RogerBW's Blog

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes 20 July 2018

2010 contemporary fantasy. In a decaying alternate-present Johannesberg, Zinzi December is one of the animalled: people who, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, have acquired an animal companion and magical powers. Of course, that's not entirely a good thing.

As an SF reader, I expect a book with a premise like that to be about exploring it: why have these animals started appearing, and why only to people who've done something they're ashamed of; what is this mysterious Undertow that they're all so scared of? But that isn't this book; there are some scene-setting secondary texts that mention this stuff in passing, but what this is about is the people, Zinzi and her friends and enemies, constantly screwing each other over to get ahead while some of them, at least, try to cling on to the idea that they aren't bad people. Mostly.

The odd thing, therefore, is that Zinzi doesn't actually have all that much effect on the plot. The major villain's plan mostly comes off, and while it goes awry in the end that's not because of her actions. She's a spectator at the key scenes, and that lessens the effect of the narrative that's trying to tell us who she is; in the end she isn't anyone particularly important. Meanwhile, for a book about a world with magic available to the common struggling people, there's not even very much magic going on.

In spite of all that, though, it's an enjoyable book, for its vision of hand-to-mouth urban life in a South Africa packed with refugees; it's more of a picaresque wander than a conventional narrative progression, and indeed in the run-up to the climax when Zinzi starts revisiting previous locations there's something of a loss of momentum. Distrust of the animalled seems to have completely replaced racism, to the point that I didn't notice anything more than a passing mention of skin colour. Zinzi isn't either excessively perfect or an excessive screw-up (as far as we know; she thinks she's responsible for the death of her brother but that's another point that's never really expanded on, and what we're told doesn't seem entirely consistent with her having done prison time for it).

If only she had a bit more agency this would be great stuff; as it is it's still pretty impressive, and I'll keep a look out for more by Beukes.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1