Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Review - Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, September 11, 2009 | Category: |

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

Moxyland, from young SA author Lauren Beukes, takes the near future sci-fi of authors like Philip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, and others and locates it in Cape Town, rather than the more traditional locales of such fiction - NYC, LA, London, Tokyo, etc. But this is a post-superdemic, corporatist, freedoms-limited-by-crazy SAPS Cape Town, not the liberal-outpost, 'Shwaa man', sea and sun, more-laid-back-than-thou Cape Town we know and love. In this mutant, infected, ugly step-sister of contemporary Cape Town there's enough Cape Town to identify it through the smog - references to Long Street, Obs, Delft, Roodebloem Rd, the taxi ranks & the parade (no more where Mandela spoke of freedom, but where street kids are learning graf art sponsored by corporate social investment who've done strange things to the paint). You arrive in Beukes's Cape Town and you enjoy the potholed, nano-injected ride

So yes, Beukes does the cyberpunk thing well - corporates in control, government serving them & not the people, heavy restraints on freedoms, cellphones and computers pervasive with a little bit of VR gaming and avatars thrown in for good measure. Beukes freshens the cyberpunk genre with her use of SIM cards as the ID document, credit card, vehicle of punishment, all-in-all lifeline, and in her idea of using nanotech to genetically modify people so that they become walking ads and artwork.

But the notion of corporates 'watching you', and the eventual denouement of 'yes they're really watching you more than you think' was a bit stale. I've read that before. You won't be surprised by the plot, there's not much new there. You mustn't let that get you down - the new, funny, interesting and cool stuff is bonded to the architecture, to thescaffolding of the plot as it unfolds: the characterisation of Lerato, Kendra, Toby & Tendeka; the Nguni, Cape Malay and so-called coloured names instead of the US-Nippon-Sino melds you so often see in
cyberpunk; the familiar-mutated landscape; the Cape Town art/model-scene gone wrong (I'm thinking Michael Stevenson & the Goodman Gallery with legalized drugs, more corporates, more models, nano implants, and pretension skyrocketing); the polarisation of Rural vs Connected; the gross & crazy inequality and how Connected vs. Non- makes this all the more apparent, all the more alienating.

Don't go in expecting to be blown away by an untold story - that's not going to happen. But don't hold that against the book. The novelty's in the unweaving, the style, and the characterization. The book feels like the synthesis of bits of Orwell, with a character or two from Bret Easton Ellis, and various cyberpunk & sci fi authors, Gibson, Dick, Stephenson, Cory Doctorow come to mind. Expect a typical cyberpunk story, but take pleasure in the SA- and CT-specific minutiae, appreciate the 3rd world take on a genre so typically 1st world, endure some of the ways txt msg speak invades speech and writing, laugh at the occasional silliness. It's a good book, a good quality SA product to be exported to the SIM-toting, cyberpunk-reading masses in the rest of the world; many of the sci-fi junkies out there will lap it up and love its uniqueness - Charlie Stross likes it, so you could too

Post-script 1: My wife, Amy, just finished reading Moxyland and was surprised by how much she liked it. Amy had never read sci-fi before and loved it, so my compliments to Beukes for drawing my wife into a sci-fi novel, I had tried before with little success.

Post-script 2: I wonder if someone could convince Jessica Tiffin to resurrect her 3rd year English lit sci-fi elective at UCT and teach this book... Hmm... <schemes>

Currently have 2 comments:

  1. So sad that Jessica Tiffin has left UCT - leaving a noticable vacuum in terms of the "popular" genres.

  2. Sjoe, I hadn't realised that. I seem to be Out Of Touch!