In response to a recent comment from Sean Easton (of the R’lyeh Tribune — which you should be reading if you are interested in weird fiction), I’m reposting this retro review from August 8, 2009.
Review: My Work Is Not Yet Done, Thomas Ligotti, 2002.
Two of these “three tales of corporate horror” will fascinate many of those who have spent time as symbol manipulators in the offices of large corporations.
The collection’s titular short novel and “I Have a Special Plan for This World” expand on the themes of “Our Temporary Supervisor” and “The Town Manager”, two of the best stories in Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco. The narrators here work for companies whose ultimate goal is to produce nothing or baleful somethings and undertake a literally inhuman replacement of their workforce, the logical end to all this being a structure that is more shaped by an invisible tentacle than capitalism’s invisible hand.
The narrator of “My Work Is Not Yet Done” is a supervisor, Dominio by name though his boss Richard keeps calling him Domino. Said boss and six fellow supervisors become the target of Dominio’s revenge after getting him fired from the company. But on the way back from the gun store in preparation for his upcoming rampage – and Ligotti has the narrator wryly and concisely sum up all the reasons usually given for such rampages, something mysterious happens. Dominio’s vengeance takes an increasingly bizarre and supernatural turn, the world literally darkening with each killing. The novel ends with a surprising confrontation with Richard and attendant revelations.
The company employing the narrator of “I Have a Special Plan for This World” specializes in “manipulating documents”, and its founder undertakes an ambitious plan to become a “dominant presence in the world marketplace” via a radical restructuring. And, soon, supervisors and employees show up dead – all unremarked upon under the yellowing skies of Golden City, formerly known as Murder Town before Chamber of Commerce rebranding.
Both these stories are told with Ligotti’s precision prose with its deliberate, incantory repetitions. Besides sinister companies, these stories have other characteristic Ligotti images: doppelgangers of a sort, puppets and mannequins, settings specifically described but tied to nothing in the real world, and abandoned buildings. In these stories, cosmic horror touches us in the work place, the horror of a meaningless existence underpinned by dark, malevolent forces. Ligotti’s world is dark, nihilistic to the core. These stories are not tragedies since that implies competing goods. There is no good in these stories, no joys shortened by the encroaching horror. But Ligotti’s style makes them palatable. As well as the rage and isolation, there is dark wit in “My Work Is Not Yet Done”. However, I think he makes a slight plot misstep by introducing a too banal motive for the Seven, and Dominio’s frequent use of the derogatory “swine” seems too antiquated for a narrator, unlike many of Ligotti’s, who inhabitants an explicitly contemporary setting.
The third story, “The Nightmare Network”, is a fairly radical departure in Ligotti’s style. It reminded me somewhat of the condensed novels of J. G. Ballard. Frankly, I found the story of two megacorporations seemingly warring across time, largely incomprehensible. However, I did like the ending with the companies allegedly merging at end, but it really being a cover for espionage, subversion, and double agentry – another Ligotti parable for life I suspect. An interesting failure.