SFF Shenanigans: Docile

Every month Jess and Karena will discuss the book they chose for the Hodderscape SFF Challenge. This month is Docile by K.M. Sparza. Yes, if you’ve been paying attention it was supposed to be Creatures of Want and Ruin, but we got an opportunity to read Docile early so we grabbed it. We’re still going to read it, so keep watching this space. Also this is going to be VERY spoilery. Since this is coming out the month before the book, be warned!

Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

Docile is the sexy, startling, near-future, science-fiction debut from Hugo and Nebula finalist 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 childrens’ 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.

What did you like best about this book?


Karena: Sparza pointed out, maybe a bit more explicitly than we’re used to, the hellscape that is in store for us if we continue down the path of capitalism as we know it. The writing is raw and Sparza doesn’t hold back. There are only a couple books that have left me gasping for air reading them, this is one and Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State is the other. It’s almost like a car crash in the sense it’s so painful, but you can’t look away. I have issues with things in the story, but at the same time there was no way for me to stop reading it. Sparza lays it all out for you and it’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable. The first sex scene between Elisha and Alex is complex. Is it titillating? Is it problematic? I think the answer to both is yes and it’s hard to reconcile that in your own mind.

Jess: I think you’ve put it really well there. My favorite thing about the book was definitely how uncomfortable it made me. Sparza did an amazing job of making me walk that line between being really uncomfortable about what’s happening and really wanting to know what happens next.

What did you like least about this book?

Karena: Honestly, this is a hard question when we’re talking about Docile. It’s about people selling themselves into indentured servitude and drugging themselves to oblivion to remove their consciousness from the horrors that are committed upon their bodies. And then you have Elisha who knows EXACTLY what’s happening to him because he refuses the drug. I have a hard time with the relationship between Alex and Elisha at the end. I don’t want them to be together. I don’t see how they can be together. Couple’s therapy is so in their future.

Jess: I agree. This isn’t a book where “like” and “dislike” are really useful terms for me. It’s more that the entire book made me uncomfortable, but in a way that was mostly useful/productive. If I think about “dislike” as another way to say “made me uncomfortable in an unproductive way,” then I’m with you on the relationship between Alex and Elisha at the end. Can people have relationships with someone who was abusive in the past? Maybe? I don’t have an answer for that. Can Alex and Elisha have a healthy relationship in the future? Sparza hasn’t convinced me that they can.

What other books did this remind you of?

Karena: I don’t think there is another book like this.

Jess: I recently saw it compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, and that’s a comparison I can’t stop thinking about. It’s definitely different (I don’t want to gloss over the fact that Handmaid centers women and Docile makes the deliberate choice to center men, even though we know there are female-identified Dociles), but I don’t think that comp came out of nowhere. They’re asking similar questions, I think. While Handmaid is asking what happens if religious fundamentalism/the patriarchy are pushed to their logical extremes, I think this asks similar questions about capitalism. It’s a recognizable kind of horror.

Karena: You’re right. I did see the Handmaid comp. It might have even been by the publisher themselves. I had forgotten. I totally agree with you now that I remember that.

Which characters in the book did you like best? What characters did you like the least?

Karena: This is a very complex question to answer. Liking or disliking is complicated. Do we like Dutch after we find out he was a double agent, even though the things he did undercover to Elisha were completely heinous? Is Alex actually redeemable? Elisha’s best friend Abby is pretty good. Elisha breaks my heart throughout the book. Mariah is obviously the fucking worst.

Jess: I agree with you on this point. I think that with the exception maybe of Mariah and the Third, very few characters were morally 100% right or wrong, which makes the question of likability a lot harder for me. The character I liked the least was probably Elisha’s dad – I thought he was unnecessarily hard on Elisha in a way that didn’t really garner any sympathy from me.

How well do you think the author built the world in the book?

Karena: Sparza terrifyingly created a complete world. With the current political environment we find ourselves in, I can absolutely see how this could be a reality.

Jess: Worldbuilding is such a delicate question in these kinds of dystopic books. It’s a very different kind of worldbuilding than high fantasy or space opera or something that requires you to establish an entirely different world in terms of the “map.” I don’t know which kind is easier to pull off well. In any case, I do think Sparza established the way that this world functions fairly seamlessly. Sometimes it can be clunky when you’re dealing with “our world, but different,” but he wove all of that into the story in a way that felt really natural to me.

What did you think of the ending? Was it satisfying? Did it make sense?

Jess: Okay, so honestly, this is where the book kind of fell apart for me. I thought the first 3/4s were strong and I was so here for it. But the last quarter felt rushed. Here’s the thing – either Elisha’s conditioning happened too quickly to begin with or his deconditioning happened too quickly. It just seemed unbelievable for him to go from completely Docile in mindset to understanding what happened to him the way that he did.
I also hated the drug that they developed to undo the effects of Dociline. The book’s message from that point forward was really unclear to me. I thought it was an evasion of the discussion about how you would actually undo this kind of horribly abusive capitalist nightmare once the system is in place. Instead of having to confront it, all of a sudden there was a drug that could undo the effects and give people their lives back. Are we supposed to believe that the system is going to continue, but at least it won’t ruin people forever? Does the existence of an antidote really make the existence of Dociline okay? It’s the “solution” that Atwood (if we’re going with that comparison) never even tried to offer us, and I think Handmaid was a stronger book for it. I would have been more satisfied without any “answers,” especially ones that I felt were sloppily deployed.
Overall, I was frustrated with the ending. I think it needed at least one more strong editorial pass. Even if the book had been longer (50 pages of content, if they were useful, could have helped a lot for me), I needed more to be satisfied with it.

Karena: Jess summed it up so perfectly that I’m gonna let that be the end. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than that.

We’re learning that maybe we shouldn’t announce our next book because we swapped the last two selections. (Jess: Yeah, we’re fickle that way. No one should be surprised.) But at time of posting we’re gonna try Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer again. We’re #JKShenanigansSFF

stack of books in front of a fireplace with the text Nonfiction November

NonFiction November: History

Here we are in week 3 of Nonfiction November. This week we’re going to History Class. We’re going to cover a socialite librarian with a secret, Britain’s Regency period, ancient queens, Victorian childrearing, a lesbian landowner in the 1800s, and the creation of Jell-O. I have very wild taste, friends.

Today’s topic: History

An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege by Heidi Ardizzone

I’ll be honest. I started this in 2017 and never finished it. Life happened and I really want to finish it. It’s top of the list on purpose. I heard about Greene on a podcast and she fascinated me. Belle da Costa Green lived quite the life and I mean to learn about it.

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austin Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morris

Another that I started (although this one’s more recently during the move) and really would like to finish. I hold a fierce fascination for this era, exclusively because of romance novels so this is way in my wheelhouse.

When Women Ruled the World: Six Egyptian Queens by Kara Cooney

Ever since they taught us about Ancient Egypt in 6th grade I was hooked. Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King was well researched, yet made sure the reader was entertained. I decided on the audio this time and was not disappointed. Cooney is engaging and knowledgable and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children by Therese Oneill

I really enjoyed Oneill’s Unmentionables so when I heard the next was going to be on the raising of Victorian children, I was interested. Unfortunately, I was less than thrilled. The Q&A style didn’t quite come through in my opinion. But the photos and captions are great.

Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma

Queer people have always existed. Unfortunately they don’t always get to live their truth which is why it’s so amazing that we actually have Anne Lister’s diaries detailing her life. She was not a perfect person (pretty much a rich landowner who gave zero fucks about her tenants), but problematic queer people also need to be recognized.

Jell-o Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom

This is the only title on the list that I’m like “why did I add this?” Then I think about how at my grandparents’ 50th anniversary they made sure to have Jell-O as a dessert for the grandkids, and how we would make Jigglers like they were something fancy (I was a poor kid in the 80s, they were fancy af) and realize Jell-O is nostalgic and comfort.

Are you reading any good history books? Share them with me!

Acquired ARCs for the week of September 16th

Every week I share which ARCs I’ve picked up from Edelweiss or Netgalley.

Netgalley

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass

I enjoyed the first of this series about an exiled courtesan who’s forced to babysit her troublemaker brother. It turned into a heist plot and man, do I love a magic heist(see my love of the movie Now You See Me. I’m excited to see what’s next for the group. It isn’t complicated world building so it’s great for those nights where I just want to lose myself in the adventure of it.

Pub date: February 4, 2020

Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

This is me telling you that Subterranean Press is putting out a collection of short stories by Seanan McGuire and you need to go pre-order it. Seanan has a gift for the short story where she packs a punch in just a short amount of words. Or she’ll send you hiding under your bed in terror. It’s obviously a gift. This also releases on Halloween so it’s an omen.

Pub date: October 31, 2019

Edelweiss

Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha

There’s no cover announced for this one yet. I love Kit Rocha’s romance series, and this is the first in their SFF series pubbed by Tor. I admit, I’m a little over halfway into it and…it feels more on the romance side of it still. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. It’s still a fun book and I’m excited to see what it means to be a Mercenary Librarian.

Pub date: May 20, 2020

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

I have a confession. I’ll read all the books about the Borgias or the Tudors. They are the tabloid trash fires of their time, just with more poisonings. It’s always interesting to see what lore or suppositions the author is going to play with. Was there incest afoot in the Borgia household? Did Cesar kill his older brother?

Pub date: February 11, 2020

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Another cover not announced because this is another Tor publication and we’re a bit of the game. This is a new to me author although he’s been around and has won the LAMBDA for best Gay Romance. I am interested to see his foray into SFF. The premise sounds fascinating. Magical creature children on an island. I’m listening.

Pub date: March 17, 2020

New Releases of September 16th

No one knows why Tuesday is new release day, but are we really going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Every week I’ll post books that I’m excited for.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

I haven’t read a lot by Woodson, but what I have read, I’ve adored. I have a feeling this is going to be no different. She’s a master at her craft and a must read author. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to sink into this story because I have a feeling once I start, I’m not going to want to be disturbed.

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

More queer SFF for 2019 and I couldn’t be happier. Add in the words quirky space opera, and this debut novel is hitting all my “what to read after A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” vibe. It’s more of an adventure story than Chamber’s story, but still a lot of fun that I think we’re all going to enjoy. With Gideon and January coming out last week, this might get pushed in the background so keep your eye out for it.

That’s it for me. It was a quiet week, but next week looks to be robust. Let me know what new releases you picked up in the comments.

Acquired ARCs for the Week of September 8th

…I’d love to tell you that I’ve read nine million books this week so I’ve acquired ten million, but that’s not the case. I got caught up in this Sims 4 decades legacy challenge which is a blog post in itself (but maybe not this blog) so reading has gone slowly. Let’s see what’s been picked up, however.

Netgalley

The Seduction of of Lady Phoebe by Ella Quinn

I’m reading this right now. I’m a fan of Quinn’s Worthington series (not to be confused with Celeste Bradley’s Wicked Worthington series, which I do all the time) and this looks to be a reissue. I haven’t read it though so fun times. This seems to be one of those rarities where the male MC is in love with the heroine right from the start, except…he makes a cake of himself and has to fix his approach…eight years later.

Pub date: October 29, 2019

The Highlander’s Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kell

I…usually am not a fan of seasonal tales (although where are my Halloween ones??? I want autumn walks through the leaves), but Vanessa Kelly is one of those authors I’ll make exceptions for. Here we have a failed nun (probably a chapter title in my memoir, to be honest) and the Highlander sent to escort her home. This is bound to go well.

Pub date: October 29. 2019

Edelweiss

The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

Tor. Do you have spies in my house? I’m guessing yes. Consistently they put out books that speak to my soul (Hi Gideon the Ninth). Also let’s talk about that cover. There’s so much too unpack: skull, swan, eyes…Our story takes place in Gilded Age New York and wow, this looks amazing. I think I’m gonna have to switch up my TBR a bit and move this one up the list. I have high hopes for it.

Pub date: April 7, 2020

The Cerulean Queen by Sarah Kozloff

…Tor. This is the conclusion to A Queen in Hiding which is strange because the books between the first and the last aren’t available as ARCs yet. However,  I’m absolutely intrigued by the concept Kozloff and Tor are about. Each book in the series is being published one month after another, which is unheard of. It’s kind of a Netflix binge. I enjoyed the first in the series and I’m definitely interested to see where we go. *

Pub date: April 21, 2020

Forever and a Duke by Olivia Drake

Did I pick this up because the dude MC has my maiden name? No. Was I pretty thrilled that an author I enjoy used my maiden name? Yes. Here we have a duke who needs a bride and an American who does not, under any circumstance, need a duke. This lady has shit to do, and he ain’t one of them. I’m always here for when the menfolk have to win over the ladies and aren’t all “love is for losers.”

Pub date: December 21, 2019

Docile by K.M Szpara

Tor. We get it. You’re the cool kid at the table. Fine. I’ll sit with you. Stop begging. I’ve heard sooo many things about this book. All of them good. As soon as I saw it was up for download, I jumped on it with the quickness. See that Charlie Jane blurb? Also Sarah Gailey is into it. The premise sounds terrifying. Having to sell yourself to pay off parental debt? I’m gonna need a lot of fun, squishy books after this. I can feel it.

Pub date: March 3, 2020

That’s it for me this week. Did any of these make your TBR? Have your own acquired ARCs you want to share with the class? Let me know in the comments.

*Updated to correct series order error.

Acquired ARCs Week of August 26th

This week’s Acquired ARCs only came from Edelweiss. Let’s see what they are.

 

A Pale Light in the Dark by K.B. Wagers

I liked Wager’s Indranan War series (even though I haven’t finished it, I really plan to) so I definitely wanted to see what this new series was all about. Consider me interested. It seems to have found family vibes, which I’m always here for. Bad ass leading lady also check. Possibly a big competition? That’s another one in its favor.

Pub date: March 3, 2020

 

 

Grown Up Pose by Sonya Lalli

I have mixed feeling’s about Lalli’s previous book The Matchmaker’s List, but I’m willing to give her another shot here. I don’t really have a lot to say here to be honest. It’s a story about a woman starting over after separating from her husband who she married at a young age, and her community’s impact on her life so there’s a lot Lalli can explore here. I hope the execution is as good as the premise.

Pub date: March 24, 2020

 

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

I had a great time with the first in this series and am working on the second now (it’s a chunkster). The idea that daughters of literature’s mad scientists would band together and have adventures? Oh man. I was there day one. I especially love that it’s told with each girl breaking into the narrative to give her side of the story or impart a snarky retort.

Pub date: October 19, 2019

 

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes

Ever since I read An Unkindness of Ghosts, I’ve been aching for another story from Rivers. When I found out they had a novella inspired by The Deep by Clipping, well, let’s just say, it couldn’t get into my hands fast enough. I read this too fast and will probably read it again soon. There are so many details that you don’t expect to find in such a short story. Haunting, mesmerizing, and impactful are all words I would use to describe this story. It is nothing short of a work of art.

 Pub date: November 5, 2019

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

Don’t lie. You squeed when you saw this. If you’re like me, you watched Shrill (hopefully you read the book as well) and were in love. Lindy’s take on feminism, pop culture, and body image is nothing short of masterful. I have been awaiting this essay collection with bated breath and am trying to hurry to write this post so I can sit in my comfy chair with a bottle of Magic Hat #9 and just devour every word of this collection.

Pub date: November 5, 2019

 

Will you pick up any of these? Did you acquire any books this week? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

#24in48 Recommendations

Originally, I was going to do a post about what I’m reading for #24in48 which is happening this weekend (click the link for the deets), however, it turns out…the spawn are finally joining us in Pittsburgh that weekend so we will be running around showing them their new city. So I thought maybe I would help with some recommendations. I’m a bookseller on hiatus, it’s the least I can do. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t generally do a lot of my heavy reading for readathons, otherwise it’ll feel like I’m not making any progress so I’ll be keeping it nice and light (in page length anyway). I’m also going to keep it to more recent books since I haven’t really talked about anything newish in the last two years on here. And away we go!

Fiction

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics (Feminine Pursuits, #1)The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Wait

F/F Regency romance is sparse on the ground when it comes to the Big 5 publishers so when I heard about this story about an astronomer who falls for an explorer’s widow? I was basically the human realization of that Fry gif. This hit all the spots. Fiber art! Science! Sexy times! All the exclamation points.

 

 

 

 

Kingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer, #1)Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau

While we are on the topic of romance, let’s talk about this romance/fantasy. To be honest, I still can’t figure out if it’s Romance with a fantasy theme or Fantasy with a romance subplot. That’s not a knock. I really liked that way Martineau blended it. As a bookseller, I just didn’t know where to shelve it. Ha! Anyway, it is a fun start to a series that I’m seriously interested in seeing where it goes.

 

 

 

An Illusion of Thieves (Chimera, #1)An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Also the first in a new series, I had a good time with this fantasy novel about a royal courtesan who is exiled when her brother steals from the wrong person and now has to keep an eye on him. It’s not flashy magic, and there’s a found family aspect which I am a huge fan of.

 

 

 

 

MiddlegameMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire

What, you haven’t heard me screaming about this book already? I’ve been reading Seanan McGuire forever and she STILL BLOWS ME AWAY with this standalone about two people, Roger and Dodger who are unexplainably linked. The technical writing alone is fantabulous. Also do yourself a favor and listen to it on audio because Amber Benson narrates and she is amazeballs. It is on the longer side that I generally don’t recommend, but  the plot’s roller coaster will keep you going.

 

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill SistersThe Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal

If you loved Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, you need Jaswal’s recent gift to the literary world (and if you haven’t read it, go do that one too). Three sisters are sent on a pilgrimage to India after their mother’s death. The catch? They don’t really see eye to eye. Themes of immigration, sisterhood, familial obligation, and culture are weaved together so beautifully here. It was one of the first books I read in 2019 and I’m still thinking about it.

 

Nonfiction

Southern Lady CodeSouthern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

Ellis’s short story collection American Housewife is my favorite recommendation for people who don’t like short stories. It’s amazing. And everything I love about it, Ellis puts in this essay collection (also great rec for people who don’t like essays. See what I did there?). This is the book to read for quick bites of wit and charm in equal measures.

 

 

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit

Another great essay collection, but this time, less funny. Solnit is spot on with most of her observations and with the state of our nation at the moment (let’s be real, forever) this hits in the spot that tells you this is all fucked up and these are the reasons why that maybe you couldn’t name.

 

 

 

We're Going to Need More WineWe Are Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

I’m just going to say what I put down for IndieNext. Writing this off as another celebrity memoir is the worst mistake you can make in your reading life. Union has put together a collection of essays covering topics of race, feminism, beauty standards, and fame that truly touch the soul. I would recommend for fans of Roxane Gay and Phoebe Robinson, for her blunt truthfulness and heart. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every essay and would read anything she writes in the future. (TW: rape)

 

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz ChickensBelieve Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

I am a huge fan of Eddie Izzard’s and have been since high school when I discovered Dress to Kill. I highly recommend the audio of this because of course I do. It’s Eddie. He talks about coming to terms with being transgender, a word he never applied to himself, his comedy career, his family, and everything in between. Then go watch all of his standup…after the readathon, of course.

 

 

Priestdaddy: A Memoir

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Ending it with one more audiobook recommendation because Lockwood herself reads it and while a lot of authors can’t pull it off, Lockwood nails it. She does fantastic impressions of her family which is worth the price of the audiobook. She recounts the years where after her husband has some health problems they move in with her conservative parents. And oh boy, it’s a doozy. You need to read it to believe this kind of wild. You’ll laugh out loud on your commute and scare the crap out of that baby sleeping in their stroller. I’m sorry. But not really.

 

So that’s it, I mean, it’s not really it because if you know me, I have more recommendations where that came from, but these are a good start. If you want more, you know where to find me.

What are some books you are recommending for people’s #24in48 needs?