A Brief appreciation of Zoo City c/f Locus Online
Zoo City is a densely energetic and engaging story, complex in its structure and narrative, melding and breaking genres with great skill. It is both riveted together and pulled along by a strong but flawed young amaZulu woman called Zinzi December, who has a 'gift' for 'finding things' - and many things she does indeed find, both internal and external to herself. Due to her prior criminal history, she is supernaturally connected to an animal (an 'aposymbiote') - which varies across individuals - and for Zinzi, her animal is a beautifully characterised sloth. Unlike Philip Pullman's daemons from his Dark Materials however, these animals appear to reflect less inherent personality characteristics than act as companions and stigmatising social markers. The ambivalence in such markers is that they provide comfort, as well as peril and power, reflecting an enforced attachment to the animal world in the otherwise stark urban ghetto environment of Jo'burg. The novel compellingly knits together Zinzi's central detective noir 'missing persons' quest against a background of scientific and traditional African 'supernatural' discourses - historically divided discourses now integrated within a strange - but resonant - South Africa indeed. Although classified as 'urban fantasy' this book sprawls across genre and literary boundaries in a way that will appeal to readers from any literary or genre background. Zoo City is deservedly already starting to pick up nominations for major SF/F prizes, such as the BSFA Award - and has now won the British Arthur C. Clarke Award. Beukes has indeed burst prominently onto the international SF/F scene and looks likely to set as many powerful trends as she breaks. She is a creative force of nature - and a truly South African one at that!
Nick Wood - © May 2011