Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Moxyland" by Lauren Beukes

In a land of ubiquitous jargon...

I picked up this ebook from my invisible-pile because I've been seriously slacking in my Sci-fi reviews. Also, the cover was cute and I thought it was pretty non-threatening to pick up.

By my ubiquitous jargon comment, I mean the words and slang can be fairly hard to decipher at first. Most of the complex ones are explained, but there are several words of which I still have no freaking idea what was meant by them, or what combo of words they were meant to be. Even though its frustrating to trudge through at first, a lot of the slang grows on you and becomes one of the signature and (dare I say it?) fun parts of the book to read.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society's white knight.'

The characters in this book were interesting, but slightly stereotypical. Most reminded me of exaggerated caricatures of people I knew: although the characters were realistic, they weren't fully fleshed out. My favorite by far was the artist-type and "sponsor baby" Kendra, who made several interesting observations about photography and life in general. However, she was a little bit of a drifter- not that she moved a lot or anything like that, but she's one of those people who sort of just drift through life making questionable choices and reaping those oh-so-lovely rewards.

The best (and most surprising) part of this book was the gaming aspects. As a gamer, I've taken offence to certain renditions of the future because the gaming tech they described is already in effect and is virtually no different from now. This book, while originally published in 2008, presented a more plausible gaming environment: barcades with 'game wombs', age-specific gaming worlds (Moxyland is for cutthroat kids, people), and real-life situational/immersive 'gaming' in which the game companies come up with real-life operations for gamers to fulfill (with paint guns instead of real guns).

A funny thing about this book is the dystopia parts sneak up on you. Most of the book, you knew Big Brother was watching all the characters but thought 'Hey, that's not too bad- no child murders are going down on the sideline'. Sure, it had hallmarks of dystopia, but it wasn't that bad. Then you read to about 70% and your opinions on the matter drastically change, while in a waiting room where you suddenly slump in your seat and try to hide your ereader screen from innocent bystanders who happened to sit beside you.

The ending, for me, was where it went wrong. Some books it seems like you're happily reading along, waiting to read a nice epilogue or extra chapter, but suddenly you run out of pages, and the last 3% of the book you thought was part of the story is actually acknowledgements and other filler. What made it almost okay with me was a section where she returned to write of the inventions similar to ones in her book that have been made (or suggested) in the years after it was published. Some of it was scary- I don't want 2018 to have police states like this!

Moxyland is a haunting glimpse at a possible dystopic near-future that you almost feel is possible. The key word is almost. I don't think we'll advance this far by 2018, but I will gladly eat my words and wear a BabyStrange (a jacket with screens/cameras embedded in it) while livestreaming an apology tour on my recently appropriated vlog if I am proven wrong. Nonetheless, this read was solid entertainment, even if the characters didn't really make their mark on me (other than dearest Kendra). If you're a fan of dystopia that sneaks up and smacks you in the face, filled with jargon that's a bit difficult to dive into at first, I recommend Moxyland for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great dystopia with a jarring ending.

Content: Ages 18+ for a rather scary dystopia (violence, swearing, drug and sexual content).

Page Count: 384 pages in the ebook version.

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