Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 19, 2021

Psynode, (2017, Orphancorp #2), by Marlee Jane Ward

Psynode (2017) is the follow-up to the award-winning Welcome to Orphancorp, (2015) by Melbourne author Marlee Jane Ward, (reviewed here).  That the title of the final of this ‘technopunk thriller’ trilogy is Prisoncorp (2019) bodes ill for the central character Mirii, who had in Book one, escaped from dehumanising slavery in a brutal system designed to achieve compliant child workers, and now in Book Two is on a quest to rescue her friend Vu. This is a very dark dystopian YA series, with uncanny resonances in the modern world.

Psynode has been calling to me ever since I started gathering together my pile of (nearly all Australian) novellas for Novellas in November hosted by Cathy at 746 Books.  (An Island by Karen Jennings sneaked in there because it was longlisted for the Booker and had just arrived from Benn’s Books. Some of my books are not very good at waiting their turn.)  Psynode was in my novellas pile because it’s only 177 pages long.  It’s quick to read; I romped through it in a couple of hours this morning.

It was written only four years ago, before the explosion of Covid-induced online shopping.  As I read Mirii’s brutal initiation into work as a warehouse picker for Allnode, I found myself thinking of what I’ve read about work conditions in Amazon warehouses, and wondering about the experiences of the Woolworths packers who’ve been bringing me my groceries in Lockdown.  Mirii has demanding targets to reach, and what she soon discovers is that while the penalty for failing too many targets is instant dismissal, achieving them only reduces the time she’s allowed to achieve them.  It’s a horrible work environment:

‘Valued Allnode employee, number 2702575.  Your performance is at minus 1.5 points.  This places you in the top six of your intake and in the sixtieth percentile overall.  Please ensure your targets are met on a continuing basis in order to retain employment.  Your current employee balance is as follows.  Eleven-point-three-three hours of Resource Location, Logistics at twelve dollars and seventy-five cents an hour, minus tax rate of four dollars and three cents an hour is ninety-eight dollars and seventy-nine cents.’

Rad, I’m freaking rich!  All those hours gritting my gums and climbing the frame, and you know, only the complete and utter destruction of my body and limbs, but I’m almost a hundy richer.

‘Cept it doesn’t stop there.

‘Minus uniform rate of sixty-seven dollars and thirty-four cents.’


‘Minus seven days housing rate in advance at seventeen dollars and twenty-four centres per night—’


‘Minus employee rations at six dollars and one cents—’

How much?

‘Minus power consumption of point seven kilowatts at three dollars and sixty-six cents per kilowatt—’

Excuse me?

‘Balance total for Employee 2702575, Mahoney, Miriiyanan: minus ninety-six dollars and thirty-four cents.’ (p.50-51)

Why does she work for them?  Not to ‘make a buck’, obviously.  It’s because she hopes to be able to do some ‘shifty corporate espionage’ so that she can find out what’s happened to her friend Vu. #SpoilerAlert: The commodification of human beings reaches a new low in this story.

The plot is taut and filled with tension as the human products of late-capitalism take part in an uneven power struggle.  Along the way Mirii has both help and hindrance from friends in the same underclass as she is, and someone from the privileged set has to choose what to do when ethics conflict with family loyalty.

It is very bleak.  And given what we know about the use of slave labour and the commodification of humans in the Nazi death camps, it is all too credible.

Nancy Elin reviewed it too, when it was shortlisted for the Aurealis Best YA Novel award.

Author: Marlee Jane Ward
Title: Psynode (Orphancorp #2)
Cover design by Xoum
Publisher: Seizure, 2017
ISBN: 9781925143928, pbk., 177 pages
Source: personal library, purchased direct from Seizure Online


  1. I see that no.3 was published in 2019, so I think I might read all three together, handling carefully, then pass them on to Ms 18-tomorrow. (Her dinner’s at the weekend, I have loads of time to choose something for her. Don’t I?).


    • Ha ha, you are shameless!
      I knew as soon I started reading this that you would like it…


  2. And now I need to read it as well …


  3. Lisa, thank you for linking my review to your blogpost!
    …. appreciated!


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