I’ve been looking forward to Carlie Martece’s second novel since reading the wonderful Toxic Nursery a few months ago, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.
The Vipdile Key is written in the same fast paced, brutally honest style, and while it isn’t exactly a sequel, some of the themes from Toxic Nursery are expanded upon here. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a pre-requisite that you read the books in order of publication, but knowing the background of some of the characters and their relationship to one another added dimension for me.
Deragon Hex is a dystopian future world where people are sealed in an underground network by a secret key code. Technology, social media and reality TV have all taken a step up in their influence, and now everything is under surveillance; the public may decide the fate of criminals and their victims using voting buttons, raping the unconscious is considered entertainment, and popularity is everything. Even research into medicine has taken an irrational turn:
“All thoughts create energy,” an oncologist is explaining to the narrator. “This new device harnesses the energy radiated when a so called ‘troll’ sends anonymous abuse over the com network to someone with severe depression. We’re investigating whether the frequency of this particular energy wave can slow the growth of cancer cells.”
In a world where justice is in the hands of the popular, how will Ash save and avenge their comatose best friend?
This is the only book I have read that stars a gender-neutral character, and it is done very well. The author shows that non-binary pronouns may be unusual but they do not have to be grammatically difficult, nor do they have to become the main focus. Ash is a well-rounded, relatable character like any other, and their gender is irrelevant to the way the plot pans out.
The central story gives a very real account of how it feels to be on the receiving end of emotional abuse, and the factors affecting a person’s recovery from it. We are forced to take a look at the way social groupings, and the implied hierarchies within them, affect our judgement. The book may use extreme examples, but the way we are becoming desensitised to suffering is quite real.
“I hate that!” Ash rants. “People finding a cheerful person’s death more tragic than a sad person’s… when I hear “What a shame, they were so happy’, I think, “Fuck you! Just because somebody’s incredibly depressed doesn’t mean their life is worth any less!”
Although the subject matter is serious and claustrophobic, it is always written with a dark sense of humour which simultaneously lightens the mood and makes a mockery of the enemy. At times this comes across as aggressive emotional response, but it is fitting with the characters and creates a unique writing style that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages.
Along the way The Vipdile Key also explores the concept of freedom:
“Nobody who has to work is free” declares Ash. “I remember the days of needing medication to sleep and synthacoffee to wake up. Can you honestly follow the timetable they prescribe you without chemical assistance? I just wanted to fall asleep when I was tired and wake up naturally in the day. Now, think about how simple a request that is, actually think about it, then try telling me you’re free.”
And the concept of sanity:
“This is literally crazy… This is what a crazy person does… I’m a crazy person…”
“The level of self-awareness needed to make those observations makes you paradoxically sane.”
There are some really nice signature touches too, such as the letters between Ash and Leah having acrostic sign offs, and most notably the incorporation of the first 666 digits of pi into the narrative. There is also a vodka-drinking cat called Derek who has a key part to play!
So all in all, there is a lot packed into this 300 page book. It is both a terrifying future vision and an effective metaphor for the norms we already accept on social media, reality shows, and in privacy laws. The Vipdile Key will assault your assumptions, make you laugh, and quite possibly have you falling in love with an axe murderer.