Friday, October 5, 2018

Review of Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of science fiction’s, if not the broader cultural spectrum’s, most influential works. A novel wherein data and information and the ability to access them locked behind increasingly more advanced technologies are the highest value commodities, the dark, greedy, neon near-future he imagined has been rehashed innumerable times. Where Gibson gets praise in smaller circles, however, is for style and prose. Precise yet minimal, inventive yet familiar, real yet futuristic, borrowing his world is not as easy as borrowing his chic. Moving from east coast American urban sprawl to near-future Cape Town, South Africa, Lauren Beukes is, however, able to capture Gibson’s cyberpunk style while telling her own tale of the power of technology and its relationship to people in Moxyland (2008).

Moxyland shifting between four main characters, Kendra is a former art-school student now trying to make her way with analog photography in a digital world. Hoping that sponsorship will put her name in lights, she cuts a deal with a corporation that essentially makes her a walking advertisement in exchange for better health and mental focus that could just land her the break she needs to make the big time. Tendeka is one Cape Town’s key underground political subversives. Organizing an ever more aggressive campaign against the big, greedy corps, he soon discovers the limits of what could be considered peaceful resistance. Helping Tendeka is Lerato, a corporate worker who gives insider info while making her own way up the corporate ladder. And lastly is Toby, an egotistical vlogger always looking for ways to undermine the stability of his own life to be more dramatic and entertaining in an attempt to stand out in the sea of media and advertising.

Given the role setting plays in the novel, it would be remiss not to mention it. Moxyland a good example of realistic cyberpunk dystopia, the Cape Town Beukes imagines is one frightening for the degree of control the government and corporations have over people through digital tech, biotech and nanotech—all of which are only slightly more evolved beyond our current state. A person’s connections to the broader world managed by their SIM card (bank, government id, health care, etc.), being disconnected literally means life and death for those unprepared to live off the grid—and that means most, including Tendeka for all the fight he puts up against the corps. Bio and nanotech the most cutting edge, their long-term effects are not fully known yet deployed upon those who need the money or other benefits—the social hierarchy real. While many European governments in the real world are aware of the possibilities for the misuse of said technologies, Beukes’ imagined world is still scarily close, and plays a defining role in the actions and decisions of her characters in the story.

The central issue with Moxyland, and one a dynamic writer like David Mitchell also struggled with early in his career, is singularizing character voices. As mentioned, Beukes’ prose is dynamic and wonderfully engaging; she has Gibson’s talent to describe laterally in a brevity of words. And yet the four main characters blend together. Save chapter headings and the details of individual settings, there is not a lot to distinguish them. The engaging wordplay makes the novel highly readable, but at the detail level more could have been done to create a braided rather than composite feel to characterization.

In the end, Moxyland is a good example of a novel whose forebears are worn on its sleeve yet which does the source material wonderful justice. Like Neuromancer, Nineteen Eighty-four, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other dystopian novels, Moxyland is to be read for the plausibly menacing ways in which society and/or technology could evolve to infringe upon individual rights and freedoms. Beukes no slouch with the keyboard, the prose crackles, making for a readily readable, solid debut novel worth seeking out.

No comments:

Post a Comment