by Lauren Beukes
Reviewed by SA
Prepare yourselves for an insane thrill ride, not for the feint of heart. This novel is everything a science fiction novel should be an more, and you’re going to fall in love with Beukes’s writing. And you’ll probably come out hating humans, but we all need a good dose of that from time to time.
A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society’s white knight.
Moxyland is very character driven. All four characters live in South Africa, and their lives all intersect and their paths cross in interesting ways. And each of them are just so incredibly relatable: they’re all a little hot-headed, maybe entitled, self absorbed, and cynical about the world they live in. Whether they like it or not, they all have an important role to play.
We have Kendra, the artist, who’s trying to be independent: she joins a nanotech research program/marketing scheme, which will change her life forever. There’s Lerato, who’s trying to climb the corporate ladder while still hating the corporations. Ten, a activist who slowly begins to cross the line into terrorism, and Toby, a gamer and blogger who just wants to live his comfortable lifestyle. They all have different views of the world they live in, many too comfortable to do anything to change it, while others may try and do too much. it can all end in tears.
The future that Burkes imagines for South Africa is a very plausible one. Everyone is very dependent on their smart phone, as it carries their identity, their bank account, and will even be used in riot control or police arrests. Losing your phone is being tossed out of society. This, and other cool technologies I won’t spoil for you, made so much sense for the world of tomorrow.
The plot itself is a little complicated to get into at first, to see how everyone fits together, but it grows until a climax that is absolutely heart stopping. Seriously, I could not put this book down. It was so exciting, and terrifying… but no, no spoilers!
The novel is also a bit of a social commentary on us (well, a lot of a social commentary), about the power of consumerism and corporations, about complacency, about giving up our freedoms for perceived comfort. It’s not exactly eye opening, but still an amazing study. It kind of makes you hate us current humans.
For fans of Snow Crash, and cyberpunk, who love classics like Brave New World. This book will leave you breathless.
A new paperback edition comes out 16 Aug 2016 from Mulholland Books.