If you couldn’t guess from the name of my blog (that’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Punk, if you want it spelled out), I’m a huge fan of the cyberpunk genre. Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and even more post-cyberpunk stories like The Wind-Up Girl are among my favorite novels. I find that of all SFF’s subgenres, cyberpunk, at its best, does the greatest job of combining meaningful content with highly stylized prose, which is something that I greatly enjoy.
So, when I learned about Moxyland, I naturally had to read it.
I first heard of Lauren Beukes, the novel’s author, when I stumbled across an io9 article about her most recent book Broken Monsters. The premise sounded incredibly promising, and I looked her up…and found that I had the same feeling about each of her other four novels. So I figured I’d attack her books in the order that they were published, though the chronology doesn’t technically matter as none of them are in series. I’m just weird.
Moxyland takes place in the near future in Cape Town, South Africa, a setting with a diverse population and a nice departure from traditional cyberpunk settings which tend to feature the futuristic developed cities of the West. It follows four characters who become caught up in the events of a revolution against the corporate consumerist culture and the joint corporate-government of the surveillance state.
Kendra is an artist, an anolog photographer to be more exact, and something of a lost child who has signed up to be injected with nano-bots for a corporation that simultaneously make her crave the company’s products and set her up as sort of a living billboard advertisement. Tendeka works with children in the ghettos of Cape Town but has started to become more and more revolutionary and begins organizing various protest movements that grow in scale. Lerato works in a corporation as a coder but is bored with her work and helps out with Tendeka’s works as a side project of sorts. And then there’s Toby, a trust-fund baby, druggy, and gamer, who makes his living as a streamer and pseudo-journalist.
Each character has his or her own unique voice, from Toby’s slang-laden musings to Lerato’s clipped and confident tone, and all of them are written in the first person. Each of them also has incredibly believable motivations and react to various situations in ways that feel authentic. While many authors struggle to pull this off with a singular voice in their novels, I was impressed to see that Beukes was able to do it with four.
The setting for the story is, as cyberpunk usually is, a near future sort of extension of how the world is today. It feels like the sort of terrible endgame of our current corporate oligarch culture combining with the pervasiveness of the surveillance state. The story also showcases our growing dependence on technology. In this setting a phone is your lifeline, and people are unable to access anything if they don’t have a working authorized phone, and I mean physical locations as well as the internet. Of course phones can also be used to track people, and in extreme cases the police can use them to emit stunning charges that will knock someone out (and by “extreme cases” I obviously mean that they do it without much hesitation whenever they want…sound familiar?).
I really enjoyed this book. I felt it was fast-paced, had great characters, great stylized writing, and created a future world that is (unfortunately) all too believable. Without spoiling any specifics, I will say that this book is also quite bleak, which is something that I enjoy in fiction, but I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re the type of person who only likes fiction for escapism, then I don’t think I would recommend this. But if you want a great story that explores issues with the surveillance state, our growing technological and internet reliance, and some of the possible end-games for consumerist culture, then I highly recommend this book.