Review: Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
Posted July 7, 2011on:
Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes
first published in 2008
where I got it: purchased new
why I read it: I really enjoyed Beukes’ Zoo City
in a not so distant future, connectivity is everything. Not only does your cell phone connect you to your friends and family (not to mention the internet), but the government and local police use it as a tracking device, and when necessary a punishment device. Disconnectivity by government order can equal a death sentence for some, as your phone is also your public transit pass, your pass to get into work, and your pass to get through certain city checkpoints. It also screams tech-based apartheid. May sound shocking to you and I, But to the youth and 20-somethings of South Africa, they grew up with this – to them it’s completely normal.
ahh, taking technologies and the social order and making their uncomfortable side effects feel normal, that’s just one thing Beukes excels at. All of our characters, Kendra,the art school drop out turned PR guinea pig; Toby, the LARPer with dreams of taking down the government; Tendeka the children’s charity organizer whose getting sick of losing funding; and Lerato, the programming genius who thinks she knows it all.
and speaking of programming, I’ve just got to tell you about some of the sweet-ass cyberpunk tech in this book: One of the characters has a video jacket. The fabric itself projects video that he records via his phone, sometimes live. Is hella cool. Kendra, desperate to sell her photographs at an art gallery opening takes a gig with an energy drink company.They inject her with nanobots that will keep her young and beautiful and in perfect shape, and addicted to their brand of energy drinks. Later in the story there is a scene with magnetic spray paint that you can embed LEDs into. The tech isn’t the main character or the main focus of this story, but it is damn cool.
Moxyland is written from each main characters point of view in turn, and not in a George R R Martin 3rd POV style, but in a in-their-heads first person POV. I’ll be honest, this took me a while to get used to. I’d be two pages into the next chapter and slightly confused before I realized the POV had changed. But once I got used to it, it was great to see everyone’s internal monologues, and as most of these characters interact with one another, it was just plain funny to know exactly what everyone thought of their compatriots. It was a nice little literary trick, and I do always enjoy a first person POV story.
I could give you a summary of the plot, but the surface plot just doesn’t matter. There is something much bigger going on, and if I tell you anything, it will spoil everything.
Feeling a little like George Orwell meets William Gibson and then tempered by Cory Doctorow, Moxyland is cyberpunk-ish, fast paced, populated with flawed yet passionate characters, and once you figure out what’s going on – scary as hell. The characters may be great, and the tech is always fun, but folks, this is a book about ideas. A book about what’s possible, and not in a good way. These characters are in denial that they live in a dystopia. They’re all so sure they’re destined for a happy-ish ending. they’re all so sure the people they work for give a shit about them.
Let that sink in a bit.
Downsides of Moxyland are few: a tough start and an abrupt ending. It took me a few chapters worth to get used to the four sided first person POV (I really should have just read those chapters again before continuing), and when the end comes, it just punches you in the face and suddenly everything is over before you’re ready.
Moxyland is my second Beukes novel, but I think her first published. Yes, Moxyland is good, but I don’t feel it’s as polished as Beukes’ newer novel, Zoo City, which I read earlier this year. Could be personal preference of course, as I do usually prefer one main character over an ensemble piece. The first 50 pages or so of Moxyland were tough for me to get through – buckets of slang, character POV jumping around unexpectedly, I really got thrown in the deep end. I told myself that if I was still feeling any doubt about the book by page 100, that I’d put it down and give it a try another time. Well, by the time I got to page 100, I knew for a fact that Moxyland wasn’t going to be put down until I finished it that evening. And that’s exactly what happened.
If you enjoy Cory Doctorow, contemporary dystopias, and authors that don’t pull any punches when it comes to smacking you across the face, give Moxyland a try. Tough start aside, I’m really happy I picked it up.
Although I’m really tempted to say this book is not appropriate for the high school crowd as it deals with adult themes and is littered with adult language, the more I think about it, the more I think Moxyland would be a perfect required read for a 12 grade government class.