Posted at Shelf Inflicted
I was feeling a need to revisit old favorites and couldn’t resist picking up this 1992 Nebula Award winner from the library.
It was as enjoyable, humorous, smart and heartbreaking as I remembered it.
38-year-old Jack Sperry lives in Veritas, a modern city where its inhabitants all undergo a painful shock treatment known as “the burn” when they are young in order to render them unable to tell a lie. Without the little deceptions that preserve a person’s feelings, provide comfort, prevent conflicts, or make children happy (yes, there is a Santa Claus!), the world Jack lives in is an indifferent and emotionless place.
Jack gets satisfaction from his work as a “deconstructionist”, evaluating and destroying the art and literature from the “Age of Lies”. Yet, that doesn’t stop Jack from becoming interested in Martina, a “dissembler” who writes verses for greeting cards. His wife, Helen, feels they ought to turn her into the Brutality Squad for her poetic lies, but they have bigger issues to worry about.
Their young son, Toby, has been bitten by a rare rabbit and infected with the deadly Xavier’s Plague. The doctors in Veritas have told the truth, but Jack isn’t ready to give up. He doesn’t want Toby to learn the truth about his diagnosis, so he reads up on the mind-body connection in The Journal of Psychic Healingand learns that there is hope.
Jack wonders how Martina has overcome her conditioning, and wants to do so himself. He journeys underground, to the city of Satirev, where he meets others like Martina, people who engage in those deceptions that give hope, provide comfort, and make others happy. He hopes this will help Toby combat his illness.
Despite the fact there were lots of white lies and hard truths going around, this was a story about love, trust, and the strong bond between parent and child.
“Because, you see, it was like this: on his fifth birthday we’d taken Toby to the Imprisoned Animals Garden in Spinoza Borough. Fawns roamed the petting zoo at will, prancing about on their cloven hoofs, noses thrust forward in search of hand-outs. Preschoolers swarmed everywhere, feeding the creatures peanut brittle, giggling as the eager tongues stroked their palms. Whenever another person’s child laughed upon being so suckled, I was not especially moved. Whenever my own did the same, I felt something else entirely, something difficult to describe. I believe I saw the alleged God.”