Welcome to Moxyland. This is Cape Town, this is 2018, and this is probably the coolest, shiniest, and perhaps most familiar dystopia you’re likely to find.
We are offered a glimpse of this future Cape Town through the eyes of the four main characters, the narrative jumping between each of their viewpoints. The characters, each of the them very different, are all awesome – inventive, unique and engaging. We start the story off with Kendra, an art-school dropout clinging desperately to the scraps of a long-forgotten analogue age with her insistence on using old-school film in her photography. However, Kendra has given in the the crazy levels of advertising and sponsorship of Cape Town 2018 (scary in that it doesn’t seem too far removed from advertising today) and has become branded – injected with nanotechnology that turns her into a living advertisement, for the soft drink ‘Ghost’.
Next is Toby. Drug-taking, promiscuous, anarchic, slacker. Toby is a prick, and worse, but he is the kind of character you can’t help but love. He does everything with such shameless joy and a reckless attitude, that you really get swept along with it. Beukes’ invention of Toby’s BabyStrange jacket is one of my favourite things in the book – a jacket with the capability to both display images and, more importantly, to RECORD what is going on around the wearer. This is ridiculously cool, and Toby uses his beloved jacket to record his “streamcast” (think podcast, only better), to share his antics with his fans on his wonderfully-titled website, “Diary of Cunt.” Which Toby is, really.
Not just content with living in the system, Tendeka is the fighter. The dreadlocked, idealistic techno-hippy, who runs a grass-roots football academy (without the ever-offered corporate sponsorship), but his main interests lie in terrorist activities, rebelling against the system. But hacking coporate adboards isn’t enough for him anymore, and how far is he prepared to go to get his message out? Ten is a whiner, sure… but he’s arguably the moral centre of the story, even if he is not quite sure why he is fighting.
Finally, there is Lerato. She differs from the others in the book in that she is a privelaged member of the society, a computer programmer working for the surpremely powerful Communique organisation. Knowing Toby, however, can get you into some serious trouble, especially if you decide to hack the very system that you work to maintain on a daily basis. Through Lerato we get a view of the other side of Cape Town 2018, the corporate body that runs and controls the society, which make her sections of the story interesting and powerful, if perhaps not as fun as the other parts. But they are necessary counterpoint, and work well, as she too starts to find herself beginning to lose control.
One of the things I enjoyed most about ‘Moxyland’ was the dialogue of these characters, something that can often make or break a story. The characters all speak in a fascinating mix of slang and colloquialisms, drawn from the history and dialect of South Africa, as well as technological jargon and urban culture. Possibly my favourite piece of slang in the book is the fantastic derogatory term “bitchmonkey”!
Technology is becoming such a integral part of society today, down to the basic ways in which we live our lives day to day, and Beukes takes this to scary, but logical, levels in ‘Moxyland’. In fact, the logic behind it is probably what makes it so scary. The powerful changes concern that part of our lives that we now take for granted, as an essential. Our mobile phones. But imagine living in a society where the police can ID you on the spot, and then electrocute you, through your mobile phone. Where access to certain areas of the city is granted via your particular SIM ID. And where you can be, literally, disconnected for breaking the law. This means no phone. No ID. No money. No access. You become cast adrift from your own society, and are forced to live on the streets. Terrifying stuff, all the more so because it isn’t that hard to imagine becoming a reality.
The evolution of online gaming, and the blending of identity on the Internet versus your identity in teh real world is excellently portrayed in ‘Moxyland’. Tendeka spends much of his time in Pluslife, a Second Life-esque virtual world, where kids recreate their favourite celebrity’s mansion down to the most minute detail, and where Tendeka (or ’10’ when he is online) receives his terrorist instructions from the mysterious *skyward and his/her frumpy female avatar, under a hacked virtual sky displaying a recreation of the northern lights. And Toby, looking for something to do with all his free time, works his way into a Realworld game, like a computer game but in real life, out amongst unsuspecting civilians, where players identify themselves through their SIM ID’s.
As the lives of the four main characters become more entwined, I could see that the shit was going to hit the fan. Beukes hints brilliantly, but subtly, at the chaos to come at the end. But I had no idea HOW the chaos was to come, and when it did it was exciting, powerful and disturbing.
I LOVED ‘Moxyland’. It is original, fast-paced, and bloody good fun, filled with awesome characters that I really wanted to spend more time reading about, and is full of brilliantly-observed details of a society in the not-too-distant future that is both fantastically different, but worryingly familiar. The political and social themes, that never override or confuse what is, plain and simple, a brilliant story, are both poignant and relevant, not just to the post-apartheid culture of South Africa, but to the world that we live in now, becoming more and more obsessed with advertising, surveillance and control.
I couldn’t recommend ‘Moxyland’ highly enough. It was unlike anything I’ve ever read, and you won’t be disappointed if you give it a go. Find it pretty much anywhere (you can’t miss the front cover!) or get it from here or here.
Oh, and follow @laurenbeukes on Twitter!