Saturday, December 02, 2017

South Africa: Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

Zinzi has a sloth which accompanies her everywhere she goes, draped on her back. She lives with other "animalled" outcasts in a Johannesburg slum known as Zoo City. Her talent is finding lost things, which she uses to earn her living, but when a job goes wrong she is engaged, reluctantly, to find a missing girl, and is drawn into a very dark and dangerous underworld revolving around the music industry.

This is fantasy but not of the usual sort which always seems to be set in a vaguely medieval type of world. The setting is in every way modern South Africa apart from the fantasy elements in which people who criminal acts become "aposymbiots" and at the same time acquire unusual, magical talents. It's dark, complicated and totally original. I could say it's not a genre I've been into much before - but then, it is not really a "genre" novel at all, bursting out of the confines of both fantasy and noir thriller.

Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke award in 2011 - an award for the best science fiction novel published in English in the previous year. Which is interesting, since "science" is thin on the ground although perhaps the vaguely stated reasons for the onset of the condition of animal companionship qualify as "science". Be that as it may, the book's quality is certainly deserving of recognition. I'll be looking out for more of this author's work.

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