Lauren Beukes is a South African journalist, director, and writer, who broke into the Mainstream with her time-travelling-serial-killer story The Shining Girls. Before that she worked as a journalist, scriptwriter, directed a documentary (about Gay Beauty Pageants), and published 3 novels - a non-fiction one called Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past, and two genre-titles (corporate-dystopia Moxyland, and a magic-crime-thriller called Zoo City) Her latest novel is set in Detroit, and called Broken Monsters.
Slipping is a collection of her short writing - fiction, essays, and non-fiction. All stories here have been previously published - you will, like me, have come across some/most of these before if you’ve been following Lauren’s career through genre success to exploding into the Mainstream & beyond.
The scope of and approach to the content is as varied as you would expect from such a retrospective - it runs from (re)visits of the world of Moxyland in Branded, to general current/near-future social commentary in the likes of Confirm/Ignore or Pop Tarts. There is horror here, like in the very uneasy My Insect Skin; and classic SF like The Green with its Alien Pharma harvesting, or Unaccounted which mixes Alien contact with Guantanamo and its associated paranoia. And there is pure, unfettered, near-Dadaist fun like Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs.
All that before we even get to the non-fiction part, which throws an interesting light on Lauren's background, her approach to writing, and her thinking as a mother in today's society.
The quality of the writing is very high, though, I do not recall anything which felt weak, or like filler here. Yes, the stories are very different, but they are well written, engaging, and frequently thought-provoking.
The book is split into fiction and non-fiction work, and followed by a Glossary of South African terms/slang/key concepts, plus the copyright notices from the original publication of the stories between 2003 and 2014.
The book contains the following pieces:
A poem about writer’s block, and an unexpected present
A disabled athlete, Pearl, is racing against other surgically, robotically, nano-enhanced competitors; all vying for for the same sponsors/investors. Paralympics has become big business - a gladiator sport. And it put me big time into a mindset of Enki Bilal’s Hors-Jeu (aka Off Play) on the future of football. Fascinating, if ever so slightly nasty…
A story of fake social media profiles - leaving the crucial point deliberately open. Nope, I’m not going to tell you!
Exactly that - a story of personal corporate sponsorship, featuring light tattoos of logos and slogans, plus voluntary addiction to the products of the sponsor. One of several Moxyland precursors.
A story of life and its attendant danger in a post-apartheid (is it?) South Africa, of the societal changes that come with the combatants on all sides no longer having their old foes to fight, but having to return into society.
Of how the Princess found her pea. And of celebrity culture, empty as it is. It had me blinking in amazed disbelief, occasionally.
My Insect Skin
Er - disturbing. Lost of potential for more, including more disturbing stuff!
A slice of life - a parking warden falling in love with on of his customers. Sweet and creepy at once
Fake/manufactured celebrity in the age of constant personal media streams. Turned up one notch from where we are already today. So believable it’s not even prescient.
Set in a pharmaceutical harvesting operation in a jungle on an alien planet. Featuring dead grunts animated by alien slime moulds, informally called Pinoccios.
Biohazards and Big Pharma corporate politics abound. And I maybe should not have read this whilst waiting to go into surgery (!). A key reference here is Tricia Sullivan’s Double Vision
Genre mash-ups. #KamaSartre: Hell is sex with other people.
911 scam in action, the mark making her final visit - but not everything is as it seems, eve beyond the layer of obfuscation already inherent in the setup. I could swear I’ve read this, or something very much like it before, but cannot pinpoint where, or if it was that story.
The story of a relationship, told in short bursts in an ABC. Very standard on the one hand, and slightly uncomfortable on the other.
Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs
Urg. This is mad. As in properly, gloriously, exhilaratingly mad. A South African teen girls, Mecha Pilot in an elite fighting unit, in Tokyo, fighting magic hairball monsters with smiley faces. It gets weirder from there. Glorious.
Letter, written on a typewriter, typos and all, to a former (?), missing (?) lover. Writer is taking over the subject’s flat, and life - or is she? Sad, and creepy.
Riding with the Dream Patrol
Interview with the Head of the agency monitoring the on-line usage of the populace. Too believable, IMHO.
Set in a prison, in an environment where the relationship with the aliens has gone wrong. Told through the eyes of the prison manager, who is not sure what’s correct anymore, but is instinctively sure that what goes on in this Guantanamo-style environment is not.
Quite impressive. Quite horrible. Quite believable.
Tankwa - Karoo
Burning-man style festival, as the national power grid and thus the internet, goes down. Insurrection, tribalism, cannibalism, mass death follow. Except - but read the story. Smart.
This one is set in the Art world and lays it on thickly, in many layers and shells. Also - cynical much? Jesus…
An uninspired student of Architecture, struggling with his latest assignment, his on/off relationship, and the Ghost Girl who has latched onto him. It’s fun, it’s kinda sweet, and actually rather deep. Top stuff.
Non Fiction part
Adventures in Journalism
Describes how she ended up as a Journalist in Cape Town (in summary: unplanned), some defining moments, and how these experiences help with her fiction career…
All the Pretty Corpses
Lauren talking about our skewed relationship with violence, death, murder. yes, even us non-Americans. About her aims when writing The Shining Girls, which deals with those topics. About her friend murdered by her boyfriend. And about justice, or the lack thereof, all too frequently. Filled with truth and harrowing.
A snapshot, memories, and event from a weekend she spent interviewing Justice Unity Dow, the first woman High Court Judge in the Country. A former barrister with a focus on human and women’s rights.
A successful author, using this as an outlet from her, by its very nature, restricted and restrictive job.
Scenes, notes, impressions, memories from her trawl through the underbelly and deprived corners of Johannesburg, in preparation for writing Zoo City. Casting locations… the director as author!
On Beauty - A Letter to My Five-Year-Old Daughter
As the title says - a letter to her daughter, on what beauty means to her, above and beyond the reductionist constraint mainstream society places on the term, and thus on women, and which her daughter will be exposed to soon.
More Lauren Beukes
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
Title: Slipping - Stories, Essays, & Other Writing
Author: Lauren Beukes
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.tachyonpublications.com
Publication Date: November 2016
Review Date: 161119
Topic: Short Stories
Topic: Urban Realism