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Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

To be honest, I never expected to be the recipient of an ARC of The Shining Girls – considering what a big 2013 title this book is and will prove to be, I thought that most of the available ARCs would go to the big newspapers and such here in SA, so I was very chuffed when a copy was dropped off at my workplace and given to me. 🙂

The Shining Girls Banner

I’ve been excited about this novel since the moment I heard about it (and it goes without saying that any new novel from Lauren, after Moxyland and Zoo City, would excite me), and was even more pumped up for it when I read the first chapter a couple of months ago. In that chapter I was introduced to Harper Curtis and Kirby – Harper the shiver-inducing gift-giver, and Kirby the fragile-seeming girl who had created a wonderful little circus in the dirt. That first chapter left me with chills and a rumbling foreboding, because I realized after reading it that in The Shining Girls Lauren was moving in an entirely new direction; she would be taking me down a path that neither Moxyland nor Zoo City had explored. By the time of this realization, the term Time-Travelling-Serial-Killer wasn’t even important any more – the glimpse I had received of Harper had made enough of an impression on me that I knew I would be reading the book as soon as I could.

The Shining Girls SA Cover

So, when I got the book, I re-read the first chapter, not because I had forgotten the chilling circus-and-pony scene, but because I wanted that seamless slide into the novel – and the pages flew by, the tale opening up like a carnivorous, giant rose, ready to capture that person unwary enough to draw too close to smell the enticing scent. Harper, the novel’s antagonist, already had my attention – like all the twisted, off-centre killers I’ve met in books, I couldn’t help the fact that I wanted to know more about him. Here was this man, chatting amiably to a little girl, enticed by her just as he is trying to entice her, and he doesn’t hide what he is. So secure in his purpose that he doesn’t even need to hide it from me, the reader. The hints in that first chapter of what we would discover about Harper were expertly doled out – almost like  catching the myriad scents that make up a dinner before experiencing the dishes’ complete smell. And Kirby, this little girl indulging her imagination as she plays in dirt, trying to attain some measure of control over her life even at such a young age, was already the broken person I would get to know throughout the novel; broken, yet stubborn in her resolve to try to make sense of her life. So, as first chapter’s go, Chapter One of The Shining Girls was, in my opinion, perfect.

The Shining Girls SA Special Edition Cover

Then I fall deeper into the novel – gaining some more background on Harper, such as hints of his past, the kind of dark things he’d already done, discovering the preliminary sparks of how his mind works; and back to Kirby, who is frayed and damaged and taut, looking after her mother even as she’d trying to find that something that will give her a reason to not be like her mother. The chapters tumble onward, not like something out of control and direction less  but with a sense of relentless and devastating motion – in this novel, there is no immovable object, nothing to stand in the way of the constantly-building tension. Lauren achieved this by jumping, time-wise, in each chapter – so please do pay attention to the dates in which each chapter is set; they’re not just there as a time-stamp. 😉 She also does this by revealing more and more of Harper, his methods, how he learns to focus on only what he needs and not the spectacle of the world around him; it also happens in Harper’s chapters that Lauren plays plays with what’s important and what isn’t, not only plot- and character-wise but also world-wise – she seems to ask, almost subliminally  just what about the world has improved with technology? Does the progress that civilization continuously faces come at the cost of our dwindling humanity, or do we actually discover more of ourselves? It’s not an in-your-face exploration / wondering; it’s beautifully subtle.

The Shining Girls UK Cover

Now, I was worried that I wouldn’t care about Kirby – after all, when reading the book’s blurb you find out that she has survived this killer once already. So, did that knowledge regarding her taint her growth as a character and my having to care about her, as all story tellers and writers must do in order for their characters to live? No at all. In fact, I found myself slipping more and more into a ‘For fuck sakes, Kirby, just stop this, just let it go!” frame of mind as she began her search for the man who almost killed her. She pushes herself into a position that’ll make it easier for her to gather information and over-looked evidence, meets another wonderful character with his own pain and mistakes and worries, Dan Velasquez.

The Shining Girls US Cover

We find out more about her mother, about the sad, almost unthinkable circumstances of her conception, and finally get to the scene that forced her onto the converging-with-Harper path once again – how she is attacked by Harper, what happens during the attack, and how she survives, is incredibly intense and graphic. It was, to my mind, expertly placed – it’s the tipping point of the novel, that moment in which the reader realizes that the brakes have failed and the lights are out and that you can’t help but clench your jaw harder and harder with each passing page. Layer upon layer of characterization, for each important character, has converged, and from the moment of Kirby’s survival, these layers combine with the intricate plot to steamroll the reader towards not only a deeper understanding of Kirby, Dan, Harper, even Rachel (Kirby’s mother), but a sense that if you just read with more attention you’ll be able to figure it out – but the beauty of it is is that you can’t. Why? Because of the House that Harper uses, this enigmatic and terrifying place in all times – it’s the only character in the novel that remains mysterious, the only character we gain almost no understanding of. Did it work for me, this lack of detailed information about the House, how it works, why it exists, etc.? Without a doubt. Sometimes, as readers, as those hijacked to our imaginations, sometimes it’s just better not to have all the knowledge. Sometimes a force of nature is just that, and it cannot be described or experienced or understood in a way that a human mind can understand.

Lauren

This novel is insanely good – multi-layered, both in terms of characters and their growth and progression through the tale, as well as in how it was constructed and written – Lauren has a beautiful, fluid style, a way of writing that I can only describe as slipping words into the current of the story at exactly the right moment. This novel is set entirely in the US-city of Chigago, so there’s no South African link as with Moxyland and Zoo City, but then there’s absolutely no reason for a link to SA, so I wasn’t disappointed at all. I cannot say, of course, that Lauren captured the various time-periods of Chicago that we experience in this novel (since I’ve never been to Chicago), but what did come through strongly for me was the city’s presence, the sense that every building and every street had a story to tell, that every window -broken or whole- was watching, and that every moment of silence was like the preparatory-to-striking breath of a predator. There are instances of beauty in Lauren’s descriptions of the city, but the majority of the novel takes places in places pregnant with sadness and tension and exhausted silence; there’s a brooding atmosphere evident in each scene, whether we’re with a Radium Girl or in the bullpen of a newspaper; the hints of beauty are more stark for this, more affecting, even as they’re few and far between.

Now, as you all know, I usually read Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, the odd thriller and murder mystery, so I guess you might be wondering whether -having similar reading-tastes- you might enjoy this novel? I’m pretty sure that you will, for a range of reasons:

1), we all read what we read to live the events in the book through the characters, and Lauren has created memorable characters in this story – characters that will disturb you, will irritate you (because you want to give them advice and help them), will have you gnawing at your nails or smoking cigarette after cigarette (because you want them to persevere, to survive, to find that way out), characters that will leave you with a wave-like melancholy (Kirby’s mother), or a cheer at every chapter they appear in (Dan), but most importantly, characters that you’ll care about, characters that might just leave you realizing things about yourself – because, after all, we live different lives and experience different events through the characters in novels, don’t we?

2) the time-travelling aspect of the novel is really intelligently done – it’s not just a trope, a fixture, a way of moving from A to Z and everywhere in-between. Coupled with the mysterious House and the city of Chicago, it’s a thing you cannot predict or fully understand, and that makes it wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

3) Harper Curtis – the bad guy, the antagonist; he’s not a stereotype, as far from a cliché as it’s possible to be (which is as it should be!). He’s a despicable man, with a world-view that is both shiver-inducing and completely understandable – he’s so damned memorable because you will live in his head throughout this novel, and you won’t be able to help yourself thinking, “Would I really do things differently if I had found the House? Would I choose the path I’ve always walked or the path whispering to me?” There aren’t many serial killers in my list of most memorable, and Harper definitely joins that list – Hannibal Lecter (Thomas Harris), The Travelling Man (John Connolly),  Patrick Süskind’s Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and Kaaron Warren’s Stevie (Slights – who freaks me out so much I still haven’t been able to finish the novel).

This novel is disturbing, thrilling and intelligent – Lauren has shifted into new territory with this often-sad, eminently readable tale of a hunter and his prey, of the House you’ve always wondered about but never had the guts to enter, of the strength of character and the pull of destiny that so often rules lives, and of the simple yet often-overlooked beautiful moments that stitch together our lives with lasting and reverberating echoes. It’s a tale in which time travel is the shadowy, always-watching character, not the pipes-and-electronics vehicle employed by the characters. And it’s Lauren’s best novel yet!

10 / 10

The_Shining_Girls_by_Lauren_Beukes

Today is the official South African release date of The Shining Girls, and if you don’t want to wait until the 25th of April or the 4th of June, respectively, head over to Exclusive Books’ website and order your copies! For those willing to wait, click here for Amazon US (4 June) and here for Amazon UK (25 April).

For more info about Lauren and her work, check out her website here, and if you’d like a beautiful special edition of The Shining Girls (done by the excellent Joey HiFi), click this link!

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Reviews

 

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BookEx: The Science Fiction / Horror Panel

Hey Everyone, hope you’ve been having a great weekend so far. 🙂

I just wanted to let you know one last time about the SF/Horror panel that will be taking place at 4 tomorrow afternoon at BookEx:

I’ll be chairing the panel and the authors who’ll be sitting with me are Lauren Beukes, Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz.

Lauren, Louis and Sarah are all based in Cape Town, so it’s really awesome to have them come out all this way. 🙂

Lauren, as you all probably know, is the author of Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past; Moxyland (US / UK / SA), and Zoo City (US 25 December / UK / SA)

Louis Greenberg has written The Beggars Signwriters and also edited the 24-story collection, Home Away; he is also collaborating with another author on the horror novel, The Mall.

Sarah Lotz is the author of Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A and Tooth and Nailed; she is the other author collaborating with Louis Greenberg on the horror novel, The Mall.

And since Sarah and Louis are collaborating on The Mall, it’s only far to feature their combined author-persona, too: SL Grey

We’ll be talking about Science Fiction and Horror, the growing industry for both genres in South Africa, as well as Louis and Sarah’s collaboration as SL Grey for The Mall, as well as anything else that takes our fancy. 🙂

We hope you’ll come through and join us!

R30 will get you in and our panel starts at 4, but there are plenty of events throughout the day, so do check out the program. 🙂

Hope to see you there!

Be EPIC!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 27, 2010 in Announcements

 

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Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I used to live in Hillbrow, the section of Jo’burg in which much of Zoo City is set, but I was too young at that time to really remember it. We lived there, though, and I’m told it was a wonderful place to live. Now, though, and for the last couple of decades, at least, Hillbrow has become a complete and utter hell-hole. Stories of old ladies on pension being mugged repeatedly, and here I’m talking six or seven times in as many weeks; stories of entire appliances being thrown from windows during New Year’s Eve celebrations; stories that would make you wince and shake your head and tell the person who’s telling you these stories to just stop.

As a South African living about an hour from Hillbrow, I’m practically inured to Hillbrow-stories – as South Africans we’ve heard it all before, and many, many, many times. It’s like having to drive down a road on which a sewerage-plant is located, every day – at first the stench is crazy-bad and you’re damn sure that it clings to your clothes, but after a while the stench becomes a scent and then even that scent disappears. It is a curse of being human that you become used to everything.

Zoo City is, in some ways, a strident wake-up call. A shout from every rooftop, megaphones included. It’s the kind of book that draws attention to that which needs to be acknowledged and stopped while, at the same time, showing you that there is beauty and magic in everything and that you just need to allow yourself to look.

Zoo City focuses on Zinzi December; she struggles to make ends meet by finding lost things for people and also by dreaming up scams that end up fleecing the unfortunate, naive victim out of their money. It was wonderful getting to know Zinzi, even the not-so-nice and exploitative sides of her personality; sometimes I found myself shaking my head at her stupidity and practically consistent desire to get herself into difficult situations, but I also also learned to admire her for her ability to pick herself up and keep on going, even when everything around her was falling to pieces. I found her to be the kind of character that kept me interested and curious – Lauren lets Zinzi reveal herself, so that as the story progresses you get to know different aspects of her personality; just like what would happen during a long friendship or relationship with someone. I wouldn’t mind reading more tales that star Zinzi – she’s definitely a fresh, bold and tenacious girl! 🙂

But Lauren peoples Zoo City with plenty of other characters, from the star-producer Odi to Zinzi’s boyfriend, Benoit as well as a host of others – twins who are taking the SA music scene by storm, Zinzi’s contacts and friends from a previous life, and plenty of awesome animals – especially Sloth, the best of the lot. 🙂

Lauren also does some incredible world-building in this book, as she did in Moxyland; this is the Jo’burg that everyone knows (at least, those of us who have been there) but it’s also a new, darker Jo’burg that seethes with shadows and tension and yes, even beauty. I got the same feeling from Lauren’s Jo’burg as what I got from Kate Griffin’s London (from A Madness of Angels) – it’s familiar and exotic and beautiful, even though it seethes with danger, cruelty and chaos, and even though I’d probably see my ass if I ever went to Lauren’s Jo’burg, I’d still love to go. 🙂

I’m not going to say anything about the Urban-Fantasyish aspects of Zoo City – discovering that for yourself is one of the great things about this book. Suffice it to say that the magic (and there is magic) is pretty damn awesome and always interesting – the entire culture that has taken hold because of this magic and its effects is easily one of the stars of the novel. 🙂

The novel is also peppered with articles that lend it a refreshing authenticity – everything from supposed psychology of Zoo’s to glimpses of Zoo’s across the world. And no, I don’t mean animals-in-cages Zoo’s. 😉

Zoo City is an excellent example of what South African writers can achieve if they want to write stories set in South Africa; you really can give it our very particular flavour while telling the kind of tale you want to without having to focus on the evils of Apartheid or HIV / AIDS as a story-telling vehicle; one of the many things that Zoo City proves is that South Africa definitely has authors that’ll get you to sit up and take notice (while learning about our country), and Lauren Beukes is one of the authors at the forefront of showing this to the world. I have no doubt that readers in the UK and US will be intoxicated and astonished by this novel and that its characters events will remain with them for some time. That I hope that South African readers embrace this novel doesn’t need to be said – it’s just a matter of time. 🙂

8 / 10

To order your copies of Zoo City, click here (Exclusive Books); Zoo City will be available in the UK in September (from Angry Robot Books), but if you’d like to devour it before then (and who in the UK wouldn’t?!) then check out the info here – Lauren will be launching Zoo City at Forbidden Planet and you’ll be able to get yourself a limited edition hardcover. 🙂 Pre-order your copies here (Amazon UK) and head over to Lauren’s site here and her blog over at Book SA here.

Be EPIC!

P.S. Don’t just take my word that Zoo City is awesome – you can also read a review by Lood Du Plessis, one of my good friends, over at the Exclusive Books’ website. 🙂

 
8 Comments

Posted by on June 29, 2010 in Angry Robot, Reviews

 

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Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – SA Cover Glory!

It’s official!

Lauren Beukes has let me know that I can go ahead and show you all the incredible cover of the South African edition of Zoo City!

The cover was done by the same awesome guy who did both covers for Moxyland (the Angry Robot cover and the SA cover, both below), and he also did the cover for Lauren’s first book, Maverick, Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past ; his name is Dale Halvorsen, AKA Joey Hifi, and you can check out the rest of his work at this website.

Okay, here’s the SA Moxyland cover (published by Jacana and available to order from Exclusive Books):

Here’s the Angry Robot cover for Moxyland, showing the four main characters in all their coolness:


Here’s John Picacio’s Zoo City cover, launched a couple of months ago on this blog:

And finally, here’s the awesome cover that will be gracing the shelves all over South Africa before you can get your jaw back to the proper position! (from May, SA & UK for those who need a date)

Isn’t that awesome!!?? I love the way that it’s totally black and white but vibrant and alive, too; it takes a different tack from the cover that John Picacio did for Lauren, but still manages to give readers a taste of what they can expect from Zoo City. 🙂 Beautiful stuff! Congrats on Lauren and Jacana for getting such a talented dude to do the cover! 🙂

Until tomorrow,

Be EPIC!

P.S. There will be launch events coming up for Zoo City, too; the book will be launched in both Cape Town and Joburg in May, as well as in London on in July – more detailed info will follow. 🙂 I’ll be there in Joburg! 🙂

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Announcements

 

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Angry Robot Review: Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

angry-robot

moxyland

Last night (this being Thursday evening through till Friday morning) I plowed through a hectic sinus-headache to finish Moxyland. That’s how good this book is.

Let me try and set the scene for you: Cape Town, South Africa, some time in the future. We follow four pre-thirties characters as they go about their lives and swirl around each other in a world that seems to have gone a bit nuts – corporations run everything, the South African Police Services (SAPS, as we know them) plays pre-recorded messages to disperse unlawful gatherings before using nano-fueled dogs, and your online identity is more important that your physical life, because if you aren’t connected, you can’t do anything; well, you could, but then you wouldn’t be much better off than the homeless kids or the Rurals (more on that later)…

And then all of the above doesn’t even touch on all the subjects that Moxyland deals with. 🙂

Reading Moxyland is like being electrocuted with a blend of Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, George Orwell’s 1984 and Ian McDonald’s Necroville, with a dash of A Clockwork Orange, while enjoying the kind of great characters that writers like Stephen King and George RR Martin come up with.

As a South African reading it, I was struck by how well Lauren had captured our blend of cultures, and then taken those cultures a decade or two into the future; I haven’t ever been to Cape Town, but Lauren wrote Cape Town so well that I got the same feeling about the city after being submerged in the London of A Madness of Angels – you walk the streets, drive on the roads and smell the myriad scents, and even the people, the bergies and the internet-café employees and the shack-dwellers (most of the Rurals; as in, they come from outside SA and aren’t really a part of the country since most of them are too poor to be connected) come alive, lending the tale one of its many aspects of credibility. These aren’t stereotypes at all; they’re all normal people, struggling, as we do every day, to make sense of a world gone weird (or wired, should I say), and the way Lauren handles the integration of technology into everyday life begs the question: “How much place is there for a people’s culture, for their identity, in a world where everyone is connected to everyone else? Are we really better off when people know about the latest trends, products, games, movies and celebrities and are forgetting about who they are, as people?”

This is just one of the many questions this tale seeded in me, and that’s also one of the joys of this book: it’s the kind of book that makes you pick up your head, look around and ask, “Just what the fuck, exactly, is going on?” You may look at the world a bit differently; you may just realize that you had a life, once, without a cellphone or connection to the internet, and that, Oh my Goodness, nothing much has changed – except for the fact that we’re all learning how to be good little marketing drones for the money-makers. 🙂

Another aspect of Moxyland that I really enjoyed was the tech – none of it is outrageous or unbelievable, and everything has a proper use. Think your cellphone is cool now? Wait until you read where it may be headed! (Be afraid, I say, be very afraid!) The whole world changes with technology, even if we don’t admit it, and this is definitely reflected in Moxyland – from art galleries to how you clean your house / apartment to the clothes you wear. Not even ol’ Tom Cruise had it this fast and furious in Minority Report!

Going back to the characters, you’ll find yourself either loving or hating them. 🙂 You’ll meet Tendeka, Toby, Kendra and Lerato – they are our POV-people, and the tale unfolds as we take a ride behind their eyes.

Tendeka wants change, Toby wants fame, fortune and sugar, Kendra is finding herself, and Lerato is poised at the precipice; each character is unique, with their own lives, dramas, voices, hates, dislikes and loves. Sometimes the perspectives overlap, giving us an event from two angles, and it’s through these characters that we really connect with the world Lauren has created (and, some of you may agree, foreseen). You see all the angles, hear all the arguments, and this is particularly great because of the kind of book Moxyland is – like I said, you will question, you will ponder, you will agree and disagree, and I guarantee that at least one of the characters will resonate with you. 🙂

Lauren also kicks it into high gear from around the last 120 pages of the book, tension-wise (that’s one of the reasons that I plowed through the headache), and you’ll find yourself flipping the pages faster and faster. All of the character-arcs are resolved and there are more surprises than you can shake a stick at – one of them at least that should knock you into stunned silence. The preceding portions of the book are well-balanced with some laugh-out-loud moments, some moments that’ll have leave your eyes widened in shock, and all through it, you’ll feel amazed by Lauren’s Cape Town and the characters that inhabit it.

It is my opinion that this book will end up being one of the greats of contemporary future-fiction, and it can stand proud among the legends that authors such as Philip K Kick and George Orwell have given us – and also, coming from a South African writer, this is definitely a book that should force the rest of the publishing world to sit up and take notice. We can write here. 🙂

8.5 / 10

lauren-beukes

Check out the official Moxyland website here, check out Moxyland’s spiffy new home here, and order your copies here (for SA), here (for the UK), and here (for the US).

Now that Angry Robot has officially launched (congrats to the guys and to all the authors who’s work will be published by Angry Robot!), expect to see much more from them, on this Blog and elsewhere! 🙂 My next Angry Robot review will be up soon! 🙂

angry-robot

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 7, 2009 in Angry Robot, Reviews

 

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Angry Robot Books: Free Fiction Extracts No 1

Hey Guys and Girls, got some free fiction for you! 🙂 Granted, it is only an extract from the full novel, but still, it should be enough to wet your appetite! 🙂 First up, I’ve got an extract from fellow South African and Angry Robot author, Lauren Beukes’ novel, Moxyland! 🙂

Enjoy!

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moxyland

Kendra

There is already spillage out of the doors by the time I get to Propeller, which can only be a good sign when it’s just gone six-thirty. I feel fractal with nerves, or maybe it’s that I’m on
my fourth Ghost in under an hour.

‘You’re late.’ Jonathan latches onto my arm at the door and swishes me inside through the crowd. I can’t believe how many people there are, crowded into the gallery. There is a queue up the stairs to see Johannes Michael’s atom mobile, but the major throng is in the main room, and not, I regret to say, for my retro print photos.

They’re here to see Khanyi Nkosi’s sound installation, freshly returned from her São Paulo show and all the resulting controversy. 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, conversation, footsteps, glasses clinking, rustling clothing, through the systems of its body, disjointed parts of it inflating, like it’s breathing, spines quivering.

It’s hard to hear it over the hubbub, but sometimes it’s like words, almost recognisable. But mostly it’s just noise, a fractured music undercut with jarring sounds that seem to come randomly. Sometimes it sounds like pain. It is an animal. Or alive at any rate. Some lab-manufactured plastech bio-breed with just enough brainstem hard-wired to respond to input in different ways, so it’s unpredictable – but not enough to hurt, apparently, if you believe the info blurb on the work.
‘It’s gratuitous. She could have done it any other way. It could have been beautiful.’

‘Like something you’d put in your lounge, Kendra? It’s supposed to be revolting. It’s that whole Tokyo tech-grotesque thing. Actually, it’s so derivative, I can’t stand it. Can we move
along?’
I run my hand along one of the ridges and the thing quivers, but I can’t determine any noticeable difference in the sounds.
‘Do you think it gets traumatised?’
‘It’s just noise, okay? You’re as bad as that nutjob who threw blood at Khanyi at the Jozi exhibition. It doesn’t have nerve endings. Or no, wait, sorry, it does have nerve endings, but it doesn’t have pain receptors.’
‘I meant, do you think it gets upset? By all the attention? I mean, isn’t it supposed to be able to pick up moods, reflect the vibe?’

‘I think that’s all bullshit, but you could ask the artist. She’s over there schmoozing with the money, like you should be.’
Woof & Tweet suddenly kicks out a looped fragment of a woman’s laugh that startles me and half the room, before it slides down the scale into a fuzzy electronica.

‘See, it likes you.’
‘Don’t be a jerk, Jonathan.’
‘There’s some streamcast journalist who wants to interview
you, by the way. And he’s pretty cute.’
My stomach spasms. This is another thing Jonathan does to
keep me in my place – as in, we’re not together.
‘Great, thanks. I need a drink.’
‘I’ll get it. Just go talk to Sanjay. What do you want?’
‘Anything.’ It’s unlikely that the gallery bar would have
Ghost on hand.
Jonathan propels me in the direction of Sanjay, who is standing in a cluster of people, in deep conversation. The one is clearly money, some corporati culture patron or art buyer; the other, I realise, is Khanyi Nkosi. I recognise her from an interview
I saw, but she is so warmly energetic, waving her hands in the air to make a point and grinning, that I can’t match her to her work. And the third, I realise with a shock, is Andile. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he should be here, considering he picked me on the basis of my work, but I still haven’t come clean with Jonathan about the branding, and this doesn’t strike me as the time.

I can’t deal with this right now. I push through the queue, detouring back towards the entrance and the open air – only to skewer someone’s foot with the ’40s-style blue velvet heels I bought for the occasion.

‘Hey! Easy!’
‘Oh god, I’m sorry.’ Shit, I really, really, really need a Ghost. I wonder if I can make it to the spaza down the road and back before Jonathan notices.
‘No worries. Art is what the artist does, right? So technically, my bruised toes could be worth something?’
I didn’t even realise it was Toby whose foot I had crushed.
‘So you must be the famous artist, then?’
‘I’m the less famous artist. I mean, I’m not; the thing, it’s not
mine. But you know that.’ I laugh self-consciously, still thinking about how to get a Ghost, my mind chanting a little litany of need, wondering if they serve them at the bar.
‘Is now a good time to get an interview?’
‘You’re the journalist?’
‘Ouch!’ He mock-staggers back, clutching his heart. ‘Yeah. I brought my own phone mic and everything.’
‘I’m sorry. That’s not what I… Oh God. Can we just start again?’
‘Sure. No prob.’
He turns away, clears his throat, and then does a little twirl, one hand raised in fabulous salute, hamming it up like he’s on
the red carpet.
‘Hello. I’m Toby. I’ll be your journo for the evening.’
And I can’t help but laugh.
‘Do you have a drink?’
‘No, thanks. Someone’s getting me one.’
‘Rocking.’ He suddenly turns serious. ‘Okay, now listen, Special K, if you want, we can talk later. I know it’s your opening and you’ve got things to do, people to schmooze. I will totally understand if now is not the most opportune moment.’
‘Actually, do you want to get out of here?’

‘What?’
‘Just for a sec. I need some fresh air. And a drink.’
‘I thought someone was getting you one.’
‘A non-alcoholic.’
‘Ooooooh. Right.’ He winks.
‘You want to come?’
‘Sure. Can my mic come too?’
We’re not the only people hanging outside. We have to push through a crowd, including an astonishingly gorgeous blonde, with fucked-up hair, who makes me feel conservative. We get halfway down the block before I take off my heels in disgust.
‘That doesn’t make it into the copy, okay?’
He holds up his hands. ‘Do you see me making notes?’
We walk in silence for another block, stepping over a bergie passed out in the street. And I’m relieved not to feel any sense of an urgent compulsion to touch him. And no Aitos in sight, either.
At the spaza, Toby opens the fridge at the back. ‘Ghost, I’m assuming?’ he says, putting it on his phone.
It’s cold and crisp and clean and it hurts my teeth and I realise my hands have been shaking all this while – or maybe my whole body. And this can’t be good, but it doesn’t feel bad.
‘Mind if I join you?’
Toby cracks another can. ‘Wow. You really are an addict deluxe,’ he says, a little too admiringly.
‘Hey, did you check my coat tonight?
‘Yeah?’
His BabyStrange is black, which is a relief after the goreporn he was projecting last time I saw him.
‘It’s my little shout out to Self-Portrait.’
‘Cute. So, do you want to do this?’
‘Am I allowed to take notes now?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ I wave my hand impatiently.
He hooks a mic into his phone and points it at me. ‘So. What’s with the oldschool?’
‘Didn’t you read the press release?’
‘Let’s say I didn’t.’
I quote it from memory. ‘Adams’s use of non-digital format is inspired by her fascination with the capacity for error…’
‘Okay. Let’s skip the press release.’
‘Ah, it’s just – film is more interesting than digital. There’s a possibility of flaw inherent in the material. It’s not readily available, so I have to get it over the Net, and some of it has rotted or it’s been exposed even before I load it in the camera, but I don’t know that until I develop it.’
‘Like Self-Portrait?’
‘And it’s not just the film. It’s working without the automatic functions. The operator can fuck up too.’
‘Did you fuck up?’
‘Ha! That’s the great thing about working with damaged materials.
You’ll never know.’
‘It’s the same in audio, you know. Digital was too clean when it first came out, almost antiseptic. The fidelity was too clear. You lost the background noise, the sounds you don’t even pick up, but it’s dead without the context. The audio techs had to adapt the digital to synth the effects of analogue. How insane is that? It’s contentious, though – now they’re saying it’s been bullshit all along, just nostalgics missing the hiss of the recording
equipment.’
‘That’s exactly it. You can do the same thing in photography. Apply effects, lock-out the autofocus, click up for exposure, all to recreate the manual.’

‘And you’re looking for the background noise.’
‘Yeah. Or something like it.’ I set my empty can neatly down beside my shoes. ‘Got enough?’
‘Yeah. I’m good. You give good soundbite,’ he says admiringly, so that another Ghost down, we’re still sitting on the pavement, just talking, away from the madding, when a darkhaired boy I recognise as the guy from the band, from Andile’s office, comes walking down towards us.
‘Hey, photographer girl,’ he says, friendlier than last time. ‘Damian, remember? From Kill Kitten?’
‘Hey, Dame,’ says Toby. ‘How’s the bandscene? Did you catch the cast from your gig?’
‘Yeah, man, it was killer. Shot. We really appreciate the exposure.’
‘It was all you. I just filmed what I experienced. You guys were tight.’
‘Well, it was great, man, thanks. We’re playing next Saturday,
if you want on the guest list.’
‘Thanks. So, how do you know our star rising over here?’ Toby asks, nodding at me. We are both still sitting, sprawled on the kerb, so Damian is looking down at us.
There is a drawnout silence.
‘Ho-kay,’ Toby shrugs in mock defeat. ‘There’s obviously some deep unspoken going on here, and I do not need to know the gruesome details.’
‘It’s nothing like that. We’re…’ I look to Damian for approval, but he doesn’t seem concerned. ‘We’re both branded.’
‘How come you’re not chugging Ghosts, then?’
‘Are you kidding me?’ Damian laughs. ‘I’ve had three already tonight.’ He drops to sit on the pavement beside us.

‘How much do you drink in a day?’ I ask, trying to make it sound throwaway.
‘Six, seven? Somewhere around there. My girlfriend keeps tabs on me.’ I don’t say anything. I’m doing nine to twelve. This is my seventh since four-thirty.
‘It’s lucky you’re both the same brand,’ Toby says, and is that
envy in his voice?
‘What if you were competitive? There must be a clause about that. “Section 31c. Thou shalt not fraternise with the enemy.”’
‘Yeah, can you imagine?’ Damian says. ‘Coke wars for real.’
‘No rival soft-drink friends for you!’
‘I don’t think that’s going to be an issue anytime soon,’ I interrupt their banter. ‘Andile said they’re not doing this with other brands just yet. Ghost has the proprietary licence for three months.’
‘Yeah, but we’re only first gen. They’ll be popping out sponsor babies like toast.’
‘I hate that word.’
‘Toast?’ chirps Toby, trying to find a way in.
‘And what happened to it being exclusive?’
‘You’ll be able to buy your way in. Got enough cash, enough cool, you’re representing. Just like the cosmetics.’
‘So we’ll be outmoded already.’
‘Bleeding edge no more.’
‘So, Dame, where’s yours? Can I see?’
‘Toby!’ I’m scandalised, but Damian shrugs it off.
‘S’cool. I don’t mind. I signed up for the freakshow.’ He turns his back to us and yanks down the collar of his shirt to reveal the faint radiance of the glowlogo between his shoulderblades.
‘That doesn’t seem exactly high vis,’ Toby says.

‘Not now, but I have a tendency to take my shirt off on stage. I get hot, okay? It’s not like some sex-appeal thing. Hey, are you recording this?’
‘Sorry, bad habit. I’m a junkie for collecting vid. I can delete it if you want.’
‘No, it’s cool. Shouldn’t we be heading back, anyway? Aren’t
there supposed to be speeches and shit? And I know Andile wanted to say what’s up.’
‘You go ahead, we’ll catch up,’ Toby says, laconic, and this suddenly strikes me as a very Jonathan thing to do.
‘I think I’ll go with Dame. We’ve been gone a while.’
The gallery seems even more oppressive, but I’m less freaked
now, even when I see Andile talking to Jonathan. Luckily I get side-tracked by Mr Muller.
‘Congratulations. It’s wonderful. Wonderful. Although I’m not sure about this messy animal thing. It’s very Damien Hirst. Cheap shock-treatment stuff. Yours is infinitely superior. And people will see that, take my word for it.’
I’m still basking in the afterglow, when I overhear some overgroomed
loft dwellers giggling into their wine. ‘And this. I’m so tired of Statement! Like she’s the only angst child ever to embrace the distorted body image.’
‘Oh Emily. I quite like the undeveloped. Because she is. You
know, still young, coming into herself. The artist in flux, emergent.’
‘Well, precisely. It’s so young. You can’t even tell if it’s technically good or not, it’s all so… damaged.’
‘Don’t let the heathen savages get to you.’ Toby has popped up again, speaking loud enough for the woman to hear, but I’m more amused than insulted. I’m about to point out that under the black of Self-Portrait is a photograph of a photograph, clutched in my fingers, captured in the mirror with a reflected flash of light. That it’s all meant to be damaged. But then I realise I don’t have to. I don’t have to make my motives transparent.
Damian appears at my shoulder with the astonishing blonde, who he introduces as his girlfriend, Vix, a fashion designer for her own small label. Vix distracts Toby, the two of them heading off to the bar to lay in supplies for all of us, leaving me with a convenient gap to ask Damian if he’s experienced any weird side-effects. He seems puzzled.
‘Like what? I had really mif flu for about four days. Sinuses and sweats, but it worked its way out.’
I try and tell him about the thing with the Aito, but it comes out all garbled.
‘It doesn’t sound that freaky,’ says Damian. ‘You felt sorry for her. You stopped to help. That’s pretty awesome.’
I’m miserable that he doesn’t get it. ‘It wasn’t empathy or altruism or anything. It was like I had to, like a real compulsion.’
The same way we’re compelled to drink Ghost, I think but don’t say. Damian isn’t paying attention. He’s watching his girlfriend
across the room, trying to get through to the bar while Toby clowns around, making her laugh.
It makes me feel desperately alone. There are all these people circling, like Johannes Michael’s swirl of paper atoms upstairs, but the connections to me are only tenuous.
‘You know the dogs also function on nano?’ Damian says, ripping his eyes from Vix. ‘Maybe you got crossed lines,’ he jokes.
‘Maybe.’

We’re cut short by a flurry of activity at the door. I’ve been aware of a low peripheral clamour, but now it erupts. There are people shoving, wine spilling from glasses and yelps of dismay.
‘This is a private function!’ Jonathan of all people yells, spouting clichés at the rush of people in black pushing in through the crowd, their faces blurred like they’re anonymous informants in documentary footage. It is so disturbing, that it takes me a second to catch on that they’re wearing smear masks. Another to realise that they’re carrying pangas and a prog-saw.
A few people scream, sending out a reverb chorus from Woof & Tweet. The crowd presses backwards. But then the big guy in
front yells, ‘Death to corporate art!’ and Emily, the woman who dissed my work, laughs scornfully and really loudly. ‘Oh god! Performance art. How gauche.’ There are murmurs of relief and snickers, and the living organism that is the crowd reverses direction, now pressing in again to see.
Damian grabs my arm and pulls me back out of the front line, because I haven’t moved, just as one of the men (women?), towering over the others, grabs Emily by her hair and drags her forward, forcing her to her knees, spitting with contempt, ‘Don’t you dare make me complicit in your garbage!’
The terrorist raises the panga, pulling back Emily’s head by the roots of her hair, exposing her throat. She raises a hand to her mouth, pretends to stifle a yawn.
‘Are you going to chop me into little itty-bitty pieces now? This is so melodramatic.’ And it is. The crowd is riveted. But I didn’t think this kind of promotional stunt would be Sanjay’s thing.

From the bar, Toby catches my eye and mimes mock applause to the spectacle. Vix has her hands clamped tight round his arm, looking shocked and excited at the same time. And that seems to be the prevailing mood. Not outrage or fear, but excitement.
People are grinning, nodding, eyes overbright, which makes it seem all the more horrific.
But what frightens me most is the reaction of one of the men in smear. When the protagonist yanks Emily’s head further back, the other guy moves forward, as if frightened himself.
‘What are you–?’ he starts, but the one with Emily’s hair twisted round his wrist gives an impatient jerk of his head, and his hesitant friend backs off. Bowing his legs, he raises the arm with the panga as if to slice across her throat, only at the last instant – so late that she winces back involuntarily – he deflects the blow to a side-swipe, aimed not at her, but at Woof & Tweet, which is directly in front of them.
The thing emits a lean crackle of white noise. The audience is rapt, camera phones clicking. There is a scattershot of applause, and laughter, as the others move in, four of them, with one guarding the door, to start laying into it. It’s only when the artist starts wailing that it becomes apparent that this was not part of the program. And only then do the smiles drop from mouths, like glasses breaking.
Mr Hesitant hangs back as the others step in, pangas tearing through the thin flesh and ribs of Khanyi Nkosi’s thing with a noise like someone attacking a bicycle with an axe. The machine responds with a high-hat backbeat for the melody assembled from the screams and skitters of nervous laughter. It doesn’t die quietly, transmuting the ruckus, the frantic calls to the SAPS, and Khanyi wailing, clawing, held back by a throng of people. It’s like it’s screaming through our voices, the
background noise, the context.
The bright sprays of blood make it real, spattering the walls, people’s faces, my prints, as the blades thwack down again and again. The police sirens in the distance are echoed and distorted as Woof & Tweet finally collapses in on itself, rattling with wet smacking sounds.
They disappear into the streets as quickly as they came, shaking
the machetes at us, threatening don’t follow, whooping like kids. With the sirens closing in, the big guy spits on the mangled corpse. Then, before he ducks out the door and into the night, he glances up once, quickly, at the ceiling. No one else seems to notice, but I follow his gaze up to the security cams, getting every angle.
I’m sick with adrenalin. The woman who was taken hostage is screaming in brittle, hyperventilating gasps. Her friend is trying to wipe the blood off her face, using the hem of her dress, unaware that she has lifted it so high that she is flashing her lacy briefs. Khanyi is kneeling next to the gobs of her animal construct, trying to reassemble it, smearing herself with the bloody lumps of flesh. There is a man trying to comfort one of the drinksgirls, but he is the one weeping, laid waste by the shock. Toby is clambering down from the bar, why I don’t know, Mr Muller is sitting slumped on the staircase, hugging the banister like a friend. Vix fumbles with lighting a cigarette, her hands shaking, until Damian materialises by her side, takes her hands in his, and holds the lighter steady. She folds into him like a collapsible paper lantern. And even from here, I can see him mouth her name. I hadn’t even realised he was gone.

There is still a prevailing undercurrent of thrill, a rush from the violence – no one was hurt, apart from Khanyi Nkosi’s thing. Everyone is on their phones, taking pictures, talking.
Toby is shouting above the ruckus, into his mic, like he’s reporting live. There are even more people trying to wedge into the space, so that the cops, who have finally arrived, have to shove their way inside. Self Portrait is covered in a mist of blood. I move to wipe it clean, although I’m scared the blood will smear, will stain the paper, but just then Jonathan wraps his arms around me and kisses my neck. And now it’s my turn to collapse against him.
‘It’s okay, sweetheart, everything’s going to be okay.’

MOXYLAND by Lauren Beukes

JULY 2009
UK/Australia 320pp B-format paperback and eBook

OCTOBER 2009
US/Canada 386pp mass-market paperback

Charles Stross says: “It’s what you get when you take your classic 80s deracinated corporate alienation sensibility, detonate about six kilos of semtex under it, and scatter the smoking wreckage across 21st century South Africa – full of unselfconscious spiky originality, the larval form of a new kind of SF munching its way out of the intestines of the wasp-paralysed caterpillar of cyberpunk.”

For more info on Lauren Beukes, check out her site here, and while you’re at it, go to Moxyland’s page at Angry Robot! 🙂

Be EPIC!

Next post: An Extract from Kaaron Warren’s Slights!

 
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M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist specializing in satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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