Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot). This is a bit old now, but deserves reviewing because it is different, and has stuck with me for over a year, much like the animals in the novel (more of which soon). I came across a review for this on the fantastic blog Pechorin’s Journal, which deserves a mention simply because I think the author, Max Cairnduff, has exactly the same taste in books as me. For a good book suggestion, come here, but for a suggestion from my bookshelf, go see Max.
So, Zoo City. This is a novel set in contemporary Johannesburg, but in an alternate reality where people who commit crimes get magically attached to an animal. Nobody knows why this started to happen, but the result was that people could no longer hide form their crimes and so slums have grown in major cites the world over, with the one in Jo’burg being called Zoo City. There are two more things that really get the backstory kicking. The first is that to be separated from your animal is an intensely distressing phenomena, and if your animal dies, you get torn to shreds by a cloud of darkness. Pow. There is a story doing the rounds within the novel (it is unrelated to the plot, don’t worry) of an African Warlord going into battle with his animalled Penguin dressed in body armour. It is these small details by Beukes that really make the world come to life. The second aspect to being animalled is that you get a special power when it happens – it can be something massive, being able to heal wounds, or almost inconsequential, such as having the skill to find lost things. This is the power held by the hero of the novel, Zinzi December, a washed-out journalist and one-time drug addict who has debts to pay. Oh, and her animal is a sloth. If you aren’t hooked then something has gone badly wrong.
The novel is a fantastic mix of surreal and noir (the Guardian called it ‘future noir’), perfectly treading the line of this alternate reality. What science fiction enables is authors to experiment, to explore the pressures and frictions of our world in a different setting, taking the world like a massive snow globe and giving it a little shake. It is hard to do correctly, but as this book shows, when it is it can produce really stunning literature.Not unsurprisingly it won a whole plethora of prizes, including the Arthur C Clarke Award way back in 2011 (it really is that old). There are some interesting artworks coming out of South Africa on the back of their history of townships and apartheid (cf. District 9, for example), and I think this is going to grow into a genre or subgenre all of it’s own, which is really exciting. Go, experience this and other things, and keep your eyes open for a more up-to-date reviews, coming Wednesday and Thursday right here on the Freight Books Blog.