Zoo City, chapter 1: all you need to know

zoo city by lauren beukesLauren Beukes is looking like being one of those authors I just have to follow. I read the first chapter of her second novel, Zoo City, today over lunch, and within those few pages, however badly hyphenated on my Kindle app, despite having to read the very first line twice, I was:

  • engrossed by her world: a touch of dystopia with magical totem animals
  • familiar with her character enough to know I give a damn: touched by magic, with a nasty past and not a lot of future
  • intrigued by the story: there’s a mystery here
  • engaged by the writing: economical dialogue, and prose that’s to the point but with just the right amount of opinionated, fetching description.
  • Mission accomplished, then. Unless the book takes a swerve into Stupid, I’m on board. I greatly enjoyed her Moxyland, a multiple point-of-view thrill ride. I can’t wait to see where Zoo City takes me.

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    Books of 2009

    Thank goodness for December. After a tumultuous 2009, it’s nice to have a month to draw breath in, to hunker down and finally get that heart massage I’ve been yearning for.

    I owe Chuck McKenzie a favour for getting the ball rolling, passing around an email touting for stories. The anthology died shortly after conception, but it was the rare instance this year when, by the time I’d read the announcement, I had an idea for a story. Two, in fact. I took them both on long leads for a walk in the park, and by the time I was headed for home, had settled on the one I was going to write. I sat down at the keyboard and, naturally, wrote the other one. It’s still not quite finished, and needs a serious going over, and may never see the light of day. Thing is, it happened, it’s there. The wheels were in motion for the first time in far too long.

    They’ve kept turning, too. The result is a file featuring a hodge podge of scenes, all as rough as guts, some contradictory, most muddled, but there’s a narrative in there somewhere. It’s slowly emerging out of the mist.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the words have started to come as I’ve finally got back into reading. Writing’s a machine: you need words in to get words out. That’s my assessment, anyway.

    So what words? A few of us were yakking the other day about our best reads of the year, and I was struggling to recall what I’d read, particularly in the fractured, then limbo, period of the year. Mostly review books, I think. I guess there’s a reason I don’t remember them, but then, memory’s a tricky thing.

    I do remember enjoying Glenda Larke’s The Last Stormlord, an engaging fantasy set in a beautifully realised world of desert, drought and political intrigue. Peter M Ball’s novella Horn, an urban noir featuring a murderous unicorn on the sleazy side of town, whetted the appetite for a sequel. Angry Robot offerings Slights by Kaaron Warren and Moxyland by Lauren Beukes were head and shoulders above their packmates.

    rewired post-cyberpunk anthology

    And then there was the back-catalogue stuff. A copy of Rewired: The Post-cyberpunk anthology proved enjoyable and wide-ranging, from post-apocalyptic (How We Got In Town and Out Again) to post-human (The Wedding Album), obtusely technical (Lobsters) to poetically obtuse (Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City, possible a view or two too many), and two close to my heart thanks to their Mississippi River settings, Calorie Man and Two Dreams on Trains.

    A revisiting of Stephen King’s On Writing and Kim Wilkins’ The Infernal (every bit as good as I remember it; and due for a new release, I believe) preceded two visions of life after the apocalypse, sans zombies: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I thoroughly enjoyed both of these science fiction novels, so beautifully told in both language and structure. I stumbled early on in The Road while I adapted to McCarthy’s degeneration of punctuation and assault with sentence fragments, helping to set his scene. The structure was very clever, a series of vignettes, Polaroids of memories, the order not always clear, his protagonists unnamed as they stumble their way through the blighted landscape, living off scavenged goods and in fear of cannibalistic gangs. A world where trust and compassion are casualties of the need for survival. The last scenes left me a little cold, but that might be my cynicism asserting itself. Atwood’s yarn, in which a race of gene-spliced humans have inherited the world, overseen by a wonderfully depicted, mundane narrator with the inside track on the apocalypse, proved compelling from go to whoa.

    Films and TV

    true blood dvd series

    Not a good year for the moving picture in Jason-land this year, due to a protracted absence from attending either the big or small screen. The few new release movies I’ve seen just haven’t impressed. From the sofa, I’ve been enjoying revisiting Battlestar Galactica, and catching up with True Blood, Dexter, Being Human and Dead Set. I hope the new Sherlock Holmes movie might give the year a kick in the tail.

    Gigs

    In no particular order, this lot rocked: Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Amanda Palmer, Jeff Martin, Emilie Autumn. At a local level, Sunas, Tycho Brahe, Felinedown, Bridget Handley, Dandelion Wine, Wendy Rule and The Wretched Villains made an impression on the synapses.

    Two albums released this year remain on rotation here in the office: The White LiesTo Lose My Life and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!. My retro buy of the year was Beautiful Day by defunct Brisbane duo Stringmansassy: just gorgeous.

    more Angry Robots

    Two out of four ain’t bad, neh?

    HarperCollins’ new spec fic imprint, Angry Robot, has released four books to launch itself, showing a wide scope. There’s Aussie Kaaron Warren’s Slights (which I’ve reviewed here previously), Chris Roberson’s Book of Secrets, Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis and Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland.

    moxyland book cover, by Lauren Beukes

    Beukes, a South African, riffs off that country’s socio-political injustices with her near-future, Orwellian vision. The tale is told through the viewpoints of four characters, each giving an insight into different levels of that society: the rebels, the corporate ladder climbers, the celebrity blogger, and a dysfunctional artist caught up in the latest corporate skullduggery.
    The story unfolds at a pedestrian pace and never really accelerates towards a climax, but the characters are effective and Beukes’ world is wonderfully drawn. The conclusion is gorgeous, for a cynic such as myself.
    Unlike some others in the Angry Robot range, the text is delightfully clean of typos, perhaps thanks in part to Beukes’ background in journalism (ah, those heady days when sloppy work could be remedied by a whack to the back of the head with a Concise Oxford, or perhaps a tap with a Strunk & White).

    book of secrets by chris roberson

    Roberson, who I had the pleasure to meet at World Fantasy in San Jose and is a very cool guy, has delivered a story with many stories within it, a conspiracy tale involving a Biblical secret sought by nefarious, homicidal agencies. Into this is thrown a down-at-heel freelance journo with an unusual past — one that is proven to be even more unusual than he realises thanks to his own family mysteries.
    This isn’t my kind of story at all, and its structure didn’t warm me to it. The pulp stories contained within the text didn’t need to be there (I’m sure others will love these homages), vying with interminable info dumps for causing the greatest urge to skim read, and the supernatural conclusion left me cold. As I said, not my kind of story, but I suspect those with an inclination towards The Da Vinci Code will find plenty here to entertain (and what a shame it is that that book has become the benchmark for this style of story).

    Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner

    Which leaves the most disappointing of the four, Nekropolis. A great idea is so quickly hamstrung by some clunky structure and an appallingly Hollywood ending reminiscent of the ugly denouement forced on Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner. The protagonist is a former cop from Earth who has found himself turned into a zombie in a demon dimension. He has garnered a deep understanding of this bizarre world and its denizens, as well as forging a wide network of contacts of dubious moral worth. It’s a very cool world, filled with neat critters and a bunch of witches and vampires and shapechangers, all competing in a petty pissing contest for status. What wrecked the story for me were the logic potholes: an awful rewind moment regarding a set of lockpicks, a contradictory solution to an ensorcelled door, and a hugely underplayed and slightly farcical showdown with a nemesis. That the author signals that his major characters all survive undermines any suspense, and the aforementioned Blade Runner moment is the salt in the wound. It’s such a pity a little more care couldn’t have been taken, because the premise, and poor Matt the zombie cop, really have legs.