Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken MonstersTitle: Broken Monsters
Author:
Lauren Beukes
Publisher: 
Umuzi
Published:
 July 2014
Genre: 
fantasy, crime, horror
Source: 
Umuzi
Rating:
 
8/10

I think Lauren Beukes has hit her stride with crime fiction, or at least her distinct brand of crime fiction – a kind of character-driven, urban-fantasy crime thriller with elements of horror. The Shining Girls was like no other crime novel I’d ever read, and now I’m glad to find something similarly fresh but with a totally different story.

Like The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters juggles multiple POVs, a large cast of great characters, and explores the intricacies of an American city (this time it’s Detroit). Beukes uses the killer as a POV character again, which means there’s no mystery as to who he is, but you do have the opportunity to see him work and experience his insanity more intimately. And, like Harper Curtis in The Shining Girls, Clayton Broom is driven by a force he doesn’t understand and cannot control.

This time though, the killer isn’t trying to snuff out brilliance but create art. The figure on the cover of the South African edition is a representation of the body that sets the story in motion – the top-half of a ten-year-old boy, fused to the bottom half of a deer. But the cover achieves what the killer does not – it is art, with a sense of beauty and magic and life. The boy in the novel is dead and butchered and he’s never going to leap like the killer intended.

Detective Gabriella Versado investigates the crime scene after a rookie discovers the body, and she’s put in charge of the case. Gabi is a single mom and has a slightly uneasy relationship with her teenage daughter, Layla. They can get on pretty well, but Gabi’s always working, and Layla is a typically feisty teenager going through more than the usual troubles. Her best friend Cas has cooked up a scheme for trapping an online sex predator, and you just know it’s not going to turn out the way they expect it to.

TK is a homeless guy who survives by scavenging the abandoned buildings of Detroit. He’s a good man who tries to help others and makes an effort to improve himself, but you know that, sadly, he’s never going to get over the rough start he had in life.

Jonno is, in some ways, like his polar opposite. While TK does meaningful work, and makes real connections with people, Jonno made a living as a blogger writing the kinds of clickbait lists we see on the internet everyday: “‘10 Rules for the New Gentleman’s Guide To Dating’ […] It’s all chum to pull in the likes” (57). He recently fucked up his life and his career, and now he’s in Detroit, ransacking the pretentious hipster scene for the edgy content that will rack up enough likes for his ex-girlfriend to notice.

If TK comes across as an unassuming, unrecognised hero, then Jonno is a kind of thoughtless villain. He isn’t the murderer, but when he finds out about the bizarre killings, he sees his chance to become a social media celebrity. He jeopardises Gabi’s investigation in his relentless bid to make the most horrifying, sensational information public, meanwhile spouting bullshit about finding the truth for the sake of the people.

Social media is a major theme in the novel and forms part of the structure of its narrative. Beukes uses chats, texts, Facebook messages and other digital communication – sometimes in text-speak and/or barely coherent ranting. Issues of privacy in a social media age become important plot points and have profound effects on the characters and their relationships.

The novel also happens to be a great police procedural, capturing the realities of being a cop in “The. Most. Violent. City. In. America” (9) and getting into the weirder information required for the investigation, like the meat glue used to fuse the boy and the deer, or the process of taxidermy. Beukes has clearly done her research, and it pays off.

Equally well-crafted are the characters. If shows like True Detective or Broadchurch appeal to you, where the narrative takes its time to develop the characters instead of focusing only on the murder investigation, then you might like Broken Monsters for the same reason.

Rather than give you a general overview, I thought I’d take an in-depth look at a few small details. On the very first page, while Gabi is checking out the body that sets the whole story in motion, we learn a lot about her relationship with Layla. She happens to think about the myth of “mothers and daughters bonding over fat-free frozen yoghurts” and counters it with her own feeling that “the best conversations she has with Layla are the ones in her head” (9).

So there’s a longing for Gabi and Layla to be a cute, quirky mother-daughter pair, perhaps something like the Gilmore Girls, but we’re immediately told that that idea is a fantasy. When we later see Gabi and Layla together, it’s clear that they could make a great team (I love the line “don’t forget the code to the gun safe, beanie, just-in-case” (26)), but there’s always a fundamental disconnect between them.

This is illustrated on the other two pages of the brief opening chapter. The hybrid body reeks, and Gabi is with a rookie cop who is hanging back because of the smell. She offers him some fruity lipgloss that she bought for Layla, to smear on his upper lip:

“Here,” she offers, fishing a small red tub of lipgloss out of her pocket. Something she bought at the drugstore on a whim to appease Layla. A candy-flavoured cosmetic – that’s sure to bridge the gap between them. “It’s not menthol, but it’s something.” (10)

Again, I love what this says about the characters. Gabi is trying to be thoughtful by buying her daughter a little gift, but she doesn’t hesitate to give some of the lipgloss to a colleague. When she later gives it to Layla, her daughter immediately scoffs, pointing out that it’s just a scam and doesn’t do your lips any good. At the same time though, she’s thinking about how she’d actually like to use some of the lipgloss. A few lines later, she complains rudely that she doesn’t want to hear Gabi’s cop stories, while texting her friend Cas and admitting that she actually likes the stories.

Another interesting thing about the lipgloss detail is that it plays a role in the depiction of Gabi’s character and her relationship with the rookie cop. She’s not actually trying to help him – as Layla snarkily points out later, rubbing menthol or whatever on your upper lip won’t cover the smell of a body (she watches the crime channel). Gabi’s playing a prank on the rookie because he’s an FNG – Fucking New Guy. Because the lipgloss has glitter in it, the squad ends up calling him “Sparkles”. At first Gabi tries to brag about her prank to Layla (who isn’t interested) but later she feels bad about embarrassing the guy because he proves to be a conscientious, observant police officer. That affects the way Gabi treats him later in the story, and subsequently affects the way she thinks about herself, so that that random thing with the lipgloss ends up being meaningful all the way to the end of the novel.

I really appreciate this sort of writing – it’s clever, it’s thoughtful and it makes good use of the words (and thus of the effort we put into reading them).

Oh and, in case you were wondering, this is definitely a fantasy novel. I haven’t gotten into the details of how it’s fantasy, because for most of the story it’s quite a subtle thing, hovering between symptoms of madness and the decidedly supernatural. Sometimes I only realised later that a certain event had had a supernatural influence. If this isn’t enough of a fantasy element for you, then just be patient and brace yourself for the ending.

Daily Reads: 16 December 2014

DR 16122014

It’s that time of year when people start posting their best-of lists, and I tend to start feeling guilty about all the books I never got around to reading. But it’s a good kind of guilt, if that makes sense, because it helps me prioritise my tbr pile, turns my attention to interesting new books I never took much notice of before, and generally just whips up fresh enthusiasm for new fiction. And since I’m looking forward to another kind of good guilt, the kind that comes with having enjoyed too much delicious food and wine, I decided to post some of the sff lists I’ve been looking at.

Tor.com posted Reviewer’s Choice: The Best Books of 2014. Some very exciting stuff here, especially since the reviewers have listed some lesser-known works. I’m so happy to see SA authors Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz there too.

SF Signal’s recent Mind Meld is about the best sff movies of 2014. I don’t feel guilty about not having watched most of these movies, simply because I can’t (there’s only one tiny cinema in Addis Ababa screening new international movies). Nevertheless, I love film and I’ll be moving back to SA soon, so I’m adding a couple of these to my must-watch list. Interstellar gets a few mentions, of course, but what I’d really like to watch is Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as an old, pretentious vampire couple.

Chaos Horizon is a blog dedicated to predicting the Nebula and Hugo nominees based on statistical modelling. It’s a good place to keep track of buzz books and get a feel for these awards. The latest post is an update on the Nebula 2015 predictions. I feel rather chuffed for having actually read quite a few of these and owning a couple of others, although I’m annoyed that I passed up a chance at a review copy of The Goblin Emperor. Anyway, more items on the list of books to buy.

And finally, not a list, but some awesome news – Saga Press is publishing a Kameron Hurley space opera! It’s called The Stars Are Legion, and ok, it’s only coming out in 2016, but I’m already going all squee. Click through to read Aiden Moher’s interview with Hurley, and find out what kind of mind-blowing weirdness we can expect from the novel. You might always want to start following Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s new sff imprint, launching in spring 2015. Upcoming titles include books by Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, and Kat Howard.

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments 🙂

Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

 

The Shining Girls MulhollandTitle: The Shining Girls
Author:
Lauren Beukes
Publisher: 
review copy published by Mulholland Books; originally published by Umuzi
Published:
 15 April 2013 by Umuzi; review edition published 4 June 2013 by Mulholland
Genre: 
fantasy, science fantasy, crime thriller, historical
Source: 
review copy via NetGalley
Rating:
 
8/10

Kirby is a bright girl bursting with life, despite her troubled childhood with a single mother whose “default state of being is absent” and the constant upheavals as they move from one home to another.  It Kirby’s sense of promise, the fact that she’s a “shining girl”, that draws Harper Curtis to her. He visits her for the first time when she’s six years old. He gives her a My Little Pony that hasn’t been invented yet. Fifteen years later he returns to kill her in a brutal attack, as he does with all the shining girls.

Harper is a serial killer travelling through time in the city of Chicago, drawn to girls who ‘shine’ with potential and determination. It’s his destiny to snuff their lives out. It’s the House that drives him. He was living in the shanty towns on the outskirts of Depression-era Chicago when fate delivers him a key that unlocks a seemingly abandoned house. Inside is a room full of objects and women’s names written on the wall in Harper’s own handwriting. The names of the shining girls. The objects are what will lead him to them, and Harper knows that he has to find them and kill them.

But he didn’t kill Kirby. Four years after his attack, she starts tracking him down. She joins the Chicago Sun Times as an intern for Dan Velasquez, the reporter who covered her case. He’s writes for the sports desk now, but Kirby will do whatever she can to find the man who nearly killed her, even if she has to waste time compiling baseball scores.

Kirby gets everything she needs, but Harper still presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge. He started killing in 1931, and with the House he can leap across the decades before returning to his own time, untraceable. Any evidence he leaves behind offers only impossible conclusions, allowing him to murder the girls unhindered.

The Shining Girls is the third of Beukes’s novels, and I think it’s now my favourite too, trumping Moxyland. Beukes writes with a very snarky, edgy style that I loved at first but tired of in Zoo City. The Shining Girls feels more mature, more refined, and offers a better story as a result. That’s not to say it doesn’t have that signature style or that Kirby isn’t smart-mouthed and bold enough to stand-up to her counterparts in Beukes’s earlier novels; it’s just toned down in a way that feels more natural and helps the story flow.

Mind you, it takes a fair bit of concentration to keep a firm grasp on the narrative, because the time-travel aspect means there’s a time shift with almost every chapter. The chapters are short too, keeping you on your toes. The key is to take note of the names, dates, and locations that comprise the chapter headings. I tend to ignore most chapter headings as unimportant, but I quickly learned that these are vital. The story is composed of multiple POVs in various times. Harper’s story begins in November 1931 but constantly moves between that time and 1993 as he hunts the shining girls. I think his story is actually relatively linear, but it doesn’t feel that way because what he experiences as linear time involves multiple time shifts, while the House itself is a atemporal space – a place that exists in all times and no time.

Kirby’s story begins in 1974, when Harper first contacts her. We see her as a child and a teenager, but usually as the scarred (literally and figuratively) 25-year old in 1993. The 1993 narrative is also told from Dan Velasquez’s perspective, as he tries to help Kirby out of his growing respect and affection for her. Then there are several minor POVs, including the shining girls and a junkie named Malcolm who tails Harper in the hope of getting some cash for his next hit.

It sounds overwhelming, but it easy to adjust to. The characters are distinctive and memorable, and there was only one chapter where I was confused about the POV. It’s not essential to understand everything in strict chronological order anyway; the most important events will come together smoothly. Beukes also employs an elegant tactic, using the objects in the House as narrative devices that tie the stories together: “Shining stars linked together through time. A constellation of murder”. The House is an atemporal space where the objects are always present, even when Harper takes them out. We see the links when objects in the room turn up in the shining girls’ stories, or when Harper takes an object from one girl and leaves it with another. Besides their practical narrative function, the objects are also just a pleasure to spot, like putting a puzzle together.

How they came together in the House, however, remains a mystery. The novel leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but in a way that intrigues rather than frustrates. There are hints and ideas that seem to lead to understanding but never quite get there, leaving the reader pondering the possibilities. There is no how and why for the House. We don’t know how it enables time travel, how it came into being, or why it is focused on killing the shining girls. It’s not clear what exactly motivates Harper either, even though we spend so much time in his head. He avoids taking responsibility for his acts, blaming his victims for shining:

“It’s not my fault, sweetheart,” he says, “It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.”

There’s also a sense in which he’s driven to do what he does by the objects, the House itself and the time paradox it’s entwined him in. The objects call to him and shine in ways that show him what to use and when.

He tells himself he is only looking around, but he knows one of his girls is here. He always does. It’s the same tug in his stomach that brought him to the House. That jolt of recognition when he walks into someplace he’s meant to be. He knows it when he sees the tokens that match the ones in the room. It is a game. To find them through different times and places. It’s a destiny he’s writing for them. Inevitably, they’re waiting for him.

The force exerted on him by the House and the object sometimes makes him uncomfortable, hurts him even, suggesting that he’s being coerced. He certainly doesn’t choose any of the victims himself; they’ve already been chosen and he’s just drawn to them. On a personal level though, Harper is a sadistic psychopath. It’s obvious that he wants to kill and takes a perverse pleasure in contacting his victims as children and then murdering them as adults, destroying the potential that makes them shine.

I will definitely be in the minority here, but Harper is my favourite character. Which isn’t to say I like him – he’s utterly despicable and I like all the other characters a lot more, with the possible exception of a hipster who wants to film Kirby having sex with him so that she can “reclaim what happened to [her]”. Harper disgusts me, but I love a good villain. He’s not especially smart, but he has an intuitive understanding of the House and eschews all gasping disbelief that characters typically go through when fantasy invades reality. When he steps into the House he claims his destiny as if slipping into a perfectly tailored suit. The way Harper hunts and kills the shining girls is so sick and brutal that I find him fascinating and repulsive in equal parts.

The shining girls are wonderful characters too, by virtue of the qualities that make them ‘shine’. Their roles are small, but they would be strong enough to drive an entire novel themselves. Each of them shows a rare sense of determination, typically in defiance of the racial and sexual discrimination prevalent in Chicago across the decades. Zora is a young black woman doing hard manual labour in a shipping yard to support her four children after losing her husband to war. Alice is a transsexual; Willie a lesbian. Some of them shine because of the difference they make in society. Margot arranges safe abortions for girls and women who can’t afford them. Jin-Sook is a social worker changing lives in black communities. Others shine because of their talents. Willie is a promising architect who fought her way into the field at a time when women weren’t normally given such jobs. Mysha is a brilliant botanist.

What makes Kirby shine seems to be something a bit different – her ability to defy Harper, and her potential to find him and stop him. She is the very reason there is a story. Surprisingly though her part of the narrative moves quite slowly, focusing on character development, her internship with Dan on the baseball desk, and his growing affection for her. The investigation takes a back seat. It seems a little odd, given Kirby’s fervour, although we later learn that she’s spent most of her free time trawling through old newspapers and police reports looking for clues and patterns. Nevertheless, it’s not until we near the end of the book that Kirby starts to make real progress, much of which is dismissed because it seems impossible. The book is by no means boring, but I think it relies heavily on Harper and the other shining girls to drive the narrative until Kirby’s story is ready to get into gear for the climactic ending.

The advantage is that you’re kept in prolonged suspense wondering how the hell Kirby is going to find Harper, the seemingly unstoppable serial killer. I didn’t particularly like the way this happened – through chance, rather than Kirby’s deductions – but I can’t deny that the ending was pretty tense and exciting anyway.

There is much to appreciate in the interim – Beukes’s awesome writing, the horror that is Harper, the stories of the shining girls, Kirby’s relationship with her mother, Kirby’s relationship with Dan. I also waited very patiently but with growing anticipation for the chapter where Harper tries to kill Kirby. As much as I’d hyped it up by the time I got to it, it still managed to be shockingly brutal and evocative, leaving me stunned with one of the saddest and most painful images in the book.

The Shining Girls collectors edition

Umuzi Collector’s Edition

One final thing I want to mention is how impressive the depiction of Chicago is. Beukes has obviously done extensive research (don’t ignore the acknowledgements; it’s worth seeing how much work went into this). The plot traverses six decades, and in the relatively short space of 298 pages we see several of Chicago’s historical and cultural faces as the city shifts and grows.

I’m glad that I bought the Umuzi signed and numbered collector’s edition hardcover of this. It’s a great story and one of the best South African novels I’ve read. I love its mysterious take on time travel and the way Beukes uses it as a plot device that brings a fresh perspective to both historical and crime fiction. The Shining Girls deserves its status as one of the most talked-about books at the moment, and strongly encourage you to read it and join the conversation.

The Book Ferret: Moxyland goes Zoo City

Angry Robot, the UK publisher of Lauren Beukes’s novels, is releasing an awesome new cover for Moxyland, to match the incredible cover for Zoo City. Check it out:

Both covers were created by award-winning designer Joey Hi-Fi. According to Angry Robot, the new cover will be out in early March 2012.  I really love the old Moxyland cover from the first edition published by SA company Jacana Media, but this new one is just as cool, not to mention infinitely better than Angry Robot’s lame first cover for the novel. I’m easily seduced by great covers and matching editions, so I’ll be hitting the order button as soon as this is available.

 

The Book Ferret is a Violin in a Void feature that showcases interesting book-related finds – gadgets, websites, book stores, events, cover art, quotes, new releases, etc.; anything bookworms would enjoy hearing about.

If you’d like to do your own Book Ferret post, grab the picture, link it back here, and let me know about it in the comments. I’ll be sure to mention your post in my next Book Ferret.

On My Shelf: Octavia Butler and Lauren Beukes

On My Shelf is a new monthly meme started by KJ Mulder over at Worlds in Ink and it’s all about sharing the books on your shelf in alphabetical order, according to author. It’s a very chilled-out meme, so you can plan it in any way you like, and post at any time of the month, any number of times you like. And who doesn’t like to show off some of their books?

Ok, so A & B got extended into August, giving me a bit more time. Today it’s Octavia Butler and Lauren Beukes, two very different sci fi and fantasy authors, but they’re both done groundbreaking work in the genre – Octavia Butler as a black female writer and Lauren Beukes as a South African writer.

I can’t remember which of these I got first – Dawn and Parable of the Sower (bought secondhand at Rick’s in Pretoria) or Kindred (a pricey special edition bought with my staff discount at Exclusive Books). Whichever one I bought/read first, I was impressed with Butler’s storytelling. She handles some very heavy topics – racism, rape, sexuality, slavery – but with such compelling stories that the subject matter won’t weigh you down, although it retains the necessary gravitas.

Dawn (1987, VGSF edition) is the first in the Xenogenesis trilogy, which was later renamed Lilith’s Brood. I’ve got the Grand Central edition of the series, containing Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago. All good books, although I have to admit they feel very similar. Parable of the Sower (1993, Aspect edition) is about a young empath in a post-apocalyptic world and she’s developing a new faith called Earthseed with the principle that “God is change”. Kindred (1979, Beacon Press) is my favourite of Butler’s novels. It’s about a black woman, Dana, in present-day America who keeps getting pulled back in time to the antebellum South. It becomes apparent that she time-travels whenever she has to save the life of a boy (later man) named Rufus, the son of a white slave-owner. Rufus is actually Dana’s ancestor, so if she doesn’t save him she won’t exist. But her other ancestor from this time is a black woman, and Dana isn’t sure what kind of relationship the two of them will have, and what cruelty she might have to condone if she wants to exist.

 

Then there are my two Lauren Beukes novels:

I was lucky enough to get them both autographed at the Joburg Book Fair last year;

Both are Jacana editions, and both have awesome covers, especially Zoo City‘s, which won a BSFA award. And of course the novel itself recently won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award. I hadn’t even heard about a new Lauren Beukes novel when Zoo City  came out last year, but when I saw it on the African fiction shelf at Exclusive Books her name and that amazing artwork on the cover sold it to me. Admittedly, I didn’t like it as much as I did her debut, Moxyland (2008), which was my very first taste of South African speculative fiction. Like lots of South Africans, I’d come to think of our fiction as only ever being about (post-)apartheid politics and social relations. In other words, no matter how important, no matter how well-written, no matter how gritty and realistic its portrayal of life in South Africa, I wouldn’t have a good time reading it, although I might get forced to do so at school or varsity. Moxyland completely defied that dreary stereotype by being a cool, edgy, amazing read.

Zoo City shortlisted for Arthur C. Clarke award – so buy a copy for just £1!

After Moxyland came out, any South African who’d read it knew Lauren Beukes was awesome, but it’s still great to know that the rest of the world is realising that too – her uber-edgy urban fantasy novel Zoo City has now been shortlisted for the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award! Woohoo! Congratulations Lauren!

This comes after being shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Award not to mention winning the Red Tentacle Award. I’m feeling incredibly patriotic all of a sudden.

To celebrate, Angry Robot is selling the Zoo City eBook for just £1! The offer will stand until midday (GMT) on Monday 7th March, and all eBooks sold at the Angry Robot store are DRM-free. So don’t hang around here, go and get one now!

South African SF, F and Horror: What can we look forward to?

I just got back from BookEx at Sandton Convention Centre, where I attended what was probably South Africa’s first sci fi, fantasy and horror panel (woohoo!). Dave-Brendon from DaveBrendon’s Fantasy and SciFi Weblog chaired the panel, which featured SA authors Sarah Lotz, Louis Greenberg and Lauren Beukes. Admittedly, South Africa has precious little SF, F or horror to boast, so it wasn’t surprising that the panel was cruelly scheduled for 4pm, on the very last day of the expo, but I’m hoping the fact that there was a panel at all is a sign of exciting things to come. It’s not like we’re short on fans, so where’s the fiction? But even in places where the SF, F, and horror industries are booming, those genres are still seen as publishing ‘ghettos’ as Lauren described it, supposedly lacking the quality and depth of so-called literary fiction. Any reader of good SF, F and horror knows better though, and the panel started off by chatting about the social edge often found in genre fiction, its potential for satire. At the same time, Lauren said she doesn’t like genre and she hates being boxed with labels like ‘cyberpunk’ or ‘urban fantasy’. Forget about genre, she said; just read what interests and surprises you.

The panel authors certainly have some interesting new books for us. Sarah and Louis both love horror and have collaborated on a horror novel titled The Mall, where an emo-kid bookseller and a coke-junkie babysitter are drawn into the bowels of an otherworldly mall. Sarah and Louis described the collaboration process – a kind of good-natured sadism where they took turns writing and each left the characters in impossibly difficult situations (like being stuck in a room full of mirrors with no door) that the other would have to write them out of. That sounds like a promise of a lot of terrifying fun. The Mall will be published in June 2011 under the pseudonym S. L. Grey. I’m really keen to get my hands on a copy as soon as I can, so I’ll keep you guys updated. In the meantime, enjoy the luscious cover:

Sarah and her daughter have also written a YA zombie novel called Deadlands, which will be out in March next year, published under the name Lily Hearn. Lauren is working on a new novel – an Apartheid thriller, which will be a change of pace from her two previous novels, but having enjoyed both Moxyland and Zoo City, I’m willing to follow her down whichever road she chooses to take.

I asked the panel what they thought a South African context could bring to genre fiction. Many South Africans, when they think of our country’s fiction they think of fiction about race relations, Apartheid and post-Apartheid politics. Is this essential to the South African novel? What else can South African writers bring to sci fi, fantasy and horror? Sarah and Louis had already mentioned malls and hospitals as potential sites of horror in SA, because of the way social injustice and evil collects there. In Lauren’s opinion, SA novels certainly don’t have to be Apartheid novels, but they have to acknowledge what has happened to this country as a result of Apartheid. She also emphasised how important it was to write novels set in South Africa – no one wants to read fantasy novels set in Middle Earth anymore; it’s been done to death. Similarly, paranormal romance fill shelf after shelf with vampire/werewolf/angel/demi-god love affairs. For South African writers to produce another one of these is to compete with the millions already out there.

Not to mention the fact that South African publishers aren’t interested in novels that aren’t, well, South African. Sarah further emphasised the need for local settings when she told us about a writing class that was held for children in the Cape Flats. Most of the participants wrote vampire stories set in American locker rooms and yet these kids had never even seen an American locker room. The problem seems to be that we’re over-influenced by the over-abundance of fiction from the US and the UK and, as Lauren suggested, SA writers don’t feel cool enough to compete. In the meantime, publishers are looking for “the South African Twilight” (yes, I cringed when I heard that. I really hope they’re just referring to popularity and that publishers aren’t scouting for million-rand drivel).

In reference to the race relations mentioned in my question, Louis added that we’re already thinking about it in new ways, allowing Lauren Beukes, a white woman, to write in the persona of a black woman for her novel Zoo City. What’s exciting about this is that South Africans can use fiction to speak for each other, that writers can safely explore a variety of racial and political identities rather than feeling trapped in racial stereotypes. Besides exploring identity, I’m looking forward to the unique ideas and territories that SA writers can create in SF, F and horror. It’s a fresh market, and the fans are there, locally and internationally, eager as always. And I for one would love to find new worlds in the streets and buildings I know so well.