Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize, The Employees reshuffles a sci-fi voyage into a riotously original existential nightmare.
Funny and doom-drenched, The Employees chronicles the fate of the Six-Thousand Ship. The human and humanoid crew members alike 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 become strangely and deeply attached to them, and start aching for the same things—warmth and intimacy, loved ones who have passed, shopping and child-rearing, and faraway Earth, which now only persists in memory—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.
2021 International Booker Prize Judges’ Citation:
“This beautiful and moving novel, set in a workplace—a spaceship some time in the future—is by turns loving and cold, funny and deliberately prosaic; capable of building a sense of existential horror one minute then quotidian comfort and private grief the next. In deceptively simple prose, threaded on a fully achieved and ambitiously experimental structure, it asks big questions about sentience and the nature of humanity. And about what happiness might be.”
Praise for The Employees:
“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.” —The Guardian
“Everything I’m looking for in a novel. I was obsessed from the first page to the last. A strange, beautiful, deeply intelligent and provocative investigation into humanity. The Employees is an alarmingly brilliant work of art.” —Max Porter, author of Lanny
“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, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
“What might result if Ursula K. Le Guin and Nell Zink had a baby.” —Tank Magazine
Off/Kilter’s Most Anticipated Reads: Spring 2022 —All Lit Up
Excerpt Month: Don’t Miss this Passage from Olga Ravn’s Booker-Nominated Sci-Fi Triumph, The Employees —Open Book
“But 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, The New York Review of Books
“In a larger sense, this work poses a metaquestion — is it ethical to play god over our creations? Where is the line drawn between human and inhuman? Can computers and robots learn to gain consciousness, will they eventually become human? And what happens if they can, or when they do? On the flip side, are humans becoming more robotic, and how will it impact our future?” —Roses and Reviews
Olga Ravn is one of Denmark’s most celebrated contemporary authors. Her work combines several genres, often crossing over into visual arts. Her debut poetry collection, I Devour Myself Like Heather, was published to critical acclaim in 2012. Alongside Johanne Lykke Holm, Ravn ran the feminist performance group and writing school Hekseskolen from 2015 to 2019. She has also worked as a critic, teacher, and translator. In collaboration with Danish publisher Gyldendal, she edited a selection of Tove Ditlevsen’s texts and books that relaunched Ditlevsen’s readership worldwide. The Employees, translated into English by award-winning translator Martin Aitken, was a finalist for the 2021 International Booker Prize. Ravn lives in Copenhagen.
Martin Aitken has translated the work of contemporary Scandinavian writers such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Peter Høeg, Ida Jessen, and Kim Leine. He was a finalist at the U.S. National Book Awards 2018 and received the PEN America Translation Prize 2019 for his translation of Hanne Ørstavik’s Love. His translation of Olga Ravn’s The Employees was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. Aitken lives in Denmark.