “The Employees – a workplace novel of the 22nd century by Olga Ravn

  1. Pingback: Black American Psycho by Ernest Baker – Triumph Of The Now

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