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Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

18 Apr
Zoo City, Lauren Beaukes uk print ed cover

Zoo City cover

Zoo City
Lauren Beukes
Angry Robot, 2010
ISBN 978-0-85766-0-541

Review by Ian Sales

Though Zoo City says on the back, “File Under URBAN FANTASY”, it did, of course, win the Arthur C Clarke Award, which means the jury at least felt it could be read as science fiction. And while Zoo City may display the trappings of urban fantasy, it reads chiefly like a cyberpunk novel, a near-future dystopia told from the point of view of a have-not. Who, in this case, is Zinzi December, a recovering addict and ex-journalist who caused her brother’s death, served her sentence, and was “animalled”. In the world of Zoo City, those who have committed crimes find themselves lumbered with animal familiars as manifestations of their guilt. For Zinzi, it is a sloth. In the world of Zoo City, magic also exists – though it’s not the magic of Dungeons & Dragons or your standard identi-kit heroic fantasy. Mashavi feels more like some sort of extra-sensory talent than it does spell-casting or thaumaturgy (although African styles of magic do make several appearances in the book). Zinzi’s mashavi is finding lost things, and it’s what she now does for a living – because the animalled are the dregs of society, and forced to live in derelict buildings in slum areas of the city. The city in this instance is Johannesburg, and there is a very obvious South African flavour to the novel (Beukes is South African). Continue reading

Spirit by Gwyneth Jones

11 Apr

Spirit cover

Spirit
Gwyneth Jones
Gollancz, 2008
ISBN 978-0-575-08444-5

Review by Ian Sales

To date, Gwyneth Jones has appeared on the Arthur C Clarke Award short list six times, and won it once – for Bold As Love in 2002. Only Stephen Baxter has been nominated more times, and he has yet to win the award. If Jones’ 2004 novel Life had been published in the UK, I suspect it too would have been short-listed – it did, after all, win the Philip K Dick Award for that year. As David Soyka wrote in his review of the book on on sfsite.com:

Simply, put, Life is one of the best things Jones has written. You can stop reading right now and go out and buy the book. Otherwise, you’ll have to endure yet another one of these diatribes about how science fiction doesn’t get any respect from the literary mainstream. Because you can’t read this book and not reflect on the fact that had this been written by, say, Margaret Atwood, Life would be receiving more of the widespread attention it deserves.

In other words, to my mind Gwyneth Jones is the best British science fiction writer currently writing. So a new novel by her is certain to be one worth reading. Spirit; or the Princess of Bois Dormant is her latest. It was published at the end of December 2008. Continue reading

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

10 Apr
Zoo City, Lauren Beaukes uk print ed cover

Zoo City cover

Zoo City
Lauren Beukes
Angry Robot, 2010
ISBN 978-0-85766-0-541

Review by Jess Hyslop

Lauren Beukes’s second novel, Zoo City, won the Arthur C. Clarke award last year – and in this humble blogger’s opinion, the accolade is definitely deserved. A more gripping, imaginative, and smart read you would be hard-pressed to find. Zoo City has the works: witty, well-honed prose, a tough, wily protagonist, an exciting thriller-style plot, and a central concept that is fantastic in more ways than one. But this novel is also far from formulaic. Plunging us into the perilous, grimy warren of the Zoo City ghetto – an alternate version of the Hillbrow district of Johannesburg – Beukes conjures a twisting tale that, whilst flavoured as a noir thriller, is made unique and multi-faceted by its interweaving with the novel’s magical concept. For Zoo City is populated by the ‘animalled’, also known as ‘zoos’ or, if you wants to get technical about it, ‘aposymbiotes’: people who have, by dint of a former crime, come into possession of a shavi – a magical animal that accompanies them everywhere, and with it a magical talent (also called a shavi). These animals are at once companions and brands of criminality, and the aposymbiotes of Beukes’s alternate world find themselves the victims of personal and institutional prejudice. The onset of this phenomenon, during the 1980s, marks the divergence of the world of Zoo City with our own. Continue reading

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