The Bury Line: by Stephen Hargadon
Stephen Hargadon's The Bury Line brings new and terrible meaning to the networking skills required in the modern workplace. Though it displays a sure, light touch in tone, the humour is black throughout, in the manner of Gogol. In grand fact, the story is highly reminiscent of recurrent themes in much 19th century Russian literature, particular those of soul-destroying time-serving in the Imperial Civil Service. And if you think of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground as a sort of tube tale, then The Bury Line is the surface equivalent. Add to this Hargadon's marked talent for writing sympathetic characters and the story gains a good deal of its power to affect by way of shared disillusion. The characters are not laconic: they are laconics; a manifestation of progress reports and performance related pay. As they appear and disappear the reader becomes almost a nine-to-five familiar; and the story exists as a consultant meta-narrative to the daily grind.
Martin goes through a succession of line managers. Watching them come and go at the discretion of upper management, he notes each one's foibles, and how these prove to be fatal to much-fabled efficiencies. Martin understands that another job is often another life, an afterlife perhaps. At first he watches his colleagues despatched to this afterlife; then he begins to experience them in other incarnations, on other networks; perhaps as symptoms of his own burgeoning disillusionment. In turn this affects his own performance and his work begins to suffer. It does not go unnoticed...
And this perhaps is how the story most startled me - it is not that the work suffers: it is that the worker suffers it.
The Bury Line is published in Black Static Issue 42. Well worth reading.