Szpara’s disquieting and riveting debut raises pressing questions about power and consent amid plentiful kinky gay sex scenes. Set in a near-future America where pharmaceuticals are used to induce sexual submission, 21-year-old Elisha Wilder sells himself into sexual slavery as a Docile to erase his parents’ crushing debt. Alexander Bishop, 30-year-old heir to the fortune behind the memory-erasing, compliance-ensuring drug Dociline, buys Elisha for a life-term to prove to his family that he shares their values and is ruthless enough to head the company. But angry, defiant Elisha refuses to take Dociline, having witnessed the drug’s effects on his mother, and Alex resorts to harsh conditioning, sexual punishment, and force to make Elisha his submissive. As Elisha begins to cave under Alex’s training, their relationship evolves into something resembling a romance, baffling both Elisha’s family and Alex’s elite social circle. But when a former lover’s jealousy pushes Alex to take extreme action, the novel veers into a layered courtroom drama with plenty of surprises. Elisha’s rapid conversion to docile and Alex’s limited self-awareness, however, cloud this sharply written examination of consent. This queer dystopia is an arresting, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying challenge. (Mar.)
In Maryland, Next of Kin laws mean that all debt accumulated in life passes down to your children, with debtors' prisons a harsh reality. To become a Docile means getting your generations of debt paid off. It also means becoming an indentured servant for whatever services your contract owner desires. The drug Dociline helps users hide from the emotional and physical trauma, but everything has a price. To protect his family, Elisha becomes a Docile to Alexander Bishop, one of the family that created and oversees the drug. Elisha has chosen to refuse Dociline—but not his owner. Explicit sex, mental and physical dominance, and control are strong beats within a story of two young men discovering the truth about their own lives and those of others around them. VERDICT This powerful debut is filled with achingly tender and brutally raw prose. Szpara strikes out at capitalism as well as the pharmaceutical trade and its effects, while dancing on the emotional knife's edge between love and obedience.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton
The relationship between a young debtor and the trillionaire who owns him serves as a parable for the ills of capitalism.
Debut novelist Szpara imagines an only slightly more dystopian United States than the one that exists today, in which the wealth gap has grown so large that the country is more or less split into trillionaires and debtors. Debtors inherit their family's debt, increasing it exponentially over time. To pay it off, many sign up to become slaves for a predetermined amount of time, with the "choice" to inject a drug called Dociline that turns them into a kind of blissful zombie who has no memory, pain, or agency for the duration of their term. The drug is supposed to wear off within two weeks, but when Elisha Wilder's mother returned from her debt-paying term, it never did, leaving her docile indefinitely. To resolve the rest of his family's debt, Elisha becomes a Docile to none other than Alex Bishop, the CEO of the company that manufactures Dociline. He invokes his right to refuse the drug, one of the only Dociles ever to do so. Alex enacts a horrifying period of brainwashing in order to modify Elisha's behavior to mimic that of an "on-med." The resulting relationship between them is disturbing. As Alex wakes up to his complicity in a broken system—"I am Dr. Frankenstein and I've fallen in love with my own monster"—he becomes more sympathetic, for better or worse. As Elisha suffers not only brainwashing, rape, and abuse, but the recovery that must come after, his love for—fixation with, dependence on—Alex poses interesting questions about consent: "Being my own person hurts too much….Why should an opportunity hurt so much?" However, despite excellent pacing and a gripping narrative, Szpara fails to address the history of slavery in America—a history that is race-based and continues to shape the nation. This is a story with fully realized queer characters that is unafraid to ask complicated questions; as a parable, it functions well. But without addressing this important aspect of the nation and economic structures within which it takes place, it cannot succeed in its takedown of oppressive systems.
An engrossing and fast-paced read that doesn't hit the mark it aims for.
Szpara is the rare author able to tackle trauma and healing without flinching.” N. K. Jemisin
“Don't call K.M. Szpara's Docile a dystopia. This book is something much stranger and yet closer to our own reality. Szpara has an amazing gift for immersing us in a world of exploitation and unbearable tenderness, and making it feel familiar and inescapable. Reading Docile changed me and left me with a new awareness of the structures of oppression that surround me. This book is an unforgettable story of human connection and the struggle to remain yourself in a world of debtors and creditors.” Charlie Jane Anders
“An unflinching examination of class and bleakest capitalism. Brilliant. Properly chilling.” Stoya
“An ambitious and provocative debut, smooth to read yet thorny to grapple with.” The New York Times
“Docile is queer and kinky and doesn’t shy away from the complicated questions that can come into play with those intersecting realities” WIRED
“If you're not careful, this disturbing, sexy, disturbingly sexy book will infect your brain, and you'll start wondering whether its miserable world is very different from our own, and how much choice any of us really have in this capitalist hellscape where so many of our options are set at birth. And then you might want to do something about it.” Sam J. Miller
“Startlingly plausible and delicately insightful, this is a book that will haunt you.” Seanan McGuire
“An unputdownable scifi dystopian erotica human rights masterpiece reminiscent of The Claiming of Sleeping Beautybut this time, the beauty fights back.” Delilah S. Dawson
“This is what Fifty Shades of Grey could have been, if only it had been more brutally honest with itself.” Jenn Lyons
“Docile is an intricate exploration of power, privilege, and class dynamics. Szpara has successfully delivered a novel that is unflinching in its sensuality as well as its scrutiny.” Sarah Gailey
“This powerful debut is filled with achingly tender and brutally raw prose. Szpara strikes out at capitalism as well as the pharmaceutical trade and its effects, while dancing on the emotional knife's edge between love and obedience.” Library Journal starred review
“As powerful as it is plausible, Docile is a parable about consent, twisted love and challenging systemic abuse.” Shelf Awareness
“This queer dystopia is an arresting, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying challenge.” Publishers Weekly
“Brutally candid and endlessly readable, Docile is a chilling look into our all-too-possible dystopian future. Szpara has written a sharp, insightful warning about the dangers of greed, debt, Big Pharma and capitalism that shouldn’t be ignored.” Ms. Magazine
“An erotic and emotionally-complex tale unfolds between the two men, told through their alternating perspectives. Think Brave New World meets Fifty Shades of Grey but with an LGBTQ bent. Don’t be surprised if this book stays with you long after you finish reading.” Baltimore Magazine
“The hook may be titillatingto save his family, a farm boy sells himself, nudge nudge wink winkbut Docile follows through on that premise to its deepest roots and its most satisfying conclusion. Docile is an absolute feast.” Cecilia Tan
“A powerful, complex story that explores the dark consequences of a future with inherited debt. Docile is unflinching in its examination of class and wealth disparity while remaining a compelling and emotionally nuanced story.” C.L. Polk
“K.M. Szpara’s dazzling debut is gripping, intricate, and sexy as hell. In these times of capitalistic dysfunction, his terrifying, debt-soaked future America is all too believable, and the characterswith all their flaws and complex desires will linger with you long after the last page. I didn’t want to stop reading!” Neon Yang
“With unflinching empathy, Szpara explores the depths of love, complicity, and all the systems that bind us.” Ruthanna Emrys