Lauren Beukes – Moxyland

You think you know what’s going on?
You think you know who’s really in power?
You have No. Fucking. Idea.

Moxyland is an ultra-smart thriller about technological progress, and the freedoms it removes. In the near future, four hip young things live in a world where your online identity is at least as important as your physical one. Getting disconnected is a punishment worse than imprisonment, but someone’s got to stand up to government inc., whatever the cost.

After reading and loving Zoo City, when I made one of my rare visits to a brick-and-mortar bookstore – rare out of self-protection really; I can’t resist buying at least one book whenever I go into one – and seeing a copy of Moxyland on the shelves, I snatched it up, since I couldn’t wait to sample more of Lauren Beukes’ excellent writing.

Moxyland is very much a dystopic novel, but in some ways it’s scarily close to reality: the rise of smartphones, the ability to pay with your phone, the way we have come to depend on a working (mobile) internet connection and how much easier it has become for the authorities to track our every move. This is emphasized by Beukes’ afterword, written for the Angry Robot editions, in which she details the real-world developments that have caught up to her narrative, since she wrote the book. The South Africa of Moxyland is a totalitarian state, very Orwellian in feel, but updated to tomorrow. It’s no longer doublespeak and doublethink, but doublelive. Lerato’s layering of misdirections and hiding her true communications behind innocuous ones and Toby’s intricately built public persona for his Diary streamcast, to point out two examples, illustrate how rigidly people have to conform to their classes or risk becoming disconnected and disenfranchised. To break out of the mould, you have to do so in complete secrecy or risk the consequences.

Halfway, I was really into the book, but I was wondering what the main plot was, as there didn’t really seem to be one. Then I realised that there was one, but that it was really subtle and only truly came into focus at the end of the book. Moxyland isn’t so much about the interconnections between our four main storylines, as it is about how these storylines illuminate the different facets of Moxyland‘s society and how we do not want to end up in a society like it. There are so many thought-provoking elements in the book, my mind was spinning with them when I finished the book. One thing is sure though, as the flap text said, nothing is as it seems and you won’t know how much it isn’t, until you’ve read the last page. The resolutions to the various story arcs blew my mind and some of them I hadn’t seen coming at all.

The characters were well-drawn; the divide between corporati and civilians clearly shown. While Kendra is mostly sympathetic, the others all have some seriously dislikeable traits, though Beukes succeeds in making both Toby and especially Lerato plausible through their back stories. Tendeka’s motivations never become completely clear and his was the character I connected least with. The scariest character in the book wasn’t one of the obvious villains, it was Mr Muller, Kendra’s photography mentor. Not because he’s awful of because he commits some heinous crime, but because he’s wilfully blind to the repressive nature of the society portrayed in Moxyland. He is part of the huge middle of the population, who think life is fine as it is and ignores any violations of privacy, human rights or even common human decency. Of course, this is something history has seen time and time again, always leading to disastrous results.

While the book doesn’t end leaving glaring questions unanswered, it does leave the door open for a return to these characters. And it would be interesting to see where such a return would go. However, whether Beukes returns to Moxyland, Zoo City or goes some place new, I’ll be sure to follow. After reading Zoo City turned me into a fan girl, I enjoyed Moxyland just as much, both because of the story and because it was thought-provoking. I can’t wait for her next book and to be wow-ed all over again.

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