cover image The Employees

The Employees

Olga Ravn, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken. New Directions, $19.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3135-0

The crew of a spaceship far from Earth struggle with conflicting emotions in this slippery and deeply resonant International Booker shortlisted novel from Ravn (Celestine). The inhabitants of the Six Thousand Ship, some human and others humanoid robots, become oddly attached to a collection of perplexing alien objects found on the planet New Discovery. In a series of disconnected, one-sided internal reports to an unnamed authority, the mostly unnamed crew members relay their intense, confused reactions to the objects. Humans express a longing for Earth—one employee’s job is to “make sure the human section of the crew don’t buckle under to nostalgia and become catatonic”—sometimes alleviated by being near the objects, while humanoids begin showing emotions well beyond their programming. (One, worrying about being the best employee, would “like to request some material concerning which actions require forgiveness.”) When the humanoids’ behavior takes a troubling turn, the company intervenes in a shocking manner. While initially disorienting, the fragmented style builds into an achingly beautiful mosaic of fragile characters managing their longing, pain, and alienation. This gorgeous, evocative novel is well worth the effort. (Feb.)