The quality of mercy
Not an ardent reader of Science Fiction, I approach it like a child lectured that eating vegetables is a Good Thing and should be undertaken frequently: I'm always glad afterward but rarely pursue the experience.
Predictably, when an advance copy of Ariel Djanikian's The Office of Mercy arrived among some historical fiction, chick-lit, and literary titles, I picked up everything else first. But then my Sci-Fi Deficiency instinct kicked in, and I scanned the cover more closely. Sold!
It was the creepy eye that fascinated me. Strategically set in the foreground and encased in metal, it regarded me with a glazed, shattered look from an incongruous forest glade lit from above with eerie green shafts: definitely an Orwellian vibe.
Then, imagine my chagrin when, post-reading, I realized that the eyeball is a helmet with a shattered lens. For me, the lexicon of cover art graphics would suggest that helmet=classic sci-fi; eyeball=psychological or dystopian fiction. So let's call my error prescient; The Office of Mercy actually is dystopian. That's great news for Hunger Games fans.
Through the eyes of 24-year-old Natasha Wiley, readers absorb the sophistication and logic of life in America-Five, one of several domed communities dotting the map in the post-Storm world. As with the best of dystopian lit, the tone compels one to begin questioning the leaders' self-proclamation of utopian existence even before evidence to the contrary materializes. I enjoyed reading that, despite lofty posturings of ethical intent and carefully honed priorities, teams from the various Americas continually compete for population and "sweep" statistics. Some things never change.
America-Five's most solid claim to superiority: it has a library. While other communities were buttressing their structures and gathering seed, livestock, and scientific supplies in advance of the Storm, only America-Five's directors had the vision to stockpile information: books, digitized data, paper records. Eventually (this will not surprise librarians, educators, and city officials everywhere) the realization dawned that manuals for moral instruction and simulators for entertainment and schooling just weren't enough.
Citizens craved more: access to information "beyond what the individual memory could retain".
In the sleek, gadgety community--vertically stacked grain cultivation, labs stocked with genetically tailored replacement parts, textiles that regenerate when torn--the library boasts a couple of low-tech but much appreciated features: comfy plush chairs and soundproof conference rooms.
Hmmmm. We're frequently lobbied to acquire those things now. Some things never change.
I selfishly wish that Ms. Djanikian would pen another story (The Office of Mercy is on our March order list), this time starring the library. Our staff could propose innovations to maximize its appeal:
- Keyboards and workstations that self-sanitize after each logout
- Study rooms that morph to accommodate 2 to 20 people without changing the footprint of the space
- Window blinds that allow all the natural light into the building despite being closed by the single reader sitting in front
- Even more plush chairs and soundproof rooms
Not that we deserve creativity points; we've just been listening to our customers.