Strange Horizons, October 17, 2011

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Strange Horizons, October 17, 2011

“Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel” by Shaenon K. Garrity

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

This tale is about librarians Bev, Carol, and Ted, (and Liz, but we never hear from her) who struggle to catalog an Infinite Library and to save it from politicians who want to close it down or demolish it.

Written in a casual, non-literary style, reminiscent of a personal journal or notebook, it was slow to get going, but the concept is unique and kept me reading.  Turns out this was a speech made to a city council meeting in an attempt to save the library.

A bit of excitement happens when library squatters become hostile. Taking a break from stoking campfires with stolen books or peeing in the aisles, the squatters use “crude spears” to assault the librarians. I never understood why. They back off though, when Bev returns fire with a taser.

It seems all the library’s books are Moby Dick, Cujo, or a “random Nora Roberts novel.” Why Bev, Carol, and Ted wanted to keep cataloging the same three books over and over again is a mystery.

Eventually, Ted asks Bev, “Why did you fight so hard for the library?” (and) “I mean why did you, specifically, fight for it? You said it was just rooms full of nonsense.” Bev replies: “I don’t know . . . I think I like that the job never ends. There’s always another room to catalog. Every Moby-Dick is different, and we’ll never file them all.”

I had a job once that seemed futile and never-ending, but I didn’t appreciate the position.

This author also wrote, “The All-Night Truck Stop Polka Band” which I reviewed some time back and enjoyed . . . this one, not as much. Clever basic idea though.