Review: The Employees by Olga Ravn

translated by Martin Aitken

Lolli Editions (2020), New Directions (2022)

133 pages

grab a copy here or or through your local independent bookstore or library



Olga Ravn’s The Employees is the first work of Danish SFT I’ve ever read, and it doesn’t disappoint. Presented as a series of statements given to a committee by human and humanoid employees, the novel offers a tantalizingly fragmented glimpse of life aboard the Six Thousand Ship.

When the ship lands on a planet they call “New Discovery,” the employees find a group of bizarre objects, which they promptly bring on board. Soon, both the humans and the humanoids begin to feel a strange connection to those objects, with some holding and kissing them, and others imagining that they’ve always known these multi-colored fragments…

There’s something familiar about them, even if you’ve never seen them before. As if they came from our dreams, or some distant past we carry deep inside us, like a recollection without language. (Statement 040)

Developing alongside (or perhaps because of ?) the employees’ growing connections to these objects is an emerging sense of self on the part of the humanoids. Over the course of these statements, the humanoids talk about what it means, to them, to be human and how the human crewmembers treat them. Discussions of death and uploaded humanoid consciousness adds another dimension to these reports. A gradual chill in the relationships between members of the two groups breeds suspicion and threatens to jeopardize the mission.

Running like a thread through all of these recollections, philosophical musings, angry rants, and dreamy fantasies is the strange pull that the alien objects have on everyone living on the ship. It’s like the Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic, only in The Employees, the objects were deliberately brought on board the Earth ship for study.

Martin Aitken’s translation from the Dutch skillfully captures the emotions always threatening to break through the staid, emotionless genre of the employee report. Hopefully we will see more Ravn in English, especially since we hadn’t had any long-form Danish SFT since 2011 (The Brummstein by Peter Adolphsen) or short-form since 2018 (“The Amputated Arms” by Vilhelm Bergsoe).

So go read The Employees and tell me what you think about it in the comments!

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