DOMECHILD by Shiv Ramdas
In the City, where machines take care of everything, lives Albert, an ordinary citizen with an extraordinary problem: He’s being blackmailed into becoming the first person in living memory to actually do something.
What begins as a chance encounter with an outlaw child swiftly spirals out of control as Albert is trapped between the authorities and the demands of his unusual blackmailer. Forced to go on the run for his life, he finds himself in a shadow world of cyber-junkies, radicals and rebels, where he discovers the horrifying truth behind the City, a truth that will make him question everything he has ever known.
Through my eyes and head
“Perfection is vigilance. Nobody is perfect until everybody is. Everybody is guilty until nobody is.”
“Welcome to the perfect world. Where everyone is replaceable. Biological parts serviced by mechanical parts in a giant plastic bubble: that’s what they were.”
As the blurb above suggests, it is a dystopian fiction (I like the name speculative fiction better) and am unsure if it has an element of utopia that the characters are journeying towards, as this is the first part of the sequel.
The premise is brilliant. The plot is built around the question – what happens when our love for social-networking reaches a stage where we turn into cyber-junkies and our last days are spent in rehab getting rid of the information-saturation in our minds? What is the process and what will the repercussions be? Awesome theme for a story and is very relevant for today’s world where our communications are more and more virtual than physically real.
The story opens with Albert living in the City (Dome and thus called the Domechild), is on his normal day of work and witnesses lawbots drag Tweedledum away from his desk at the Employment Department, where everyone works. Albert feels the need to help Tweedledum but resists as isolation of individuals is the norm and physical interaction with each other is a punishable offence. Albert helplessly witnesses Tweedledum dragged off by lawbots (Programmed law enforcement machines).
On the very day, when he is returning home, misses his transportation and decides to cut across the open parking lot with metal junk piled around. While he is trying to get home on time and before the curfew, things change. He witnesses a group of young kids trying to mug him. In no time he is caught between lawbots firing and little kids running amok in tattered clothes getting shot at, heads blown off and killed. Albert is able to rescue only one nine year old girl, Theo. He takes her home and learns the fact from Theo, that there is life outside the Dome, unlike what the Dome-children have been taught at the Academy. Also, he has to stay vigilant and off the lawbots radar to survive and to keep Theo safe.
The following day, Albert leaves Theo at home and goes to work and the unthinkable happens. A machine called Storage Unit E (SUE) takes advantage of his quandary with Theo, blackmails Albert ordering him to file a petition on her behalf to assist her death/demolition. Seeing no way out of the sticky situation, he does as he is told. Lawbots are now after Albert. To keep Theo and himself safe, he runs with her trying to get her home.
How Albert and Theo get home and what happens after is the plot. Also who is Theo and why is she important to the Valley People (people outside the Dome) forms the rest of the story.
I loved the satirical tone of the book bubble wrapped in subtle wit. Some examples that come to mind right away – “Check your coats and lives at the door.” Or “…passing forward like electricity through human conductors.” Or “Space, money, food, women. Many things. Men do not need a reason to fight,” are all done well. There are many more such snippets that are sure to draw a chuckle out of the readers.
Also, the best part of the story is the diametrically opposed worlds of the Dome and the Valley. Everything is so different. One is in utter chaos (just like the real world) with addicts, infighting for power and treachery. The other is the pristine Dome world (like a honey comb) where everything is controlled by machines and is in absolute order. In a subtle manner the author brings the differences showing where we are today and where we’ll be in about 50-60 years if we don’t take control of our overzealous madness and curb our over dependence on machines.
Decorations to the plot:
I like the concept of Simpets where a simulated toy works like a pet making all kinds of noises that domestic pets make. I thought that was a nice addition.
Conveyer belts used for transportation was a nice touch to the Dome.
Coffee not being replaced by some other drink in the Dome was both satirical and funny.
Setting and Characters:
Since it is a dystopian fiction, the worlds in which the characters live-in play a significant role. To the most part it is done well. It is beautifully laid out layer by layer and is spaced well. Also, it peels off like the skin of an onion and does not read like an information dump, which is commendable. However, the description of the tunnels was stretched a bit too long. They run for pages after pages and I was exhausted by the time Theo and Albert and the others reached the Valley.
All the characters were reasonably done well, except for Theo and Vail. The dialogues and the understanding a nine year old has is unbelievable. The only good part was her ripping the Simpet open trying to find the live pets was cute and perfectly nine. In many scenes she talks like a 24 year old. May be extraordinary circumstances leave markers for an extraordinary personality and traits to emerge. Vail seems to be an important character but nothing much is known except that he is a nonconformist and a rebel trying to capture the Valley.
Interestingly, all the character’s physical appearance emerge over the expanse of the book except Albert. I could not imagine him. However, I enjoyed knowing his mind and thought. I am more interested in the thought of the characters than their physical traits and was okay with the characterization.
IMHO language should not be a distraction from the story but should blend into the plot. Here, I had to stop a few times, admire a line or two and then get back into the story.
The progression of the story is painfully slow. Except for the last 100 pages, I had to stop a couple of times and get back to the reading after a strong cup of coffee.
The descriptions were overwhelming and overdone.
Also, there were too many repetitions and redundancies in sentences and paragraphs. Many a time I went, “I already know that… tell me what happens in the story.” (Ex. – Read the section where the characters are talking about the pit).
I disliked how characters cut off the dialogue (If it was once or twice, it’d be fine) and repeat the same thing in a question format, was quite unpalatable to me.
A good first attempt. I had a feeling the author was trying too hard to impress. And my only advice would be – Let go and write. And please get a better editing team for your second book. The redundancies should have been caught by them, if the author missed out.