Tag Archives: Lauren Beukes

Girls get murdered all the fucking time.

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

I’m sick of serial killers. Serial killers are what we replaced our monsters with. We don’t believe in ghosts or goblins, so we looked to our real life monsters and gave them mythic qualities.

On TV and film serial killers are often brilliant, geniuses even. Sometimes they’re superhumanly strong, sometimes charming. Their victims are generally attractive young women with good jobs, women the audience can relate to and sympathise with. It’s rare a serial killer in fiction is a social inadequate preying on the marginalised because then the whole thing just becomes too ugly for a Saturday night’s entertainment.

Lauren Beukes is an intelligent writer, one who couldn’t write formula if she tried. When she writes a novel featuring a serial killer then it’s no surprise that the result is interesting and well written. In The Shining Girls she uses the familiar figure of the serial killer to make a wider point about how society crushes women who stand out, the murderer as an extreme manifestation of something that happens every day. It’s a novel with strong characters and an interesting plot and on its own terms there’s no question but that it succeeds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. That’s not the novel’s fault, it does what it sets out to do, but in the end this is still a book in which young women are brutally killed for the entertainment of the reader, and I’m just not the reader for that novel.

ShiningGirls

The Shining Girls is high-concept. Harper Curtis is a drifter in Chicago in 1931, a despicable wretch of a man, weak and full of petty hate. His crimes are about to catch up on him when he discovers a house, the house, and the house exists outside of time.

He goes to the window to pull the curtains shut, but not before he glimpses the tableau outside.

The houses across the way change. The paint strips away, recolors itself, strips away again through snow and sun and trash tangled with leaves blowing down the street. Windows are broken, boarded over, spruced up with a vase of flowers that turn brown and fall away. The empty lot becomes overgrown, fills over with cement, grass grows through the cracks in wild tufts, rubbish congeals, the rubbish is removed, it comes back, along with aggressive snarls of writing on the walls in vicious colors. A hopscotch grid appears, disappears in the sleeting rain, moves elsewhere, snaking across the cement. A couch rots through seasons and then catches fire.

He yanks the curtains closed, and turns and sees it. Finally. His destiny spelled out in this room.

Every surface has been defaced. There are artifacts mounted on the walls, nailed in or strung up with wire. They seem to jitter in a way that he can feel in the back of his teeth. All connected by lines that have been drawn over again and again, with chalk or ink or a knife tip scraped through the wallpaper. Constellations, the voice in his head says.

When Harper finds the house there’s a dead body in the hallway, a recently murdered man. There’s a suitcase full of money, but some of the notes are wrong and the issue dates haven’t happened yet. When he looks out the window he looks out on different Chicagos, and when he opens the front door he can walk out into them. He can walk out into any time between 1929 and 1993. He goes out in 1993 to dump the body far from his own time, and finds a corpse he recognises from his own time already stuck in his chosen hiding place. A cleverer man might wonder how that was possible, but Harper isn’t that man.

In 1992 Kirby Mazrachi is a young woman who some years back survived a terrifying and brutal assault. She was disembowelled and had her throat slashed, but her attacker hadn’t planned on her dog trying to save her and ended up having to flee the scene, leaving her for dead. Now she’s an intern with a burnt-out former crime reporter, Dan Velasquez, who’s now working the sports desk for the Chicago Sun-Times. When Dan meets her for the first time he sees her as:

a girl barely out of kindergarten, surely, with crazy kindergarten hair sticking up all over the place, a multicolored striped scarf looped around her neck with matching fingerless gloves, a black jacket with more zips than is conceivably practical, and worse, an earring in her nose. She irritates him on principle.

He’s even less happy when he works out she’s only doing the intern job so she can get inside dirt on her own story, a story he worked on back on the day.

Ok, maybe Beukes can write a little formula when she tries. Kirby and Dan are pretty familiar sorts of characters. Still, there’s enough originality in the time travel concept that it’s probably for the best if some of the other architecture of the story is a little more standard.

Kirby and Dan soon realise that her attack wasn’t the first. That doesn’t surprise them, but what does is the discovery that similar crimes are spread out over the past six decades. Slowly they come to realise they’re dealing with something much stranger than just another serial killer.

Meanwhile, back in 1931, Harper has found his trophy room in the house; the artifacts in the quote above. Each item is something he took as a souvenir from one of his killings, except that when he first sees them he hasn’t yet committed those crimes. The house though is outside of time, the souvenirs he’ll take are already on the wall before he’s taken them, are always on the wall both as markers of what he did and instructions of what he must do.

He picks up a piece of chalk that is lying on the mantel and writes on the wallpaper beside the window, because there is a space for it and it seems he must. He prints ‘Glowgirl’ in his jagged sloping script, over the ghost of the word that is already there.

Although it sounds it, this isn’t really a science fiction novel. The house is never explained (though it follows an absolutely clear logic in how it works); Harper isn’t bright enough to ask questions and his obsessions are too strong to really let him examine the house’s implications. The house simply is, and it’s never explicitly stated whether it’s directing Harper or, as I interpret it, reflecting back to him his own future decisions. What the house does though is let Harper pick his victims through history, and therefore let Beukes range through history showing different women in different parts of Chicago’s past.

The house is one unusual aspect to this novel. The other is Beukes’ focus on the victims. Her attention here isn’t so much on the beautiful corpse, as on the beautiful life brutally cut short.

Harper picks his victims when they’re young, selecting girls who have a spark in them, who seem special. He calls it a glow. When he’s found a girl who glows for him he comes back when she’s grown up and kills her, snuffs out her light. As Beukes shows each woman’s life though it’s soon apparent that Harper isn’t the only one who sees a shining girl and wants to smother her. Harper is a metaphor for how our society treats women more generally, how women who stand out are cut back, forced to blend in for safety.

Beukes is keen too to show that these women don’t exist in a vacuum. They have families, friends, lovers, children. Their deaths ripple out. Here’s an example:

The dead girl’s name was Julia Madrigal. She was twenty-one. She was studying at Northwestern. Economics. She liked hiking and hockey, because she was originally from Banff, Canada, and hanging out in the bars along Sheridan Road with her friends, because Evanston was dry.

She kept meaning to sign up to volunteer to read textbook passages for the blind students association’s study tapes, but never quite got round to it, the same way she’d bought a guitar but only mastered one chord. She was running for head of her sorority. She always said she was going to be the first woman CEO of Goldman Sachs. She had plans to have three kids and a big house and a husband who did something interesting and complementary – a surgeon or a broker or something. Not like Sebastian, who was a good-time guy, but not exactly marriage material.

She was too loud, like her dad, especially at parties. Her sense of humor tended to be crass. Her laugh was notorious or legendary, depending on who was telling. You could hear it from the other side of Alpha Phi. She could be annoying. She could be narrow-minded in that got-all-the-answers-to-save-the-world way. But she was the kind of girl you couldn’t keep down. Unless you cut her up and caved in her skull.

Her father will never recover. His weight drops away until he becomes a wan parody of the loud and opinionated estate agent who would pick a fight at the barbecue about the game. He loses all interest in selling houses. He tapers off mid-sales pitch, looking at the blank spaces on the wall between the perfect family portraits or worse, at the grouting between the tiles of the en-suite bathroom. He learns to fake it, to clamp the sadness down. At home, he starts cooking. He teaches himself French cuisine. But all food tastes bland to him.

Her mother draws the pain into herself: a monster she keeps caged in her chest that can only be subdued with vodka. She does not eat her husband’s cooking. When they move back to Canada and downsize the house, she relocates into the spare room. Eventually, he stops hiding her bottles. When her liver seizes up twenty years later, he sits next to her in a Winnipeg hospital and strokes her hand and narrates recipes he’s memorized like scientific formula because there is nothing else to say.

Her sister moves as far away as she can, and keeps moving, first across the state, then across the country, then overseas to become an au pair in Portugal. She is not a very good au pair. She doesn’t bond with the children. She is too terrified that something might happen to them.

The passage continues. It explores the impact on Julia’s boyfriend, on her best friend, on a girl across town that Julia never met who only reads about the case. It’s powerful stuff. I went for such a long quote because this is the heart of the book. The time travel stuff is taut, logically worked through and entirely internally consistent, but Julia and the other women like her in the book shine, which of course is the point.

The women though are also why the book in the end doesn’t work for me. How do you read that passage above, and read too the forensically detailed description of how she was killed and how Harper makes his victims suffer and the joy he takes from that, and then enjoy a tale of a determined young woman and her worn-down sidekick bravely tracking down a time-travelling murderer? It’s too much horror for such a story. Beukes wants to show that horror, she wants to show how terrible this is and how much of a loss these women’s lives are. The problem is that she succeeds.

So in the end I come full circle, back to where I started this review. The Shining Girls is interesting and well written. It’s a novel with strong characters and an interesting plot and on its own terms there’s no question but that it succeeds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. That’s not the novel’s fault, it does what it sets out to do, but in the end this is still a book in which young women are brutally killed for the entertainment of the reader, and I’m just not the reader for that novel.

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Filed under Beukes, Lauren, Crime, SF

In Zoo City, it’s impolite to ask.

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

The Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature is one of the very few literary prizes I pay any attention to. In part that’s because I don’t read enough science fiction to otherwise be on top of what’s coming out, but it’s also because it’s a well curated prize that really does tend to catch much of what’s most exciting in the field.

Lauren Beukes’ second novel, Zoo City, won the prize back in 2011. That caused some controversy, with many arguing that it wasn’t science fiction at all but rather a fantasy novel which shouldn’t even have been shortlisted (hardcore genre fans can get very bullish about defending genre boundaries). For me the better view is that the boundaries aren’t the point. The point is that the Clarke Award did its job, by finding a bloody good book and shouting to the world about it.

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Zoo City is the Johannesburg ghetto where the “animalled” live. The animalled are people who carry the guilt of another human being’s death in an unusually literal way, manifested in the form of animals which they must keep near them at all times. Zinzi December, the protagonist, used to be a Johannesburg lifestyle journalist until she fell into addiction and got her brother killed. Now she has a sloth which goes with her wherever she goes – a living reminder of her sense of responsibility for her brother’s death.

The animalled are stigmatised. In China, the novel mentions at one point in passing, they’re executed on the assumption that whatever they did to end up with an animal must necessarily be a crime worthy of execution. They’re outcasts, and since few people want to employ a presumed killer who is accompanied everywhere by some bizarre creature (examples in the book include a sparrow, a bear, a mongoose, a vulture and much more) they can’t get regular employment.

Other than the presence of the animalled the world of Zoo City is our world. People started being animalled in the 1980s, the first being an Afghan warlord who manifested a penguin which he promptly issued with a custom-made bullet-proof vest. The phenomenon then quickly spread worldwide (the timeline is similar to the spread of Aids in real life). Some seek explanations in religion, others by reference to dodgy sounding quantum physics, but nobody really knows and from the point of view of the animalled it doesn’t really matter.

Being apart from your animal causes profound psychic stress. If your animal dies, you do too (and in a particularly eerie fashion). The only upside, and it’s not much of one, is that each animalled person gains a small magical power.

Zinzi December’s magical gift is the ability to find lost possessions. That’s a talent you can charge people for, that and her writing ability which makes her particularly good at crafting email scams to lure in unsuspecting first world retirees. The emails apparently come from:

…an old lady with a flooded mansion, desperate to sell her priceless antiques cheap-cheap. A Chechnyan refugee fleeing the latest Russian pogroms with her family’s diamonds in tow. A Somali pirate who has found Jesus and wants to trade in his rocket launcher and ransom millions for absolution” and to make some money while they do so.

What each of them has in common is the need to get a large amount of money out of South Africa, the promise of rich rewards for the kindly stranger who helps with that, and some unfortunate up-front administrative fees that can’t be paid from in-country…

We’re in noir territory then, with Zinzi a down at heels and distinctly morally ambiguous PI. Soon a pair of hired thugs (with poodle and vulture in tow) are pressuring Zinzi to take on a job for a reclusive music producer who’s lost one half of his latest boy-girl pop sensation. Zinzi doesn’t do missing people, but when the money’s right how hard can it be to find one lost teenager? Besides, there are some people it’s very hard to say no to.

The cover for my copy of Zoo City comes with a William Gibson quote, which makes sense because Beukes has a lot in common with Gibson. Neither has any real interest in the how of their world, whether the animalled or Gibson’s Cyberspace could actually happen. What each focuses on instead is the experience, the personal and social impact of change.

Beukes’ first novel, Moxyland (which I reviewed here), was outright cyberpunk in the classic Gibsonian mould. Here she’s writing what could be termed urban fantasy, but with the same outlook. Modern Africa is a mix of the high tech and traditional beliefs (the same could be said of modern Singapore, modern Britain). The animals and the magical gifts they bring allow her to explore the world of muti, African folk beliefs which continue in a world of email scams and disposable mobile phones.

Nyangas and sangomas and faith healers with varying degrees of skill or talent, broadcasting their services on posters stuck up on telephone poles and walls. Some of them are charlatans and shysters, advertising cures for anything from money woes to love-sickness and Aids with muti made from crushed lizard balls and aspirin. Guess which ingredient does all the hard work?

To South Africans the animals are another form of muti, as are the abilities they give their humans. December’s view of the world is a modern South African view, influenced in part by animist tradition surviving into a Christian and increasingly secular age. In truth she doesn’t particularly understand how magic works, but then she probably doesn’t understand how her car works either (since car control systems went largely electronic, few people do).

Object muti is easy, particularly when it’s based on a simple binary. Locked or unlocked. Lost or found. Objects want to have a purpose. They’re happy to be told what to do. People less so. […] Most magic is more abstract. Capricious. It has a tendency to backfire. And the big stuff they promise, the Aids cures, bigger penises or death spells, are all placebo and nocebo, blessings and curses conjured up in your head. Not unlike glossy magazines, which also promise a better sex life, a better job, a better you. Trust me, I used to write those articles. And just look at me now.

The worldbuilding here is done to an extent by stealth – characters don’t spend time explaining their everyday world to each other (a common fault in much other SF). The result is that you pick up the details as you go along, and Beukes is good enough at her craft to ensure this doesn’t become confusing.

Beukes’ world convinces on its terms then, but that isn’t of itself enough to make a good novel. For me, where Beukes’ fiction really shines is her evocation of contemporary urban South Africa. She’s tremendous at capturing noise, smells, the clash of colours and the sheer energy and chaos of it.

Everything takes on a muted quality fifteen floors up. The traffic is reduced to a flow and stutter, the car horns like the calls of mechanical ducks. The skyline is in crisp focus, the city graded in rusts and coppers by the sinking sun that has streaked the wispy clouds the colour of blood. It’s the dust in the air that makes the Highveld sunsets so spectacular, the fine yellow mineral deposits kicked up from the mine dumps, the carbon-dioxide choke of the traffic. Who says bad things can’t be beautiful?

Though this next quote reminded me more of when I used to live in Earl’s Court, showing perhaps that in some ways major cities are the same the world over.

I catch a taxi into Auckland Park with the late-night cleaners, the nurses and the restaurant dish-washers: the invisible tribe of behind-the-scenes. I get off after Media Park and walk up to 7th Street with its scramble of restaurants, bars and Internet cafés. Outside the Mozambican deli-cum-Internet café, a hawker tries to sell me a star lantern made of wire and paper and, when I decline, offers me marijuana instead.

Beukes also often shows a nice turn of phrase. I liked an email-scam mark having his good sense overwhelmed by the smell of money which “bellows like a vuvuzela, drowning out the whisper of doubt.” Similarly I enjoyed a teenaged boy “pouting like he ordered strippers for his birthday and got clowns instead”, and in terms of imagery when a fatally wounded man “screams like a slaughterhouse pig in a Peta video” it’s vivid and unpleasantly easy to imagine.

What makes Zoo City such an enjoyable read then isn’t the concept itself, clever (and capable of so many allegorical readings) as it is. It’s the writing, the noirish characters, and perhaps most of all that remarkable sense of place. I’ve not read most of the novels Zoo City was up against in 2011, so I can’t say whether it deserved to beat them or not. I’m not at all surprised though that it got shortlisted, because if science fiction (or fantasy if you prefer) was producing many books like this back in 2011 it must have been an exceptionally good year.

Zoo City has been widely reviewed. There’s an excellent (and spoiler free) example at David H’s blog, here (I only just realised David’s blog wasn’t on my blogroll, so I’ve promptly corrected that) and he links in turn to fine reviews from John Clute and Niall Harrison each of which is definitely worth reading. I was happier with the ending than David was as for me the book always had that crime heritage overlapping with the SF and I was therefore expecting a fairly plot-driven ending.

Postscript: Some issues with the Kindle edition

Finally, a note of caution for those who don’t have this and might be thinking of picking it up. Beukes uses different fonts in places, to indicate emails or internet chats, and all that inevitably gets lost in the kindle version. Much worse though the kindle version, in the UK at least, has some truly appalling formatting errors which were so frequent and so bad that they started to genuinely spoil the book for me.

Since I knew the author was on twitter I dropped her a line there asking if there was some way to get the ebook version fixed (the paperback doesn’t have these problems). She put me in touch with her publishers, who asked me to email through the details of the problems I’d found (since they apparently weren’t in all e-editions in all countries).

The publishers offered to send me a cleaned up version, but before they could Lauren Beukes herself very kindly emailed me a word version of the book which was entirely error free (and which was apparently a later version of the book, fixing a plot problem I’d already read past without noticing that her French translator had picked up).

I really can’t praise enough Lauren Beukes’ and her publishers’ response to the problem I had. Given though the formatting issues with the ebook, and the fact that even once fixed you’ll still lose the font choices Beukes makes, this is one you should definitely read in physical copy if at all possible.

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Filed under African fiction, Beukes, Lauren, Fantasy, SF, South African fiction

This is the best we’ve had it

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes is a South African science fiction writer. The South African bit is interesting, but not that important. What’s important is that she’s a good science fiction writer.

Moxyland was her first novel. Her second, Zoo City, recently won the Arthur C. Clarke award (SF’s answer to the Booker). I read Moxyland first for the very simple reason that Amazon had it on sale at 99p. What can I say? I’m a cheap date.

Anyway. Moxyland is set in South Africa in the very near future. It features four twentysomething viewpoint characters, none of whom are sympathetic and none of whom has anything like the control of their lives they think they do. It’s a novel of youth in rebellion, and of a society which anticipated and co-opted that rebellion long before the youth in question ever thought of it.

Kendra is a hip street-photographer taking corporate sponsorship from a soft drinks company. She agrees to a deal which involves having her DNA altered so that the corporate logo will appear embedded and glowing under the skin of her wrist. There are benefits – a boosted immune system – but she doesn’t read the fine print. She’s valuable intellectual property now, and she has a new found craving for a certain delicious fizzy drink.

Toby is a blogger from a wealthy upper-class family who’s now living a self-consciously street lifestyle. He’s promiscuous, vacuous and thoroughly unlikeable complaining about his “motherbitch” and her demands on his time. He only sees her because his comments section indicates she’s a popular character on his blog, and because she gives him his extremely generous allowance.

Lerata is a successful programmer working for a large corporation. In the new South Africa there’s still an Apartheid, but now it’s between the corporate elite and the masses (referred to by the corporate insiders as “civilians”. Colour no longer matters, but society is still as stratified as it ever was. Lerata is probably the book’s least succesful character being a fairly stereotyped ruthless executive (contrast Richard Morgan’s protagonist in Market Forces who’s far more ambiguous).

Finally there’s Tendeka. He’s a wannabe revolutionary who runs unsuccessful rehabilitation programs for street kids while railing furiously against injustice and inequality. He also organises pointless acts of anti-corporate vandalism: defacing billboards and crashing an art gallery event (where his act of protest is initially misunderstood as an attempt at performance art). Naturally he’s from a nice middle class family.

All four think of themselves in various ways as outsiders, but for each of them it’s more pose than real. Kendra differentiates her art by using archaic and unreliable print film rather than digital, but her work is subsidised by her wealthy lover. Toby’s blog is titled “Diary of a Cunt” but his lifestyle is paid for by his mother. Tendeka is a classic middle-class perma-protestor fighting for people he’s not actually one of (however much he’d like to be). Lerata carries out minor acts of corporate sabotage without ever threatening her own privileges.

Of them all it’s noticeable that only Lerata comes from a background that’s remotely disadvantaged (she grew up an aids orphan). That’s long behind her, and now like all of them she’s living a life that’s actually pretty comfortable. This is alienation as lifestyle choice.

Beukes’ future is in many ways much like our present (in more ways than you’d imagine, as an afterword makes clear). A key development is that mobile phones are used for access to government services and for making payments, which means that disconnection is now a criminal sanction and permanent disconnection an effective exclusion from functioning in society. The phones even have built in taser-like features which the police can activate so stunning the owner. You carry your own corporal punishment in your pocket.

I thought that last point far fetched. In the afterword Beukes mentions hearing after she wrote it of a police officer independently musing with a friend whether such a thing would be possible one day and how convenient it would be.

Otherwise the characters spend their time at bars and galleries, online in complex virtual realities or in multi-player computer games (the games and virtual realities already exist – not the specific ones of the novel but ones almost exactly like them). The novel slyly mocks its own characters here. From their perspective they’re living edgy lives and pushing boundaries. Here’s Tendeka though on PlusLife, his own preferred online hangout:

I spent more time on doing up my place. It’s pretty humble, designed to be bio-friendly, all recyclable materials, solar panels on the ceiling, a wind farm in the garden. Not that you need to generate energy in-world, but it’s the principle. It’s a shining example to throw into contrast the kind of excesses the neighbourhood attracts, which is why I chose this location specifically.

There’s a flickering on the horizon, and at first I think it’s some bug in the software, but as it spreads, multi-coloured, I figure that someone has hacked the sky. It’s doing a northern lights thing. And that’s the beauty of Pluslife. That here you can actually have an influence on the world.

There he is, sitting at a computer designing an online house with solar panels and wind farm in a virtual world with neither a real sun nor real wind. Meanwhile Toby, short of money, logs on to a children-only multi-player game under an assumed identity so that he can steal in-game objects for out-of-game payment (that’s something else that’s already here in the real world). At one point he goes massively out of his way to crush the online avatar of an 8-year old girl who beat him up in-game. Fight the power…

As Moxyland develops the different characters’ stories start to intertwine (sometimes too much so – there are times here where Beukes relies a bit too heavily on coincidence). Tendeka get involved in a genuine criminal conspiracy organised by someone he’s only met online. He brings Toby on board, who gets help from his old friend Lerata who likes to hang out with Toby to prove to herself that she’s not just another suit. Kendra flits around their peripheries.

This then is a novel that’s working at two levels. On the one hand there’s a fast moving cyberpunk drama where outsiders fighting the system are drawn together as the fight against corporate totalitarianism leads to possible terrorist outrage.

The other level though is much more subversive. Yes, there are cyberpunk trappings but most of the more disturbing elements of the novel already exist today. The characters think they’re outsiders and seem like protagonists, but really they’re neither. The only thing that’s real is that people do actually get hurt. The revolution may be here, but it turns out it will be televised after all.

Moxyland is not a novel driven by literary style. Beukes can write, but she’s not about the finely hewn sentence. There are a few small infodumps, but generally the setting detail is nicely woven in as natural background to the characters. Here’s Toby in one of the books more classically cyberpunk moments:

I take a shortcut through Little Angola, which I only realise is a terrible mistake when I’m hit a double blow by the smell of assorted loxion delicacies and the chatter of warez in the overbridge tunnel market. The warez are outmode. It’s not just that they’re cheap useless, cos who really needs a tube of bondglue or six, except for the street kids, and there are better highs for less, but cos they’re all fucking chipped. This is non-reg, but the cops have better shit to worry about, especially when it doesn’t impact the corporati. The whole audio chipping thing was outlawed almost as soon as it hit. I mean, it was bigtime initially, with cereal boxes and toys and freeware and fucking appliances all chirping their own self-importance, jingles, promos, sound-effects, celeb endorsements, so that house spouses had to wear ear blanks to get through the supermarket. It was only a matter of time before the multinationals made it illegal, or specialised use only, but then notions of illegal don’t extend to the developing. Most of the stuff now comes down from Asia or central Africa, so the chips in here aren’t even speaking English or Xhosa or any of the other eleven nationals; it’s all Cantonese and Portuguese and Kinyarwanda.

What makes this novel rewarding though isn’t those standard SF motifs. It’s the undermining of its own characters credibility and in a way of the credibility of these sorts of characters in the genre more generally. Their ideas are sold to them. Their rebellions change nothing that wasn’t planned to change anyway. They’re consumers who’ve purchased hip outlaw lifestyle options.

In an interesting afterword Beukes flags how much of the novel is based on real life. Even the corporate sponsorship is essentially true. Nobody’s having their DNA tweaked (yet), but tobacco companies used comparable techniques in South Africa after cigarette advertising was banned. Here’s Beukes on the reality underlying the fiction:

They seduced hip young things to be brand ambassadors for the price of free cigarettes. They staged provocative theatre at bars and restaurants like a faked srip poker game with models. And they dropped milllions on the most outrageous events, from Peter Stuyvesant’s swanky mansion pool parties to Lucky Strike’s private concerts, flying out international rock acts and house DJs for one night only. The height of the debauchery was a million Rand party train with multiple dancefloors and five different bars, snaking through the Cape winelands on its way to a secret destination for a luxury picnic. If you’d missed the ARG-style clues, subtly disguised as a Lucky Strike target with only a phone number stuck up at the back of a bar, you missed out.

She notes other elements of the novel also already exist, from cellphone wallets to corporate-funded private universities to transgenic dogs with glow-in-the-dark genes. Even the death of a bio-engineered artwork which forms one of the novel’s central scenes is based on a similar event that already happened in New York. As with so much science fiction, this isn’t really a book about the future. It’s a book about the present.

For those who’re interested there’s an excellent review of Moxyland here by an old friend of mine. He’s very good on the book, and his points on the role of evolution as metaphor are absolutely spot on (as is his citing of Avril Lavigne as a real world example of the corporatisation of dissent that Moxyland skewers so well).

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Filed under African fiction, Beukes, Lauren, SF, South African fiction