Meanwhile in Dopamine City
Dopamine City is the story of Lonny Cush, sanitation worker and single parent, kind-hearted and red-blooded, who is trying his best to protect his kids from the hysterical hyper-reality of 21st century life.He lives in an unnamed fictional world city, dominated by a huge tech company akin to Google. A manual worker - although he has been put forward for 'retraining', a euphemism for redundancy - Lonny is out of sync with the changes in his hometown and his century, and doesn't have the means to give his quiet teenage son Egan and his precocious, ultra-demanding nine-year-old daughter Shelby (one of the most memorably awful children in literature!) what they need, or say they need. But with his mother-in-law circling for custody, and needing to win back his kids' favour after he maybe went too far in discipling Shelby, he succumbs, splashing out on the thing Shelby wants more than anything else: her first smartphone.And so begins the silken silence as she drifts off to her room and down the rabbit hole of memes, trolls, hysteria and peer-pressure, and the true, vertiginous terrors of 21st-century life start flooding into the Cush household. And what should Lonny do? Rescue her or follow her? Because who is right: Lonny, or the world he and everybody else is living in now?

Meanwhile in Dopamine City Details

TitleMeanwhile in Dopamine City
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseAug 18th, 2020
PublisherFaber & Faber
Rating
GenreFiction, Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction

Meanwhile in Dopamine City Review

  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    ‘By six o’clock my local time a hundred million people had focused their wills on a pair of runaway children in preference to matters in their own lives. As a proxy for those matters, breeding value in their brains without the risks of real life. And those children are unknown to them. They would stay unknown if they lived for a thousand years. The chemistry being deployed is there to encourage us to wave at the postman, meet a stranger’s eyes – this is how it’s relevant. Whereas their angst- ‘By six o’clock my local time a hundred million people had focused their wills on a pair of runaway children in preference to matters in their own lives. As a proxy for those matters, breeding value in their brains without the risks of real life. And those children are unknown to them. They would stay unknown if they lived for a thousand years. The chemistry being deployed is there to encourage us to wave at the postman, meet a stranger’s eyes – this is how it’s relevant. Whereas their angst-by-proxy via advertising platforms designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the brain is making users happy to intrude until they crush to dust the status quo of anyone involved in the story …..‘Do not use the words free speech! Free speech I practise with you directly to promote a meeting of minds. This is not free. Every second an arm like a blade combs the surface of the earth for dopamine, yours and mine, our whims and arguments, our relationships with others, our attempts at love, our anger, our caring, to embezzle it as revenue for a dozen male college dropouts.’ The book is set in an unspecified country – much (if not most) of it reads like America but (as a hurricane reference makes obvious it clearly is not America) – may be this itself is a satirical comment on how the internet firms are remaking the world in their image. The book starts with a just made unemployed sewerage worker Lon(nie) – he lives in a town dominated in all aspects by a Big Tech firm (the Octagon), and increasingly home to refugees fleeing an increasingly nuclearised war in the Middle East. He is the widowed (his wife having died of lupus) father of two children – most noticably (see below) a young daughter Shelby-Ann (whose age serves as effectively the punchline to the book’s opening and introduced a key theme of the book – the widening generation divide and the clear winners of that divide). Having previously lost custody of Shelby to his mother-in-law and regained it, his slap of her in the first chapter threatens to lose custody again – although it becomes quickly clear to him and us that he has largely already lost her to an online world (“the grid”) that he has tried to prevent either she or he joining. In an attempt to stave off authority intervention, he buys her a phone and then realises that if he is to maintain any form of connection with her he will need to join her in that world. And at the point when Lon finally decides that he needs to engage with the future, get a smartphone and join the grid, we are told He opened both eyes. Looked at the bedroom window. Then at the screen. One was real life. The other was the future. Or something. One was here and now. The other was – something else. Information. A binary life had started. And from then on (apart from a couple of occasions when Lon decides to turn off his screen) our reading experience mirrors this. The page is divided in halfOn the left we have a series of first party accounts (of varying lengths) many (and the longest) by Lon, but many by other characters (including: his mother-in-law, a childhood flame turned social worker, Shelby and her rival turned friend, some of Lon’s ex-colleagues: one a victim of an online pile-on, the other an overnight sensation, a key worker for the Octagon at the heart of their most advanced projects and an ageing academic reluctantly employed by them to stave off governmental intervention) - which advance the narrative at least partly conventionally.On the right a series of grid articles – one per page – which largely match, and in many cases, neatly complement the narrative.This effect works brilliantly – as a reader our eyes flicker from one side to the other – just as, of course, our real life experience is now divided with that of our phones. Perhaps even more cleverly, the right hand trail is easier on the concentration, more easily fulfilling, a quicker hit of reading pleasure – whereas the left hand side can feel convoluted and overly complicated. The list of areas and ideas explored in the book - most of them simply satirical extrapolations (and not very far from the present day) of current trends, and some of which are more like running jokes, includes such things as: pregnancies induced from a discarded hotel tissues in a hotel room occupied by a single man; the abuse of menopausal halting drugs; a back lash against adults imposition of the artificial concept of childhood and a general advance of children’s rights and denigration of anyone over thirty; the use of vacuum cleaners to deal with infantile cellulite; Honeybeetox for pouty lips; a huge backlash against the insidious effects of beers; a social trust score taken to extremes; a backlash against medical expertise; confiscation of children’s phones ruled equivalent to isolation torture in POW camps; terrorist grooming of young girls; deliberately contracted gum disease to make teeth appear whiter by contrast; tigers as birthday party accessories; animal ear transplants for humans; overnight meme sensations; the replacement of conventional linear time with user-defined Quantum “Curlytime”; fennec fox fever; the rep(lication) of people from their selfies; and, my favourite – welders as sex symbols (displacing to third the current day winners). The number of attractive foreign women listing welders as their top choice of partner for fun and marriage has topped nine thousand from just a handful of countries. Among respondents to the survey are more than two hundred pole dancers, as well as members of gymnastics and volleyball teams. Welders were once again the top pick over pattern-makers, actuaries, funeral technicians, glass installers and mechanics, Whereas some of these ideas are used and discarded like the tissue (Pierre I think follows the “fail fast, fail often” Silicon valley mantra), some (a little like the used tissue) are pregnant with possibility and give birth to a whole series of other ideas. In the tissues case for example: Serviette roulette played by teens risking pregnancy, lawsuits about the ownership of DNA left by people in public establishments, identification of the tissue as a live weapon, men refusing to stay in hotels etc. The book is a very long way from perfect. Too many story lines are simply left dangling – unexplored, unexplained or a little of both - weakest perhaps a rather bizarre late revelation about Lon’s neglected (both by Lon and the author) son Egan. And the book’s ending is decidedly bizarre. But as said above I think some of these flaws are very deliberate.The author’s “Vernon God Little” was of course a Booker Prize winner in 2003. One of the judges commented 5 years later that “four of the other judges arrived at the longlist meeting convinced that DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little was one of the great masterpieces of the early 21st century”. Some of the reviewers I respect most on Goodreads hated the book – and a group whose members have read many (some all) of the winners, collectively rated it one of the 2-3 worse winners ever.I can see many people really hating this book and many others using it to bemoan the falling standard of literary fiction over time – but as the book would say, that’s haners and declinists for you.Consider me a DBCBae.My thanks to Faber and Faber for an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    Do not use the words free speech! Free speech I practise with you directly to promote a meeting of the minds. This is not free. Every second an arm like a blade combs the surface of the earth for dopamine, yours and mine, our whims and arguments, our relationships with others, our attempts at love, our anger, our caring, to embezzle it as revenue for a dozen male college dropouts.As a wickedly smart near-future speculative fiction, Meanwhile in Dopamine City feels like what The Circle wanted to Do not use the words free speech! Free speech I practise with you directly to promote a meeting of the minds. This is not free. Every second an arm like a blade combs the surface of the earth for dopamine, yours and mine, our whims and arguments, our relationships with others, our attempts at love, our anger, our caring, to embezzle it as revenue for a dozen male college dropouts.As a wickedly smart near-future speculative fiction, Meanwhile in Dopamine City feels like what The Circle wanted to be, and with a satirical snarky vibe (that works well to entertainingly expose the dangerous path we're all sleepwalking along), I was put in mind of David Foster Wallace and John Kennedy Toole. I have read D.B.C. Pierre before and I reckon this is his best work yet. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.) Good stuff in, bad shit out, don't let it mingle. The above is Lonnie Cush's motto: As a recently laid-off sewer worker, Lonnie understands the necessity of separating the pure from the polluting, and as a single father with a dead wife and a mother-in-law longing for custody of his two kids, he works hard to protect his family from the societal forces (and particularly those online) that would seek to foul them. Soon after the book begins, Lonnie gives in to the pressure to buy his nine-year-old daughter her first smart phone, and as Shelby is nearly immediately put in the crosshairs of trolls, bodyshamers, and men with questionable intentions (she's nine), Lonnie finds himself ramping up his own online presence in order to understand this new world. In a format that sees the main narrative constantly interrupted by developing online stories – viral newsbites that demonstrate how petty groupthink becomes enforceable policy – D. B. C. Pierre doesn't make too big a leap from our present day to show how fast the world can change and how little control we as individuals might have over these changes.Time and place remain unstated (I presume Lonnie's in the UK and generic names are given for other countries: the news reports on a war in “Al Qemen”, immigrants come from “San Uribe”) and this choice serves to remove specific political considerations and makes the story feel more universal. And so, while Lonnie's concerns focus us on the domestic, another storyline follows the hidden reality: the billionaire technocrats and their covert quest for the singularity – and world domination, delivered through cute memes and addictive apps – barreling along unchecked at the nearby Octagon facility. I do think that “Meanwhile in Dopamine City” is a lame title for this book, but much is made of our monkeyness and how easy it is to control humans through manipulating the chemicals in our brains. So states the chief wonk at the Octagon:If the amount of memory a grand can buy is the only flying curve on a graph of the last seventy years – what government can now be surprised? Specovius lets his head roll: They thought it meant jetpacks and monorails. Now the old guard whimpers in bed at night, it can see the game's moved beyond tech, the brain's rewiring, the battle's gone to nature, to neurochemistry, influence. Name any human battleground, all are now battles for territories in the brain, and the armoury's the screen in your hand. Think of this: if you subtracted the empty space between atoms in all our brains, the mass of global intelligence would barely fill a shot glass. He serves his eyes like canapés – We hold that shot glass. That's what gives them the jitters. We own a shot glass containing the species, Baz.Serving as a voice of reason at the Octagon, Dr. Roos (hired merely to lend gravitas to their project but the good professor quaintly believes she can influence outcomes with her knowledge and wisdom): By six o'clock my local time a hundred million people had focused their wills on a pair of runaway children in preference to matters in their own lives. As a proxy for those matters, breeding value in their brains without the risks of real life. And those children are unknown to them. They would stay unknown if they lived for a thousand years. The chemistry being deployed is there to encourage us to wave at the postman, meet a stranger's eyes – this is how it's relevant. Whereas their angst-by-proxy via advertising platforms designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the brain is making users happy to intrude until they crush to dust the status quo of anyone involved in the story. And through it all, good and sturdy Lonnie – forever more in tune with meatware than software – demonstrates that dopamine is best delivered through in-person contact, as when he gets a hug from his daughter after a fight: She shuddered and sniffed at his sturdy neck, lips squashed aside, guyed by cords of spit. After a minute she burrowed a hand down his back and rubbed as if to comfort him. He closed his eyes as his brain sucked the drugs that resolve busted souls and forge wisdoms, that bring on a binge after bloodshed. The tone is certainly satirical – events ramp up from absurd to surreal – and Pierre constantly throws in colourful imagery: • Lon's headlights swung over the flat like a puke of bleach.• The girl crossed her arms and huffed like a freckled boy's stepmother.• A rattle comes to the door and I pump Shel's hand to raise her head as a bare-chested man with a tan opens up, a forty-something man with a gym membership that he only uses for biceps. I liked this a lot – I would have found it funnier if it wasn't so scary, but I guess it's laugh or cry at this point – and while I'd rate this a 4.5, it's just barely missing the something that would make me round up. (Pierre might have been setting this up for a sequel or a series, and while that might explain some dangling bits, nonetheless, they dangle to my disappointment.)
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    Vernon God Little was controversial, but I really liked it - let's see what Pierre is up to now! Vernon God Little was controversial, but I really liked it - let's see what Pierre is up to now!
  • Annarella
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating, hilarious and terrifying speculative fiction that kept me hooked till the last page. It's one of those book you can love or hate and I loved it.It's full of ideas, voices, descriptions and sometimes the abundance of ideas and voices made me dizzy but it was also a reflection of the current information overload.Shelby and Lonny are great characters. Each of them represents an approach to the net culture, one will win and the other will lose. The story is set in an unnamed city domi A fascinating, hilarious and terrifying speculative fiction that kept me hooked till the last page. It's one of those book you can love or hate and I loved it.It's full of ideas, voices, descriptions and sometimes the abundance of ideas and voices made me dizzy but it was also a reflection of the current information overload.Shelby and Lonny are great characters. Each of them represents an approach to the net culture, one will win and the other will lose. The story is set in an unnamed city dominated by tech giant, it could be anywhere because there's no place on the Earth where tech giant cannot reach.It was a fascinating, entertaining and thought provoking read, highly recommended.Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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  • Jacqueline Allan
    January 1, 1970
    A sincere thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing me with an ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest reviewl. This is not my usual genre, I’m more into crime books and psychological ones too however I wanted to take the opportunity to read something from outside my norm. And I am glad I did!! Thank you for  opening up my mind to something totally different.
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  • Sue
    January 1, 1970
    Meanwhile in Dopamine City is a digital dystopia fever dream that, though satirical, also feels like it could all happen next Thursday.The internet here is not called the web but the grid. That's much more fitting for a corporatised digital space that wants to snap you to position like a spreadsheet entry and let you calcify in place. In a fictional city a private company, Octagon, is mechanising the shit out of city processes. Now, it creates a Facebook-like platform called Rike, which quickly Meanwhile in Dopamine City is a digital dystopia fever dream that, though satirical, also feels like it could all happen next Thursday.The internet here is not called the web but the grid. That's much more fitting for a corporatised digital space that wants to snap you to position like a spreadsheet entry and let you calcify in place. In a fictional city a private company, Octagon, is mechanising the shit out of city processes. Now, it creates a Facebook-like platform called Rike, which quickly extends its tentacles even deeper into civic matters and people begin to be scored, and those scores begin to affect them out in the world, what they can do, what they can order. Octagon headquarters are like Google: in analogue "an ecologically sustainable architectural marvel and equal opportunities 'achievement space'" with sushi and indoor slides while digitally its tentacles are sucking up everyone's humanity for profit.Lonnie Cush is one of the many human workers Octagon is replacing with mechanisation. Initial mechanisation had "made the workforce look pointless on paper" but actually created accidents. This was solved not by adding more humans but by removing them and mechanising further. Lon refuses to retrain to work and so he is sacked.Lonnie is a good-enough but fallible everyman, with a big heart, a bit of idealism but not nearly enough of the performative wokeness beloved by corporations and liberals, trying to keep his head above water and his two kids together and away from his mother-in-law, who's been trying to take his daughter, Shelby, off him ever since Lonnie's wife died.The first and last parts of the story are told in the third person, centreing mostly around Lonnie.The book then splits off into two sections. On the left is a running stream of news articles from the grid, many of which report on scientific studies from undisclosed sources that conveniently create space in the market for the new bit of tech about to be released. Some articles are about people who go on to become celebrities through random viral events, people who are often not what they seem and often pretty shitty people, but whose celebrity catapults them to spaces of high earning power and Rike points while plebs like Lon get pushed in the other direction.The right-hand sections of this central section are first-person accounts and online conversations by Lonnie, his kids, his work colleagues, aquaintances and family, and they roll on at a feverish pace as Octagon's influence presses in and forces them into its system and its tech that draws them in even deeper.It's all ramped up for satirical effect and yet it all feels so drearily familiar. The memes and the lingo and the people are different but it all feels like it's either happening now or could be happening soon. For Lonnie, when the fever dream finally spikes, the chance comes to break away.I'm left with a certain wistfulness after this book. I guess it's seeing our digital world in narrative form where average fucked-up people like you and me are okay in our natural imperfect state but we have been taken over by a digital bureaucracy that profits on slicing and dicing us up into categories. To see as problematic the system instead of the broekens its profiteering from is an uncommon enough occurrence for this book to feel a little edifying in the end.DBC Pierre has a bit of a cult following. This is my first read of his and I can see why. It was a grand undertaking to explore so many areas of our culture. If you enjoy seeing the big picture instead of disconnected meaningless blips then give this book a whirl.#MeanwhileinDopamineCity #DBCPierre #technocracy #corporatocracy
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  • Siobhan
    January 1, 1970
    Meanwhile in Dopamine City is a satirical, technological novel about a single father trying to protect his children from the online world. Lonnie Cush has been laid off from his sanitation job—well, is waiting to hear about retraining—in a city dominated by the Company, a big tech company. He's trying to stop his mother-in-law getting custody of his two children, Egan and Shelby-Ann, whilst also dealing with the fact that nine-year-old Shelby is desperate for a smartphone. When he eventually giv Meanwhile in Dopamine City is a satirical, technological novel about a single father trying to protect his children from the online world. Lonnie Cush has been laid off from his sanitation job—well, is waiting to hear about retraining—in a city dominated by the Company, a big tech company. He's trying to stop his mother-in-law getting custody of his two children, Egan and Shelby-Ann, whilst also dealing with the fact that nine-year-old Shelby is desperate for a smartphone. When he eventually gives in, she's opened up to a world of trolls and a range of new digital products and ideas, and Lon has to dive deeper online too to try and keep up.The novel has two elements, the Cush family's struggles and the wider context of the digital and non-digital world, and much of the novel has parallel news reports showing how ideas and events progress and get twisted in different ways. Reading both together opens up elements of the plot and provides clever commentary, but makes for a difficult reading experience at times, constantly cutting off in the midst of a sentence to read the rest of the page. This also means there's a number of parallel narratives which it can be hard to keep track of, but they add different layers to the satire and widen the story, set in a non-specific city with non-specific countries involved.This is a book with an interesting concept that takes elements of modern technology and pushes them to extremes, whilst also looking at a failing father, and the conceit of having the news feed down the side is an interesting way of giving wider context in the narrative. However, this makes it difficult to read, and quite a few of the narrative points felt very familiar from other recent stories like Black Mirror, which made it less engaging for me.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    * I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. *Single parent Lonny lives in the worst end of the worst street in the worst part of the city. When he is retrenched from his dead-end job as a sewerage worker, he seems to have hit rock bottom. But then the social security people come and accuse him of assaulting one of his children, and threaten to give them to his mother-in-law if he does not submit to anger management, and to the endless surveillance * I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. *Single parent Lonny lives in the worst end of the worst street in the worst part of the city. When he is retrenched from his dead-end job as a sewerage worker, he seems to have hit rock bottom. But then the social security people come and accuse him of assaulting one of his children, and threaten to give them to his mother-in-law if he does not submit to anger management, and to the endless surveillance reach of the state.In this dystopian state, one's online influence is all that matters, and young people are the real economic power, because they are more adept with the technology. Stories, photos and memes shared online can make or ruin a reputation instantly, whether they are true or not. The only thing that matters is how it looks to online viewers, who are capable of instant turnarounds in their judgments as soon as a conflicting meme arises. Lonny is bewildered by this new online world, and all his efforts to get to grips with it only sink him deeper into the role of social outcast.Pierre has captured something significant here about where social media is taking us, particularly the role of huge corporations in capturing more and more data about us in order to line their own pockets. In Dopamine City, an algorithm designed for measuring popularity online is swiftly adopted by banks, government and employers as a standard for who deserves trust and who doesn't, running out of control and way beyond its original intent. Much as Facebook is now much, much more than the platform for keeping up with friends that it started as.One way that Pierre has captured this online life is to chop up the narrative with incessant posts from news feeds and influencers. The news feeds provide a rolling account of what is going on in the world around Lonny, the way that various influencers and social movements emerge and interact, and how that spills out into real life.This reflects the way that our social media life interrupts our real life and drives our attention away from what is really important and that, ultimately, is what this book is all about. I would say, though, that this writing style can be quite disconcerting, and I could see people who like a clear narrative flow disliking it intensely.
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