Debt, Drugs, and Dystopia

K.M. Szpara has created an all-too-plausible dystopia with Docile. Under a federal law, debt transfers to the next of kin, meaning one generation becomes responsible for the previous generation's financial responsibilities (student, medical, etc.), leading to intergenerational poverty for most of the population. The only way to realistically pay off this debt is to temporarily sell oneself into slavery to the elite. Bishop Pharmaceuticals has developed Dociline, a drug that not only makes its recipients more amenable to whatever is demanded of them, but also causes memory loss of the most horrific incidents of their slavery. However, its effects can last long after the final dose, and Dociles have a limited number of rights, including the right to refuse Dociline. This is exactly what our protagonist, Elisha, does, confounding his owner, Alex, the scion of Bishop Pharmaceuticals. While some might be put off by the graphic sex, Szpara raises important issues of consent, free enterprise, and the costs of dissent to the different social classes in this novel of the near future. Like Docile? There are more dystopias where that came from.

Missouri Vaun's Return to Earth series features lesbian romance on a resource-depleted Earth. The rich literally live above it all, and social class is one of the complications to relationships.  A mostly female cast makes a nice change from traditional science fiction fare.

Corporate Gunslinger by Doug Engstrom also deals thoughtfully with crushing debt in dystopia, leading the protagonist, Kira Clark, to armed, individual battle with insurance claimants for her company masters. Jumping back and forth in time, we see how Kira ended up on the eve of one last fight that will either make her or kill her. 

Karin Boye's Kallocain is a science fiction classic from Sweden in the vein of 1984 in which unassuming scientist Leo Kall invents a drug that forces the recipient to tell the truth. At last, both criminality and private thought can be eliminated. However, the World State cannot be trusted with Kallocain, and neither can Leo. 

Another book dealing with pharmaceuticals and their consequences is Oval by Elvia Wilk. Aja lives with her boyfriend, Louis, in mid-21st Century Berlin in a smart house that still has a few bugs to be worked out. Louis is grieving his mother by developing a drug that gets people high on generosity, hopefully ending capitalism. He wants to test it on Aja and Berlin's club scene. While an empathetic look at relationships, this is also a biting satire of corporate do-goodism.

Have you read more dystopian novels? Tell us in the comments.

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