Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Office Of Mercy - Ariel Djanikian


The Office Of Mercy
Ariel Djanikian
Viking

Natasha Wiley lives a life based on ethical thinking developed by the Alpha generation of her people, the inhabitants of America-Five.  The people spend their days working for the betterment of the lives of their fellow citizens.  America-Five is one of many self-contained settlements; underground habitats made necessary by the Storm that decimated the world.  The Outside is considered dangerous and contaminated.  Sadly, there are still humans who live Outside.  These people are called the Tribes.  The citizens of the settlements believe it is their ethical duty to alleviate the suffering of the Tribes whenever possible. 
 
Natasha works in the Office Of Mercy, the department that tracks weather patterns, migrations of animals, and the movements of various Tribes.  It’s an important job, since the Office Of Mercy is the personification of ethical thinking, directly responsible for ending the Tribes’ suffering in “sweeps” of various groups.  As a junior member of the office, Natasha serves in a supportive capacity.  She wanted this assignment, and is proud of her work.  But she’s always had a fascination for the Outside.  Despite her education and visits to the Office Of Health, she’s never really let go of a desire to see the Outside for herself.  Of course, she keeps these occasional unethical thoughts to herself.
 
After a particularly successful sweep, Natasha is thrilled when her mentor, Jeffrey, selects her to join a small group who will venture Outside to observe what is left in the swept area.  It’s an honor, since Natasha, at twenty-four, is part of the youngest generation in the settlement.  The group dresses in protective biosuits and exits through an airlock into the Outside.  It should take a few hours and satisfy her curiosity about the larger world.  Instead, Natasha comes face-to-face with members of a Tribe.  They’re not at all what she expected.  Shockingly, they seem to have speech, reasoning, and emotional capabilities.  This encounter changes everything for Natasha.
 
This is both a post-apocalyptic novel and a philosophical study on human nature.  The citizens are raised in carefully-planned, carefully-taught generations.  They learn as children that greed for food is a useless remnant of a time, centuries ago, when people had to compete for food.  They learn that feeling sorry for the Tribes is a misplaced empathy that has no place in the modern world.  They learn so much about the mind, but so little about the soul.  Their technology is advanced, but their society is sterile.  Natasha loves the learning, is comforted by the ethical teachings, and believes in what they do in the Office Of Mercy.  But there’s always a little bit of doubt; a vague yearning for something else.  Something that makes her feel different.
 
The author has built a world that seems realistic and makes sense on both fronts.  The people who live in the sterile, sealed settlements have reasons and history and their actions make sense for them.  Instead of everyone marching in lockstep, though, there is a small group of people who question things.  That’s accepted as a bit of an annoyance, but also as something to be expected in any free society.  The Tribes look at the settlements as places of evil.  That makes perfect sense, too, given their experience.  In each group, each person we meet is an individual.  Each individual deals with events in an individualistic way.  It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel.  From world-building to characterizations to plot, THE OFFICE OF MERCY is a unique book and a fascinating read.  I look forward to much more from this author.
 
Rating: 8
March 2013
ISBN# 978-0-670-02586-2 (hardcover)

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