Tag Archives: Lauren Beukes

Friday Faceoff – Everybody’s got haters, but your city’s always behind you.

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cities, so I’ve chosen Zoo City by Lauren Buekes.

This cover, produced by Angry Robot in April 2010, is the original. It manages to successfully depict the main characters along with their animals. I really like this one – it is colourful, eye-catching and true to the book.

 

This amazing cover is on the book that I own. I love it – the apparently simple idea of having the font carry all the elements of the story in a striking black and white design just looks so cool. This is my favourite offering and was produced by Angry Robot in August 2010.

 

This Hungarian edition was published by Ad Astra in April 2012. It is another strong contender – I love the way Zinzi is gazing out at us with her animal on her back. The colourful backdrop also works very well.

 

Produced in 2011 by Центрполиграф, this Russian cover is another very strong design with all sorts of interesting allusions to what happens in the book. It also has a more futuristic feel which I also enjoyed.

 

Published in August 2016 by Mulholland Books, this is by far the most minimal of the covers – and my least favourite. While the lipsticked teeth may serve as a crude warning about the danger Zinzi experiences, there is very little clue as to what this book is about. Which one is your favourite?

 

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Review of Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

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I loved Zoo City – read my review here – so when the opportunity to read Moxyland came along, I couldn’t resist. Would it live up to the punchy writing, memorable style and unique South African setting and flavour Beukes treated us to in the amazing Zoo City?

moxylandThose of you who have read this book won’t be surprised that there isn’t a blurb – it is set in South Africa in a dystopian near future in multiple viewpoints – Kendra, Toby, Tendeka and Lerato. They are all wannabes – Lerato is a computer whizz who managed to land a much-prized job within one of the all-powerful corporations, but feels restless ; Toby is a poor little rich boy who messes around on the edge of whatever is cool – I found his sardonic and outrageous self-absorption by far the most entertaining voice; Kendra has agreed to be a Sponsor Baby – injected with a substance to make her an ambassador for the drink Ghost; and Tendeka who is disgusted with rampant capitalism and unfairness in the system and wants to overthrow it… It’s a big ask to successfully write a narrative with four viewpoint characters, giving each one clearly different traits – yet keeping the reader sufficiently bonded so one character’s story doesn’t end up constantly being skim-read to get back to a favourite. While I didn’t end up doing this, I did find Tendeka fairly repellent from early on.

However Beukes’ writing is so rich and entertainingly different, I simply allowed the story to unfold while wallowing in the sheer inventiveness of the world unpeeling through these four characters. While normally I’m conscious of pacing and story progression – diving into Moxyland was such an immersive experience, many of these considerations didn’t seem to matter all that much… It was much the same feeling I encountered when reading Zoo City, and also Eric Brown’s memorable book, Engineman – the world depicted has such a strong vibe going on, it takes centre stage.

I do think Beukes manages to produce a more polished storyline – and certainly a more convincing ending in Moxyland, than in Zoo City. I certainly didn’t see the end coming and it was a shock – once I’d recovered, it was fascinating to see who walked away from the apocalyptic climax. And who didn’t…

If you love your science fiction served with a large side order of engrossing cool gismos in a completely different, complex world and you haven’t yet encountered Beukes’ work, then hunt down Moxyland – and Zoo City. I won’t guarantee that you’ll be left with a very clear memory of the plot, but her worlds and some of her characters will lodge inside your head for a long time to come. There really isn’t anyone else who writes quite like her.
10/10

Review of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

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This has been on my ‘to read’ list for some time – and obviously, when it won last year’s Arthur C. Clarke award, it got boosted to ‘must read’.

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit, and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.

zoocityAnd that’s the blurb. Which doesn’t really give you much of an idea about what the book is about – however trying to sum up this South African offering in a few lines was always going to be a big ask. Zinzi December is an ex-journalist trying to rebuild her life after having been involved in the death of her brother. But, in this alternate world, those who feel particularly guilty find themselves paired with an animal who may or may not contain the soul of the person they wronged. Beukes doesn’t spend a great deal of time on exposition, but the first person narrative is at times interspersed with other documents – and the academic treatise on the prejudice against ‘zoos’ is examined, along with its causes. Zinzi is bonded with Sloth, who she has to have reasonably close, or die a painful, terrifying death – but in addition, zoos have a gift. Zinzi’s is an ability to find lost things, which she visualises floating above people.

And the Zoo City? A slum area in Johannesburg, inhabited by criminals – mostly accompanied by their animals. This is a vivid and richly different world. I lived in Zambia for a chunk of my childhood and the African slang words and rhythms rang with authenticity, along with the slick, wonderfully worded metaphorical language. Being something of a word junkie, I just loved rolling Beukes’ phrases around in my mouth.

Zinzi leaps off the page with her sharp, street-smart attitude, underscored by the guilt surrounding her brother’s death and occasional shafts of regret for her lost life of privilege and parents… We don’t ever get to the bottom of exactly what happened to Thanda, her brother – or exactly what passed between Zinzi and her parents in the aftermath. Beukes drops a few allusions and the reader is allowed to fill in the gaps, which is fine with me.  Essentially, this vivid, scary world and the cast of eccentric characters peopling it have been crafted to tell a whodunit.

So – does Beukes’ plotline match up the excellence of her compelling world and richly textured prose? Well… no, not really. Not that there is anything essentially wrong with the narrative – there were all sorts of interesting little plot twists and cul-de-sacs that worked perfectly well, but were relatively ordinary. In contrast, her world and characterisation is superb, while her prose is mostly wonderful – the plotting would have had to be amazing to have matched that standard. This doesn’t take away what Zoo City has to offer – it is still dizzyingly good. But don’t take my word for it – if you are remotely interested in speculative fiction and haven’t already got hold of this book, then do so. It is one of those books that will still be discussed ten years from now as a benchmark read of 2010/11.

10/10