Natasha Wiley, 24, works in the “Office of Mercy” in America-Five, one of 158 dome-capped settlements that were constructed to withstand the “storms” some 305 years prior launched by “The Alphas” inside them. The storms eliminated from existence the “fifty-nine billion suffering souls” left outside of the domes. Now each dome’s Office of Mercy executes [sic] periodic “sweeps” to clean up any remaining survivors, thanks to which an eight million additional beings have received “relief” from their suffering on the outside. The Alphas, who are still in power thanks to bio-enhancements, feel it is their ethical duty to make up for their failings in the original Storm by not killing everyone. Good sweeps are celebrated with parties inside the domes.
In her department, Natasha is a favorite of Jeffrey, 43, who is in a position of authority and who is currently a hero for singlehandedly putting in the motion the latest sweep. Jeffrey constantly exhorts Natasha to remember the “Ethical Code” which teaches them how merciful these sweeps are because they end the inevitable pain of those on the outside. He encourages her to make sure her emotional “wall” is in place, so she can do her job satisfactorily. He also wants her to be able to help with the actions taken after the sweeps, when operatives actually leave the dome and go into the field to make sure there are no survivors by shooting all the bodies in the back of the head.
But Natasha has doubts, and wants to see these tribal people for herself. What she learns surprises her, and provides her with an opportunity to change things for the entire earth.
Discussion: While there is a fair amount of suspense as the plot develops, its force is abated by the predictability of pretty much every aspect of it. (And like other books of this ilk, there are the usual propaganda slogans; I particularly enjoyed “The road to peace is always paved with corpses.” Not quite as sophisticated, however, as Thomas Jefferson’s take on that idea: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”)
The only unpredictable element – the actions of the character Tezo, didn’t make any sense whatsoever.
One very weird aspect of this book is the romance between the two protagonists, the male being not only twice the age of the female, but having served in a father role for her. This Woody-Allen-esque plot element receives only a whisper of meta-commentary from either the author or the other characters.
Evaluation: This adult dystopia is not badly written, but is extremely derivative and predictable. If you have read 1984, Never Let Me Go, and/or Dave Egger’s The Circle, you probably don’t need to read the same plot yet again.
Published in paperback by Penguin Books, 2014