Zoo City

I’ve got a lot of unread books on my Kindle. It’s just too easy to buy them. Whenever I come across something interesting on the web, and it’s on the Kindle and not too expensive, I end up buying it. So when I finally finished Aegypt (which will be the subject of another post) I decided to read one of the unread ones sitting enticingly in my home screen.

Unfortunately I didn’t like many of them. I started three or four, and just gave up after a few pages. Some self-published books are that way for a reason, I found. One book had about three pages of exposition and back-story before anything happened. And all of this detail seemed to have been lifted straight out of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. Others just dumped me into an incomprehensible world of weird names and unfathomable things, with no hint that it would be worth making the effort to understand. So it was a great relief to finally start reading Zoo City.

This is the Arthur C Clarke award-winning novel by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer. Now if you think great SF can’t take place in South Africa, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to the District 9s of the world. And like that movie, Zoo City has the gritty authenticity of life in South Africa. I can vouch for this, because I lived in Johannesburg for most of my life. And I felt like I was back there.

The story is told in the first person, hard-boiled noire style, with all of the laconic wit that one could hope for. Beukes has an outstanding way with similes, absolutely nailing the descriptions with acute observations. First-person is hard to pull off, but the heroine’s voice is utterly believable and compelling.

The conceit is clever: in an alternative reality, some people have developed a psychic connection to a particular animal, something like the familiars in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This endows them with a specific sort of magical power. Zinzi, the heroine, has a Sloth that gives her the ability to find lost things. But in using this gift she becomes entangled in a murder...

This book is available in paperback and Kindle versions. At time of writing it’s cheaper on the Kindle.
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