Beukes has positioned her brilliant first novel ten years or so in the future, somewhere between the real-world present and nearly any technologically-based dystopia you care to name.
Author: Lauren Beukes
ISBN: 978-0-00-732389-0, 0007323891
First published: 2008.
In the Cape Town of the near future, the lives of four twentysomethings—an obnoxious, narcissistic blogger, a sponsor-enhanced artist, an artistically-inclined activist, and a corporate hacker—find their lives entwine as each faces the cheerfully oppressive powers-that-be.
Beukes has taken a hundred interesting ideas, about the politics of oppression and subversion, the pervasiveness of technology, the conflation of virtual and actual identities, and created a plausible future. She enters a space inhabited by people such as Robert Charles Wilson and William Gibson because she weaves her speculations naturally into the story with minimal infodump and maximum concern for prose style and characterization.
I’m certain I would know Toby’s narration, even if it weren’t identified, but I wish overall the voices had been further differentiated. This is particularly important given that Beukes understands how to employ the edges of ideas; we’re plunged into each character’s reality with little more explanation that one would see in a conventional novel.
Originality: 4/6. Certainly, we’ve seen many of these elements before, though Beukes programs a unique version of reality from them. Readers might recall Dick or Stross or early Stephenson. For me, Moxyland most brings to mind Doctorow’s Little Brother and while it won’t likely sell as many copies, it is technically better-written, with better-drawn characters—and a far less optimistic conclusion
Imagery: 6/6: Consider this description of a partially-organic installation at an ill-fated gallery soirée:
She only installed it this afternoon, snuck in undercover with security, so it’s the first time I’ve seen it in the flesh. It’s gruesome, red, and meaty, like something dead turned inside-out and mangled, half-collapsed in on itself with spines and ridges and fleshy strings and some kind of built-in speakers, which makes the name even more disturbing: Woof & Tweet.
I don’t understand how it works, but it’s to do with reverb and built-in resonator-speakers. It’s culling sounds from around us, remixing ambient audio, conversations, footsteps, glasses clinking, rustling clothing, through the systems of its body, disjointed parts of it inflating, like it’s breathing, spines quivering (166-7)
Story: 5/6. The plot grows gradually and sinisterly from the experiences of the four major characters and their associates. Astute readers may see where this story is going a little too soon.
Characterization: 5/6. I liked the characters and believed in their worlds entirely. In some case their narrative voices could be differentiated further. The supporting characters have been drawn with insightful brevity.
Emotional Response: 5/6. I found the early chapters difficult slogging in places, but the final results make the reading worthwhile. The last third had me turning pages
Editing: 6/6. In a year when many bloggers and critics took umbrage at certain Hugo nominees– not because they were bad books, but because, some felt, they simply weren’t worthy of SF’s highest accolade—Angry Robot gives us a novel by a writer, someone for whom SF readers need not apologize to their more literary friends.1
Overall score: 6/6. Of the books I’ve reviewed in 2009, I give my highest recommendations to The Graveyard Book and Moxyland.
In total, Moxyland receives 37/42
Notes and Additional Comment
1. I don’t feel the need to apologize and I’m not a fan of the literary/genre split but, leave us face it, some genre luminaries are not the most elegant stylists.
Angry Robot’s party at Anticipation was closed by security and relocated. I don’t recall attending a Publisher’s Imprint party before where that happened.