Zoo City

By Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4 stars

Zinzi December is one of the ‘animalled’, she did something bad in her life and a sloth materialised and became psychically linked to her. It isn’t all bad, the animalled also get a gift (or curse) to go with their animal, and in Zinzi’s case that is the gift of finding lost things. With her latest client murdered, Zinzi is forced to take on her least favourite type of case: missing persons.

Having not particularly enjoyed Beukes’ previous novel, Moxyland, I wasn’t going to pick this one up, but it came highly recommended by someone whose judgement in books I trust, and I’m very glad I did. I don’t normally go for urban fantasy, but there’s a lot to recommend in this book. The world is very skilfully drawn and just slightly squint to our own. It’s a mark of Beukes’ skill that the addition of the animals seems an almost natural addition to our own. Normally, it’s not something I notice, but I very much admired Beukes’ use of ‘show, don’t tell’ in her writing. We are never infodumped with information about the animals or the world, but the facts we need are woven skilfully into the narrative, and we never feel at sea in jargon.

Zinzi is a flawed protagonist, a recovering drug addict paying off debts to gangs by writing 419-style scam emails, but she holds our sympathy and as our guide to the world is definitely sympathetic as she tries to rebuild her life, even when you find out what she did to deserve her sloth.

The story started to accelerate in pace towards the end and, to me, got slightly confusing. I think that a re-read would help with this and it certainly didn’t spoil the book for me. I would recommend this novel, even to people who wouldn’t normally read fantasy; Beukes certainly deserves the Arthur C. Clarke Award that she received for it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857660541
Publisher: Angry Robot (Osprey Publishing)
Year of publication: 2010


By Lauren Beukes

Rating: 1 star

This is a near-future cyberpunk-based dystopia set in South Africa where four people from disparate spheres of life are drawn together in a web of mystery and intrigue.

This was a free book that was in the con pack at Eastercon, and it’s not one that I would have picked for myself. It’s brutal, packs a punch and realistically disturbing. It postulates a society where having your phone locked as punishment means more than just not being able to make calls. The society is rigged so that public transport, money, access to your own home are done through your phone, and if the corporates and the government control that, they control your life. Our smartphones aren’t there yet, but connect the phones to something like London’s Oyster Card system, and you’re getting pretty close.

What I felt was going a little OTT was the ‘diffusers’ – tasers built into the phones by law that can be activated remotely by the police with hardly any checks and balances, and the releasing of a deadly virus as crowd control – only the authorities have the antidote so if you don’t want to die, you have to hand yourself in.

I didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic, from the obnoxious journalist/blogger off his head on drugs to the rigidly idealistic anti-capitalist, which meant there was no real entry point that made me care about the story, apart from it being a sick world that I really wouldn’t want to live in.

Useful as a cautionary tale about the possible downsides to the heady mix of technology and corporate interests that makes up so much of modern life, but certainly not something I’ll read again.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007323890
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year of publication: 2008

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