Paul labors away in his cubicle, harassed by full-time employee Olivia and badgered by his boss. Disturbed by the death of a coworker and strange happenings in the office, he still manages to find romance with Callie the Mail Girl. Through three of his colleagues, he gradually learns of a hidden world of forgotten men willing to perform his work for him—for a price.
Kings of Infinite Space is a comic modern-day tale of the struggle between good and evil for the soul of an everyman—in this case, Paul Trilby. Musing on the heights from which he has fallen as he waits for a traffic light (He’d almost been a Fullbright!), Paul recounts to himself his series of sexual escapades that cost him both his wife and subsequent girlfriends. He also recalls the mistakes that cost him his professional career and the lack of respect for his work that cost him a series of downward spiraling jobs. Morally unbalanced and surrounded by constant reminders of how far he has fallen, Paul is ripe for the ultimate temptation.
James Hynes draws upon many sources, literary and nonliterary alike, to inform his novel, prefacing the text with the chant of the beasts-turned-men from H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). In the first chapter, a strange, egg-headed man approaches from the midst of Paul's morning traffic jam to ask him the refrain of this same verse—Are we not men? The story that follows is an exploration of what men are capable of, both good and bad, cowardly and heroic, what can only be expected and what comes truly as a surprise. Paul reads Wells's The Time Machine (1895) during his lunch hour and has set a line from William Shakespeare as the screensaver on his computer.
As the novel begins, Paul experiences the typical problems and shortcomings of the lowest of the low—the office temp who labors in a cubicle. He drives to work in a wreck of a car with a cracked windshield, surrounded by gleaming SUVs that symbolize his comparative lack of financial success.
Across the aisle from Paul, in another cubicle, a man dying of cancer suffers under the scrutiny of Olivia, a pitiless taskmaster who gives no one a break. Paul fervently wishes that he will not have to work for her as he overhears her demands upon the man. Threatening not to pay him, Olivia forces the poor man to work unpaid overtime to fulfill his contract, and he dies in his cubicle sometime over the weekend. This horrifies Paul, although he is nearly as surprised when his boss gives him the rest of the day off, with pay, to recover from the shock.
Paul finds women to be a major obstacle in his life. Although he is attracted to many, the women with whom he becomes intimate will not stand to be mere sexual objects in Paul's life. Others, such as Olivia, obstruct him directly as he seeks to eke out a living in his meager job. Despite his series of failures, Paul targets yet another woman, Callie the Mail Girl, to focus his lust upon.
Callie hails from a lower socioeconomic class than Paul, but she has set about to improve herself by purchasing The Norton Anthology of English Literature to read through. Paul's past life as a professor intrigues her because it flows into her method of self-improvement, and she is tired of dating cowboys. She expects more from Paul, not knowing his past involvements with women. The two embark upon a sexual relationship that Callie insists they keep secret from coworkers.
Along with this familiar temptation, Paul is presented with a new one. His ruminations on his past indicate that he was willing and able to work hard, but the work of his lesser jobs wears on his mind. He is approached by the odd trio of the Colonel, J. J., and Bob Wier, who seem determined to sweep him into their lunchtime social hour. Paul allows this to happen, showing a lack of resistance even though he does not much care for the men.
Meanwhile, Paul has been noticing a series of odd events at the office. He is already wondering whether he is a bit unbalanced because of the continued haunting of his apartment by his wife's cat,...
(The entire section is 1669 words.)