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Lauren Beukes – Zoo CityLauren Beukes is a South African novellist and journalist, Zoo City is her 2nd published fiction Novel, after the dystopian Moxyland. It has won the Arthur C. Clarke award, and was also nominated for a BSFA and a World Fantasy award.
In contrast to its predecessor it is not SF, but rather in the currently fashionable genre of 'Urban Fantasy', which she manages to pull off, even if some of the pacing is uneven, and some ideas and threads in the story remain undeveloped/resolved.

The story follows Zinzi December, who now ekes out a living in Zoo City since she caused the death of her brother and was thus paired with a symbiotic sloth. Together with the sloth kame her special 'magical' skill (mashavi), which is to be able see connections between people and their lost things.
Becoming 'animalled' appears to be some kind of karmic debt, impacting on the current instead of future lives; mainly due to murder (although not in all cases it appears). It's a different, and fragile life for those with AAF (Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism) – a fancy term for having a symbiotica anmial which you cannot survive without – you separate, or your animal dies, and the Undertow comes for you. No, it's not really explained in the story, either, so I won't try here...
Anyway, Zinzi makes a (minimal) living finding people's lost things, and tries to pay off her pre-sloth, pre-jail drug debts by writing 419 scam stories, at which she's rather good. This all works until one of her well-paying customers get murdered, and she subsequently is forced to take on the kind of job she likes the least – finding a missing person.
In this case it one of the twins from iJusi; a (manufactured) twin pop sensation – beautiful, wholesome, young – and in the hands of Odysseus 'Odi' Huron, a producer with the magic touch, who is making yet another comeback. But all is not as it seems, as you might have suspected...

The pacing of the story is generally fine, with a few dud points inbetween, and parts in the story which I didn't understand why they were there or what they were adding; whilst some other concepts and threads which seemed rather core to the story/setting in my opinion don't get develped or resolved. The character development is limited, but what is there is believable at least for the main characters.
We get a lot of flashbacks explaining some of the backstory of the main characters (Zinzi, and her lover Benoit), but also the story of the animalled, famous early cases, leading up to 'The Shift' (never explained). There also is an inset of a treatise on counselling the animalled, and their default trauma of waiting for the Undertow (peripherally demonstrated in the story, but not explained) with nothing but your (unwanted) animal standing between you and the darkness.
The book has much less of a political slant than Moxyland, and is predominantly escapist. The edition I read (see below) contains three tie-in shorts shorts with Moxyland from a competition, including one from Charlie Human; these are actually quite good, if not (in keeping with the original novel) very positive or edifying of humanity's virtues.

One thing I didn't like in Zoo City was the highlighted slang, concepts, and Afrikaans words in the text. The don't seem to be there (and consistently in italics) just for emphasis to to emphasize the setting – instead, in an ever so slightly annoying way, they appeared to be rubbing in that I don't know, don't understand. Yes, local colour etc is all good, but I didn't appreciate how this was done.

So, overall not a bad book, it's readable and entertaining, if you don't mind the above weak points and tolerate the current fad for Urban Fantasy. Let's see what her upcoming books (The Shining Girl – 2013, and Broken Monsters – 2014) will bring – apparently they are set in the US, and about a time travelling serieal killer.


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Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Angry Robot
Publisher URL: http://www.angryrobot.com    
Publication Date: 2010
Review Date: 111113
ISBN: 9780857660541
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 381
Format: Paperback
Topic: Urban Fantasy
Topic: Animal Familiars

Thanks to Angry Robot for the review copy.

 

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