By Lauren Beukes
First Published: 2010
Cover Art by Joey HiFi
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction, Cyberpunk
Moxyland is an impressive debut novel from Lauren Beukes which describes a realistic dystopian near future where life is dominated by corporations, social media, and a heavy handed government in Cape Town South Africa. Virtually everyone is connected to the network at all times via their phones and this provides the government with an innovative method of disciplining their citizens. Everyone’s phones have been equipped with a “defuser” which enables the police to apply enough high voltage to anyone through their own phone to incapacitate them. For longer term discipline, the worst punishment short of incarceration is to cut a person off from the net.
The novel is narrated in first person from four protagonists who are all connected in some way. Kendra is a budding artist who needs connections and sponsors to get noticed. She agrees to be a guinea pig to test the latest nano therapy bio enhancements which promises to heighten all her senses and abilities while making her immune to sickness. Toby is a freelance web journalist who wouldn’t hesitate to sell out his own mother if it would yield a video that would go viral and make him famous. Tendeka is a civil rights activist dedicated to mobilizing the disenfranchised in protests against the corporations and the ever more authoritarian government. Lerato is a brilliant programmer moving steadily up the corporate ladder who can’t resist helping the fringes of society because she came from the fringes herself. Together, they all become involved one way or another in protests that finally succeed in making an impression on both the corporations and the government. The response is beyond anything they imagined.
The first person narratives are full of energy and intensity. The conversations and thoughts come across as being very real. You get interesting exchanges like, “Yeah, let’s see how you handle getting cut off from your trustfundable by your motherbitch.” There is also plenty of bad language. Some of the characters are likable and some are not but all are highly flawed realistic individuals. They all seem like convincing representatives of youth in the near future.
There is no conventional plot to speak of for most of the novel. Instead the reader is simply subject to the experiences of the four narrators as events transpire. There isn’t much in the way of backstories so the reader must try to make sense of what is going on through the various narratives. The changing perspectives and narrow points of view keep the reader off balance but as the novel progresses, more and more connections are made. While some readers may become impatient, I found the whole experience of being immersed in a future that seems all too realistic to be very rewarding.
I highly recommend Moxyland as a high intensity look into a surprisingly realistic dystopian future with echoes of George Orwell’s 1984. To experience youth and protests in the social networking age, don’t miss Moxyland.