DOCILE by K.M. Szpara

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.


Title : Docile
Author : K.M. Szpara
Format : eARC
Page Count : 496
Genre : science fiction / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Tor.com
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Hello darkness, aka I don’t know what to rate what I read, my old friend..

So my biggest problem with this book had nothing to do with this book. I got stuck at 30% for almost two weeks after being beat-up by the flu and then I went into a slump. I felt no motivation to pick this back up (or anything else, really, though I felt honour bound to finish what I had started) because the beginning of this book is the most uncomfortable part.

In the beginning we are neck deep in watching Alex, our rich entitled ‘thinks he’s a do-gooder’ protagonist train our Docile protagonist, Elisha, into being the best little slave he can be — all so his family’s debt can be paid and they can be afforded a stipend so they can try not to incur any more debt. Yes, Elisha’s signed away all but his most basic rights, though some apparently still exist and yet everyone is shocked when they are called into play, but he exists inside a system where a drug was created so that you can be treated more or less like furniture. Worse than furniture, even. Anything can be done that does not do harm. That’s a.. broad range, particularly when you’re the Docile of a trillionaire and feel you are afforded the right to do anything.

But outside of the framework itself, and beyond the knee-jerk sympathy felt towards Elisha, I didn’t feel much for either of these characters. Elisha is in the unenviable position of having to sign over his life to clear his family’s debt, sure, and Alex is trying to do the best he can for his Docile who he has to actually consider a real person because he’s not on-meds, and the whole thing is just uncomfortable because until this moment, Alex never did. Consider them real people, I mean; not that anyone but the poor seem to, either, but still. The drug is his family’s legacy but, more than like, like all of the haves vs the have-nots, there’s just no consideration, no awareness, and this ends up being a thirty-year-delayed wake-up call for him — and, maybe, for society?

I’m not saying this isn’t supposed to be uncomfortable. It definitely is. And I suppose it’s no different than comparing District Twelve to District One in THE HUNGER GAMES but, like, add sex instead of violence? It was definitely good at spotlighting at decadence and depravity of this society’s culture in stark contrast to the fact that people are literally signing over years of their lives so that they, and future generations, can avoid prison or worse. But halfway through this took a sharp turn into a sorta conspiracy and then courtroom drama, all while one character is trying to recover from trauma and rediscover their agency, and it’s just a lot of things.

This was a story that I requested because I wanted to be shocked, made angry, even heartbroken, but I think I wanted to feel those emotions from the complexity of the story and less uneasy over the spoiled antics of the rich. But I think therein lies the problem. Even today, the rich are just so rich, while so many people have so much less, and it’s a tough pill to swallow to think that one day they might own people, too.

Ultimately, DOCILE seems to follow the standard (from what I know which, is, admittedly not much..) tropes of slavefic stories and I think if you go in knowing that, you’ll appreciate what Szpara does. I just wish there’d been more explored for how this had started, whether or not the rest of the world followed along (this deals primarily with only one State and while it’s mentioned vaguely that Maryland isn’t the only one, I have to wonder..) and.. I don’t know, I think I just wanted this to feel bigger than it did. But maybe I would’ve minded less if not for the slump? Which is why, well, there’s no rating.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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