Zoo City

I finally got around to reading Lauren Beukes Zoo City. It is, in fact, as good as everyone says.

I love reading the books that change the rules of the game. Mira Grant’s Feed was one of those. Snowcrash, by Neil Stephenson. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. I strongly believe that Zoo City is one of those. Not because Zoo City is exquisitely rendered near-future fiction. It is, but people continually do that anew, and do it well.

What Zoo City does is delicately remind the largely United-States-and-British-Commonwealth-dominated world of science fiction that the rest of the planet exists. Books do come along from time to time and do this. We remember the ones that end up being predictive — George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails, for instance. Or Maureen McHughes’ China Moutain Zhang. I strongly, strongly suspect that Zoo City is one of those books.

Most of the people in my circles — of comics books, science fiction, homeschooling, and middle class white middle America — don’t think a lot about Africa or any of the countries within it. My partner, J, does. She teaches college and many of her students are immigrants to the U.S. from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and many other countries in Africa. These countries are in flux, changing wildly. Reading Zoo City, I am reminded of J’s students. Of their drive, ambition, and the random sprinkling of horrible things that some — not all, but some — of them have seen or heard or endured.

J’s students live here in the Twin Cities, they are in college, they are writing another chapter in their lives. Zinzi, the protagonist of Zoo City, is working on the next stage of her life. So is everyone in the book, really. There’s a constant sense of forward motion. All the characters have a past and all of them have a future — the deaths in the book are tragedies for that reason. There’s no way to know what tomorrow brings, until someone takes away your tomorrows.

I love Zoo City‘s sense of roil, of ferment. This is not the desperate churn of William Gibson’s Sprawl, of Chiba City. The characters are not killing time or treading water. They have plans. They are going places. I am strongly reminded of Mira Grant’s Mason family from Feed, in point of fact. People with plenty of reasons to give up and roll over, to shrug and sit down and stop trying — yet who find motivation in adversity.

I like these people. I like their attitude. I like Zoo City. I expect we’ll see more of Lauren Beukes soon.