Review: “Goddess of Mercy” by Bruce Sterling

2 of 5 stars.

This story appears in After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited by Paula Guran. Written in 2012, “Goddess of Mercy” barely conceals its contemporary commentary on the current American international war effort of the past 13 years in the name of The War on Terror. Ostensibly, the setting is Tsushima Island between Japan and South Korea in a near future after Tokyo has been nuked into non-existence by the North Koreans who in turn are decimated by the Americans. Japan, without a new capital, has divided in to a North and South Japan. Tsushima has devolved into a lawless, multinational pirate stronghold.

Most of the plot involves the interactions between a Japanese, peace activist trying to win release for one of the many Japanese nationals held hostage by the main pirate syndicate on Tsushima and her guide-host, Yoshida, a younger journalist with little interests beyond his own journalistic efforts on the current situation on Tsushima. It’s an interesting set-up that does not go far in any direction.

What I found most interesting was the sometimes blatant and sometimes barely veneered commentary on current American policies and attitudes. Within the anthology, this proves to be the most overtly political of the included stories, especially when one considers the lack of a single American character:

. . . the Americans had already much seen the like in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Nigeria. “Boots on the ground” rarely triumphed against “global guerrillas.” The insurgents merely scattered, regrouped, and left their roadside bombs to kill soldiers. . . .the Americans did possess tremendous air power and precision satellite targeting. So the Americans pounded Tsushima. They pulverized the island’s harbors, bridges, power plants, and telecom towers.

–Yoshida scowled. “That’s the problem with you peacenik feminists: you have no ideological insight! Pirate, anti-pirate, that is just pure dialectic! A covert War on Terror is the same as the Terror itself. It all becomes the same in the long run! Once you abandon the quest for social justice, it just becomes a matter of market price.”

–[Yoshida] “If there was anyone in charge here, the Americans would kill him with a drone bomb. That’s what they always do.”

–[Yoshida] “Everybody thought the Americans were killing those pirates with drones. Just more Americans shooting more terrorists with their robot airplanes.”

This is not to say that all political commentary is directed at the Americans. The Koreas, Japan, Russia, Somalia, and Osama bin Laden all get mentions here. However, the commentary did not drive this particular story towards any sort of satisfactory end.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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