I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Slipping by Lauren Beukes
Published by Tachyon Publications on November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Collections & Anthologies, Science Fiction, Thrillers, Crime, Fantasy, Paranormal
Format: Electronic ARC
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A collection of twenty-six short stories & essays written by Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters, and Zoo City. Why haven’t I read any of Lauren Beukes’s work before? This book was my favorite kind of strange!
You might think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges, so the scramble of the docks turns hipster cool while the faded glamor of the inner city gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang. And sometimes it drops a sentence. Sometimes the sentence finds you. And won’t shut up. (Ghost Girl)
The stories in this book address a wide range of topical issues: corporate and government exploitation of the underprivileged, the effects of reality TV and social media on culture, government surveillance, obsession/toxic relationships/domestic violence, and creativity. Most of the stories are set in South Africa, but we also visit Pakistan, Japan, and unfamiliar planets. The author occasionally uses language specific to South African culture, so be sure to turn to the glossary at the end if you have trouble with any unfamiliar terms.
Dehumanizing is not only something that other people do to you. It can be self-inflicted, too. Switch off the light behind your eyes. Focus on the lowest rungs of Maslow. Get through the day, however you can. (Inner City)
The overall atmosphere is dark and disturbing. Many of the stories are spine-chilling in a “sensing a sinister presence while walking alone in the dark” way. Most of the characters seem to have a deep longing for something better and are doing the best they can to survive in the harsh and unforgiving world they were born into. There’s a mix of realistic stories and science fiction, but even the ones set in a strange environment have a recognizable tinge. Throughout the entire book, I felt like I was in the middle ground between fantasy and reality. Beukes takes the current state of affairs to an extreme using familiar attitudes and rationalizations. Strip away all the strange details and it’s all uncomfortably real!
The young people don’t see it. It’s all nonsense, they say, apartheid is over and done, leave it behind. But the past infests everything, like worms. They’ve cut down the old trees, the new government, but the roots of the past are still there, can still tangle round your feet, trip you up. They go deep. (Smileys)
My seven favorites in the fiction section:
• Slipping: A young woman with a disability has the opportunity to lift her family out of poverty when she agrees to be enhanced with biotechnology. Her custodians use her as a showpiece to obtain military and pharmaceutical contracts.
• Pop Tarts: Sponsorships are king in a competitive market where everyone has the opportunity to broadcast their lives on television. These new celebrities are willing to go to extreme lengths to improve their ratings and keep fickle audiences entertained.
• Tankwa-Karoo: An eclectic mix of people gather together at a music festival as society collapses around them, but the situation at “civilization’s last stand” quickly deteriorates.
• Riding With the Dream Patrol: Written as a news article, correspondent Lauren Beukes interviews a government surveillance unit that’s dedicated “watching the greatest show on earth. You.”
• Easy Touch: A 419 scammer preps his next victim.
• Algebra: The tale of a complicated relationship told from A to Z.
• The Green: A corporation recruits people with underprivileged backgrounds to travel to a dangerous planet and mine a unique substance that’s potentially valuable to the military.
At least in fiction, unlike real life, you can get justice. (All the Pretty Corpses)
There were only five essays/articles in the non-fiction section and I wished there were more! The five non-fiction pieces included reveal how Beukes’s career as a journalist informs her fiction. In Adventures in Journalism, the beginnings of the short story Smileys come to light. In All the Pretty Corpses, she addresses the media treatment of murder victims and explains why she wrote The Shining Girls. There is also a really touching essay, On Beauty: A Letter to My Five Year Old Daughter, that I hope every young girl has the opportunity to read.
Real beauty is engaging with the world. It’s the courage to face up to it, every day. It’s figuring out who you are and what you believe in and standing by that. It’s giving a damn. You are interesting because you are interested, you are amazing because you are so wide open to everything life has to give you. (On Beauty)
As is the case with many collections of short fiction, not all the stories resonated with me. Sometimes the weird little details are so distant from my own frame of reference that I have a hard time visualizing what was going on and/or feeling like I had a full grasp of the message being given. The absolute weirdest–and most fun–story was Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs (available at link), a short story that readers of Haruki Murakami will appreciate. It’s hard not to be intrigued by a badass flight sergeant wearing “knee-high white patent combat boots made from the penis leather of a whale she had slaughtered herself”!
This author is definitely on my must-read list now. I love her empathy, imagination, and how she explores important issues in a creative way. If you like this book, I think you might also like Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips or Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein. You might also want to check out director Neill Blomkamp’s movies: District 9, Elysium, and Chappie.