Threats multiply in the dark future of Claudia Casper's Mercy Journals

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      The Mercy Journals
      By Claudia Casper. Arsenal Pulp, 231 pp, softcover

      In Canton Number 3, circa 2047, pluses clash hourly with minuses.

      In the city formerly known as Seattle, food and electricity are rationed. By the account of Allen “Mercy” Quincy’s journals, human “dominion was over”. Still, there’s a functioning world government that’s overseeing order and equitable distribution.

      Setbacks also arrive with the onslaught of new weather. Called a “threat multiplier” by the omnipresent military, it’s been largely responsible for “the die-off”—a tangle of wars, disasters, shortages, and pandemics that resulted in the termination of nearly four billion humans and countless other species.

      Despite this planetwide overview of postcataclysmic OneWorld, Claudia Casper’s third novel feels far closer in spirit to an intimate play about relationships.

      In fact, once the journal-writing 58-year-old protagonist—a lonely, self-loathing, alcoholic ex-military-officer suffering from PTSD—provides a summary of his and the world’s “ruinedness”, the story’s focus narrows considerably to dramatic interactions in a pair of tight locations: Mercy’s rundown bachelor apartment (Journal One) and an isolated family cabin on Vancouver Island (Journal Two). In each, a battle of wills takes centre stage.

      A man wrestling with ghosts, demons, shame, and regret, Mercy has spent years drunk at home or fighting the urge to drink. This pattern changed when he met an enigmatic woman, a free-spirited dancer named Ruby. The intensity of their connection, he recalls in his journal, supplied him with hope. Characteristically for dystopian literature, though, love is a supremely fragile blossom.

      With the surprise return of an aggressive and self-serving brother who often comes across as a budding sociopath, Mercy is forced to face past actions related to brutal military orders and sons he abandoned. Casper sets the men and two others on a wilderness journey where the question of how a person might be forced to act in order to protect an innocent is insistently raised and firmly answered.

      Readers after the ChickieNobs and O.N.A.N.s of speculative fiction might be disappointed when Vancouver’s Casper gradually swaps inventions of that kind for something more atavistic, like two men in a power struggle. In the author’s defence, a case can be made that most dystopias, real or imaginary, feature warring ideologues vying for supremacy.