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Devil on My Back (1984)

by Monica Hughes

Series: Devil on my Back (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1545141,830 (3.85)3 / 17
When the slaves rebel against the rigid social order imposed on the colony by the all-controlling computer, Tomi, the son of the colony Overlord manages to escape beyond the computer's reach and discovers what it is like to be free.
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Showing 5 of 5
Read this as it was a book B liked as a child, and he mentioned it because he knows my weakness for post-apocalyptic fiction. Usually when I say 'I wish I'd read this book at the right age' it's because I'm about to write 'because now I'm a grown up it's too hard to see past the flaws and fall in love with it', but that was totally not the case with this one. I wish I'd read it when I was 12, because I think it would have really clicked into my core canon, but I actually found it fun and insightful even though it was simple and based on a lot of ideas I'd met many times before.

ArcOne is a post apocalyptic society who live in a dome. A computer carefully optimises life for the inhabitants, and assigns them to roles based on aptitude tests - some are Lords, some workers, some slaves and some soldiers. The aim of the dome is to preserve human knowledge and discover and learn more. The 'devil on my back' of the title are infopacks that the residents of the dome have implanted in the back of their necks. Higher status results in the implanting of more infopacks, which contain science, history, etc etc. Slaves have the wrong mental temperament to bear the infopacks, and so work in menial roles, while the Lords have the largest piles of info packs, and are waited on by the slaves, to leave them free from trivial chores and free to devote themselves to studying.

Tomi is the son of the High Lord. The book starts on the day of his aptitude tests, when he is chosen to be a Lord himself. But the slaves have a revolt, and although they are unsuccessful, Tomi is caught up in the fighting, hides in a garbage chute, and is washed out of the Dome to the wild world outside. Eventually he finds a camp of escaped slaves, who are living a simple pastoral life in harmony with the natural world, and he learns what the important things in life really are.

So far, so good, if so clichéd. But the end of the book really did surprise me. This is not a call to arms, or a great rebellion. Tomi sacrifices his own freedom and the girl he loves to return to the dome, so that he can send them the tools and seeds they need to thrive as a community. And then it is revealed that his father also is sympathetic to the cause, wants to free the dome from the control of the computer and make men equal and free once more - but is doing it gently, carefully, planting seeds of stories and nursing people to grow towards the light.

[I don't know what I feel about that, it is better to change things gently without smashing up everything. But how long is gentle change, how many years of living in slavery do people have to endure for this to happen? Then again, it is so refreshing to get this as a counterpoint to the Dramatic Rebellion sort of fiction. The people in power may be working for the light. It might all be a bit more complicated than you thought it was, but the people you love who you were scared were bad might be good after all.]

I also liked the very understated but interestingly drawn relationships - the dynamic of how it is strange when you are in a close friendship, and then a third person joins and upsets the balance is drawn with a very light touch, but very well.

(Oh, don't read this one if you're trying to avoid body shaming. Tomi starts off weak and pale and fat and stooped, and his growth in character is matched by losing weight and becoming tall and lean and bronzed.) ( )
1 vote atreic | Jul 13, 2016 |
In the far future, after the earth's petroleum ran out and the environment was toxic, humanity retreated into cities enclosed in plastic domes. Generations later, young Tomi is nervous. He's about to get another information pack slotted into the plug in his spine. If his body can handle it, he's progressed another level up the ladder in his society. But if his nervous system can't handle it, he'll become a menial laborer at best--at worst, death or brain damage awaits him. But to Tomi's joy, he takes in another pack worth of pre-programmed knowledge without a hitch. But this idyll can't last forever--the inequalities within the highly regimented, computerized and "fair" society are about to blow apart every thing he ever knew.

Told in a no-frills, no-nonsense style, this is a gripping adventure of the uncomfortable necessity of examining--and if possible, abolishing--one's privilege. ( )
1 vote wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Just re-read this and revised my rating from 5 to 4. This is a really good book, and it's much in the same vein as some of the recent post-apocalyptic or Dystopian young adult fiction.

Tomi's character is very hard to like at first, and that is the whole idea of the book. Of a transformation that is needed in the society, but must first start in the people in the society.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys post apocalyptic fiction and wants a fast read. ( )
  ShannaRedwind | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is one that I've read many times. It's teenage SF, but I can't have been very far into my teens when I bought it, because I'm sure it was fairly new and this edition was published in 1985 and I only turned 10 at the end of that year.

An interesting far future earth tale of life both inside and outside of a dome built to survive the new dark ages following the running out of fossil fuels. New tech inside the dome is nicely portrayed, as is the more primitive lifestyle outside and the two very different cultures. Interesting tale of how technology can be a tool or how you can become a tool to it if you're not careful. In some ways not even the lords are free, but have even less chance of getting away than the slaves do. Different ways of looking at things can make them seem completely different. And the idea of fighting something quietly from the inside and gradually giving people the hope they need to escape, even though this could look to others like you're actually supporting the status quo.

It's simplistic in places, but I still enjoy it even now, and it was a good way to while away a couple of hours yesterday. ( )
1 vote lnr_blair | Jul 7, 2009 |
I first read this one about fifteen years ago and I was very impressed. There's always the risk when you revisit childhood favourites - you might find them utterly daft. Not this one! While the book is somewhat naive - it's a book for kids, after all - it was still quite charming.

After an apocalypse of sorts, group of people locked themselves in Arc One, trying to maintain knowledge through the dark ages. The society has become a rigid class society: lords on top, workers in the middle, slaves on the bottom with soldiers controlling them.

Main character Tomi is a son of a lord, part of the ruling elite. When he comes of age, he's given proper access to the information databases. Unfortunately there's a slave rebellion, which ends up with Tomi being tossed out of the Arc. What a strange world he finds outside!

It's a lovely, positive story. I'd recommend this to kids that are into science fiction without a doubt - and also to adults, looking for a quick and pleasant read. (Review based on the Finnish translation.)

Original review at my review blog ( )
2 vote msaari | Aug 5, 2007 |
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When the slaves rebel against the rigid social order imposed on the colony by the all-controlling computer, Tomi, the son of the colony Overlord manages to escape beyond the computer's reach and discovers what it is like to be free.

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