Docile by K.M. Szpara
Published: March 3, 2020 by Tor
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Synopsis: There is no consent under capitalism
Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.
To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.
Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.
Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Tor!***
SPOILER ALERT: I don’t think I can actually discuss this book without spoilers, except to say it had no point.
This book was basically a slavefic erotica with a messy attempt at a moral/political/social message attempt. But it failed pretty badly on all fronts with it. Instead I was left with a book that had a good idea and a snazzy tagline but otherwise had no purpose. It gets an extra star for being well written, because the writing is very good.
I had hoped this book would make some point about the social and economic gap between the wealthy and the poor. I mean, re-instituting slavery is a rather aggressive step to deal with a debt problem so I expected there to be some kind of larger point. But this is very rarely touched upon except to be pointed out that “this person is wealthy, this person is not.” There exists no other purpose for this distinction that I could fathom. I also don’t understand how there’s seemingly two classes of people at play here (3 technically). First, we have the very poor and indebted county folk. Most of them seem to have somehow accumulated millions of dollars in debt over three generations but I am not clear how. They live in a house that was built with abandoned bits of other houses. They run a self sufficient farm. No one is college educated and all of them refuse to seek medical care. So, where exactly did all this debt come from? Never explained. Then you have the trillionaires who buy the debt of the county folk. Always trillionaires. I don’t know why, and it’s not clear how they amassed such extreme wealth either. Then they have a mostly absent third category of people who work in the city, live outside the city, and spend most of their time worried about making sure they don’t accumulate debt. They aren’t wealthy but they aren’t in debt either. But these people only become relevant in the latter half of the book so they don’t matter.
We spend the first few chapters of the book being introduced to this world system. Laws have been passed that make debt inter-generational. You inherit your parents’ debt. We later learn that this has been in place for about three generations. You have two options to handle your debt. Go to debtor’s prison or become a Docile (a slave) for a set period of time that is set forth in the contract agreed upon by you and your Patron (the one who will be paying your debt). As a Docile your Patron can do….well basically anything they wish to you, as long as they get you medical care and try to keep you alive. The wealthy seem to mainly use this power to rape their Dociles and have sex parties. I don’t know why, except so that we could put in sex scenes or make it seem more despicable. But the more we learned about the treatment of Dociles, the more I thought “you have told me nothing about debtor’s prison, but in pretty much any world it’s better than spending multiple years being raped……”
Dociles have rights…sort of. They have the right to request or refuse to use the drug Dociline (which makes them forget their memories while under its influence), they have the right to not tell anyone their real name, they have a right to medical care…and a few other things that really don’t matter. But here’s the rub. Everyone chooses to take Dociline (except Elisha it seems). Dociline makes that person agree to anything. So what is the point of insisting that there are rights they have if they have no capacity to realize that their rights may have been violated? It seemed utterly pointless. We spent a LOT of time being reminded of a Docile’s rights, but they are entirely unaware of themselves and unable to say no to anything. So they really don’t have those rights if no one is actually around to enforce them.
I knew that Alex would change course and suddenly have a change of heart about the company and Dociline, and would see Elisha as a human being and be horrified by his treatment of him. But it was also made clear to me through the writing that I was supposed to feel sorry for him. He just didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. Except that isn’t true. He knew it was wrong. He told us it was wrong over and over again. But he did it anyway. He spent 200 pages torturing and dehumanizing Elisha but then suddenly has so much regret and “loves” him. The fact that the two of them end up in a relationship at the end of the book was such bad judgment. It’s like the abused woman leaving the shelter to go back to the husband who’s been beating the crap out of her for years. That is literally what happened here. Elisha got a month or two of making his own choices and then went back to his abuser. I don’t give a damn if his abuser “changed” or was a better person, that was disgusting and cheap.
Now we come to my biggest problem with this book. It makes no sense. Literally zero sense. At first I thought this was the new debt system of the entire United States. But at the end we find out it’s only Maryland. So…..the entire federal government and 49 other states were totally okay with Maryland pretending that the Constitution doesn’t exist and that the Emancipation Proclamation, Civil War and Civil Rights Movement never happened? They just allow an entire state to reinstate slavery? No one took that decision to the Supreme Court as a gross violation of the Constitution? Really? I am expected to believe this? No sense. If it was the whole country then I could get there if you gave me an explanation. But one singular state that is allowed to do all these outlandish things with no interference or intrusion from other states or the federal government? I have a really hard time believing that is even remotely plausible.
This book is nothing more than an erotica with a snazzy tagline and a half backed premise. Which is disappointing because the writing is wonderful.