Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review - Fugitive from the Cubicle Police by Scott Adams

Short review: Dilbert deals with the inanities of the modern working world and surprisingly acquires a girlfriend. Dogbert continues to exploit the stupidity of stupid corporate drones.

Can't use "Gestapo"
At least not on the cover
"Police" is okay

Full review: The eighth collection of Dilbert comics, Fugitive from the Cubicle Police contains many classic strips and story lines from Adams' ongoing vicious skewering of the inane and idiotic realm of the modern office. The name of this volume derives from a series of strips in which Dilbert is plagued by an enforcer of cubicle regulations. In the original version, he titled this enforcer the "Cubicle Gestapo", but the editors of the strip made him change it to the slightly less offensive "Cubicle Police". Oddly, despite the fact that the title of this volume uses the revised version, the strips in the book use the original "Gestapo" moniker (even the strip on the back cover of the book uses "Gestapo" instead of "Police").

In any event, this book contains Dilbert at its best. Though there are fewer ongoing story lines than in many other comic strips (a fact that Adams somewhat references in an aborted series in this volume involving genetically engineered cucumber warriors), the themes contained in the Dilbert strip are all ongoing. Basically almost everything boils down to one of two categories: poking fun at Dilbert and other technical types for their lack of social skills, or (more commonly) poking fun at the stupidity of the cubicle driven world in which people who don't understand the products their company makes are supposed to manage those that do.

Dogbert is heavily featured in this volume, as is Ratbert. Early in the book Dogbert bullies his way into a job and a promotion at the firm where Dilbert works, eventually making millions in stock options and retirement benefits. He and Ratbert take up consulting, offering their outrageously overpriced services to the company in such areas as corporate fitness, technical support, and downsizing. Ratbert straps liver to his waist to serve as evidence of extra brains. As a lawyer, this volume contains my favorite strip in which Dogbert tries to decide whether building an army or starting a religion is the best way to conquer the world. When calculating which way would involve the least loss of life, he counts law students as two-tenths of a person, on the grounds that they won't drop to zero until they pass the bar.

The strips in this volume also take a slightly violent turn - Dogbert acquires a phaser to punish those who annoy him, while a secretary begins to shoot her coworkers with a crossbow. Phil of Insufficient Light makes several appearances to punish those guilty of minor errors by darning them to heck. Of course, the pointy-haired boss doesn't need to resort to such crude methods to inflict pain, firing individuals with abandon, reassigning them to new cubicles on a whim, cutting budgets, and changing projects specs he doesn't understand (which means all of them).

Unusually for Dilbert, who usually has no success in his personal life, things seem to pick up a little for him in this volume. Although there are numerous strips depicting the many ways an engineer can have a date go completely awry, in this volume Dilbert acquires his girlfriend Liz, a woman attracted to men who can write code in short sleeved polyester shirts. (Dilbert also experiments with cologne that makes him irresistible to women, with humorous results). The strips with Dilbert and Liz are funny as Dilbert confronts a woman who is just as nerdy as he is.

Still, it is the work-related strips that make Dilbert what it is. Over and over again Adams shows that he can take the painful reality of business jargon laden meetings about nothing at all, power point presentations with no content of any kind, and corporate rules that make no sense and turn them into humor that is all the more funny because it is so depressingly true. This volume is no exception: from Dogbert declaring himself the patron saint of technology to drive out stupidity, to dog collar trackers for employees, to "Harfurd" educated bosses, every page is classic bitterly satirical Dilbert.

Previous book in the series: Still Pumped from Using the Mouse
Subsequent book in the series: Casual Day Has Gone Too Far

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