four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-Zoo CityIn her previous novel Moxyland (2009), South African writer and journalist Lauren Beukes offered biting social commentary that featured four hip, connected Cape Town kids riding technology's wave while trying to maintain their identities. Beukes's latest effort, the Arthur C. Clarke–nominated Zoo City, imagines what it's really like to go through life with a monkey on your back.

The Story: In the late 1990s, history has it, a film student-cum-Afghan warlord unleashed the Zoo Plague on the world, punishing anyone who commits a serious crime. The perpetrator must spend the rest of his or her life attached to an animal familiar that represents their transgression. The animal's death or any attempts at separating oneself from the familiar result, within a few minutes, in The Undertow, a grisly reduction to ash for the human. In present-day Johannesburg--or, more accurately, in an " animalled" slum dubbed "Zoo City"--Zinzi December, who has baggage of her own, including culpability in her brother's death, carries a sloth as a reminder of her past misdeeds. Wallowing in debt and gifted as a finder of lost items, Zinzi accepts a job that takes her even deeper into the underbelly of a terrifying city.
Angry Robot. 384 pages. $7.99. ISBN: 9780857660541

boingboing 4 of 5 Stars
"South African writer Lauren Beukes‘s second novel Zoo City, is a remarkable, gritty, noir urban fantasy set in a Johannesburg where criminals and sinners are marked out by animal familiars that mysteriously appear after the commission of a great evil and attach themselves for life. ... [The novel] ... has so much fabulous wordplay, imaginative settings and scenarios, and such a dark and cynical heart that I was totally riveted by it." Cory Doctorow

Locus 4 of 5 Stars
"Beukes's future city is as spiky, distinctive and material a place as any cyberpunkopolis, and quite a bit fresher. The narrative is brisk and well turned, but the great achievement here is tonal: atmospheric, smart and memorable work." Adam Roberts

Mail and Guardian (South Africa) 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a fascinating book, and Beukes a fabulous writer. Fans of 21st century writing that's as technologically connected as it is authentically fractured will devour Zoo City." Chris Roper

Strange Horizons 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Zoo City may dive a little too glamorously into terrible high-rises and worse tunnels, and its protagonist (who survives the tale she tells) may wear her deformations and her scars and her cabaret presentation of self like war ribbons, and the present tense of the tale's telling may try a little officiously to shove our faces in the fleuve of the overwhelming nows of an alternate-2011 urban South Africa (Johannesburg is hardly exited), but throughout the horrors and the almost synaesthesical complexities of the scenes unfolded we get a sense of vigour, some of it irrepressible. ... The book bustles, it gives you a headache, it pulls at you like a new lover, it nags, it is not quiet, it is not dead yet, it feels proprioceptive to the world." John Clute

Critical Summary

With Moxyland, described colorfully by fellow SF writer Charles Stross as "the larval form of a new kind of SF munching its way out of the intestines of the wasp-paralysed caterpillar of cyberpunk," Lauren Beukes served notice of her intention to become a force in South African fiction. Even more lyrical, inventive, and noirish than its predecessor, Beukes's latest novel ups the ante. If William Gibson were South African or if Jonathan Lethem were inclined to write more books like Gun, with Occasional Music, they might come up with something like Zoo City (Beukes also gives more than a nod to Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy). But as long as readers can see South Africa through the lens of Beukes's deliciously dystopian alternate present, who needs those guys?