Mills always manages to make the structure of his world contract around his characters in an impressive way. His characters, often impotent to take control in the squeezing world, tend to play Watson, ask the sensible questions and allowing the thick tightening band of the rubber noose squeeze on the oesophagus.
At the point when the character should expire – at the centre of the gyre, the final turn - we are always faced with one of two things:
[The rest of this post contains spoilers – Please consider yourself warned!]
1. Supplication: As the character is about to expire the character fully accepts the system and becomes part of it - forfeiting free will (not that they ever really displayed previous..) to become part of the world; an exchange of free will for immortality. In doing this, paradoxically, they suddenly gain agency.
2. Collapse: The system falls apart. As glorious as it once was, the system cannot sustain the pressures of everyone within it. The straw breaks the camel’s back. This, or there is too much slack in the system – many required cogs simply not taking all required strain - the chain comes off and the machine grinds to a halt. All involved parties must dissipate back to whence they came, or into the ether.
The first happens in “All Quiet on The Orient Express” (Mill’s masterpiece of mounting tragedy) while the second occurs in “Three to See the King” (an almost perfect comedic exercise in working with negative spaces for the most part).
“The Scheme for Full Employment” is a case of the latter and is probably the one in which Mills plays with “the squeeze,” most honestly; the chassis shows. The story centres the drivers of “UniVans” - slow moving trucks used for deliveries. There is a set of rules in the scheme, set routes, etiquette – and a warning, right from the beginning that it’s all going to come crashing down because it’s taken for granted.
The UniVans only item to deliver is Univan parts. Once this is realised you can see how the madness of the scheme works. The vans ship parts between depots without every having contact with the real world, but in doing so creates commerce of sorts. Another example is the fabrics department making a new and subtly different uniform every year, not because it is needed, but because it gives them something to do.
The scheme allows everyone to take a role, to set an example to the world outside of the clean goodness of a well oiled machine working.
Eventually a schism appears between the “Flat-Dayers” (those who wish to work 8 hours slowly and clock off at 4.30) and the “Early-Swervers” (looking to get everything done as quick as possible and then get signed off for the day).
The first strike in the history of The Scheme follows and it all crashes around the ankles of all involved. Partly because of a certain new strain in management (possibly representing Thatcherism) desiring for privatization and efficiency; the other because the public had lost patience with it - as the life of a UniVan driver is an easy one they thought the strike a liberty.
Mills really bares the bones in this, but because there’s none of that overwhelming pressure - and threat - there’s not so much to get excited about. There’s none of the sympathy required to get your blood boiling or to let the frustration bubble.
However there is majesty to it. It’s like being at the opening of an exhibition with the artist there. In the centre of the room is a large object, lumpy, covered by a white sheet.
He reveals a contraption, slowly, each little part deceptively simple and it snips your face open into a grin. As it’s revealed it begins to have life and movement. It’s clever, if a little cold - and you can’t help but be impressed.
Once complete the artist turns to you and says:
"Now, watch me destroy it.”
With this he takes a single thin silver pin from its slot in the machine and the machine crashes to earth with increasing speed, not with an explosion but with a million well timed folds and slapping of hinges.
Once he’s done you clap and think to yourself how worth it was, even if it didn’t move you in the way his work has before.