The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian

OfficeofMercyTitle: The Office of Mercy
Author: Ariel Djanikian
Publisher: Viking
First Published: 2013
Genre:
Dark Science Fiction / Post Apocalyptic Dystopian Romance

The setting is the mostly depopulated eastern portion of North America a few centuries from the present in a bunker/city known as America-Five. Other Americas are said to exist, but they do not factor into the story.

The backstory, revealed appropriately in bits of conversation and introspection, suggests that most of humanity was intentionally exterminated by the Yangs, the group that originally built and populated the America bunker cities, and perhaps other places. Who exactly the Yangs were, a bunch of ultra-rich survivalists, a governmental hierarchy, a religious cult, or something else, is left vague. Their intent was apparently to kill all of the people on the planet other than themselves, and their justification for this seems to be that the population had become unsustainable and civilization was on the verge of collapse. People were killing one another in conflicts over resources. Others were dying of starvation. Exterminating them all would end their pointless suffering. It would be merciful.

The Yangs failed in this. Some small populations of humanity survived and went on to create the ‘tribes.’ The Yangs themselves were overthrown by the Alphas, who may have been a faction or the children of the original Yangs. So much for the backstory.

The main character of the book, Natasha, is a resident of America-Five. She works in the Office of Mercy. Their job is to locate and ‘sweep’ any tribes entering the area around their bunker city. The preferred method is to use a ‘nova’ (assumed to be something like a tactical nuke) to exterminate whole tribes at a time, although manual sweeps using Office of Mercy ground troops with small arms are also done when necessary.

Natasha comes to question what she is doing, about the rightness of it, which leads her to take actions and make discoveries, some of which are unexpected.

This book is technically well-written. The prose is professional. There is no dump of information to relate the backstory in a prologue or in lengthy exposition. The writing is good, but the story isn’t. I didn’t find it so, in any case. I read fiction primarily for enjoyment, and in that regard, this book fails for reasons both large and small.

Apart from being depressingly dark and dismal, the book contains no characters I could force myself to care about. None of them is admirable. None tries to achieve anything that I felt worthy of succeeding. None captured my sympathy. None was even especially likeable.

I found the backstory implausible. Although no one can accurately foresee the future, the one that preceded the ‘Storm’ (the attempted global extermination) left far too many questions as to how it came about. To me, it seemed so unlikely I could not suspend disbelief enough to accept it for the sake of a story that had no characters or goals I could care about.

The philosophical questions it seems to ask are: Is mercy killing of people ethical? Is it ever justifiable? Can genocide ever be seen as an unfortunate necessity? This story takes no clear stand, but seems to lean toward a ‘yes’ to all of these. Maybe the point is that sometimes things are so bad there are no ethical choices. I’m not prepared to say this is true, but this is a work of fiction. Sometimes fiction can reveal deep truths using events that never have and never will happen. This does not do that.

There are also some little, niggling things. Two especially struck me as strange. America-Five grows its children in vats. They grow replacement organs for their citizens the same way. Okay. Not a problem. This is a plausible future tech. But America-Five also keeps livestock. Why aren’t they growing their meat in vats? It’s the same technology. The other minor logical disconnect was that they have something like tactical nukes and satellites, but they rely on security cameras mounted in trees to monitor the tribes. Why no spy satellites? Why no surveillance drones? They obviously have the technology for these, but they leave themselves blind to the movements of the tribes they both fear and wish to ‘help’ by killing them mercifully.

I expect this book will appeal to some readers. Dark, dystopian novels do have a following, which is why I suppose traditional publishers keep publishing them. This is just another of that type. It did not appeal to me, however, and I cannot recommend it.

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About Dave

A reader and writer of speculative fiction. See my website for more information on me and my writing. http://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/

Posted on March 24, 2013, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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