J. Robert King

Moxyland–The Next 100

My last post may have made you think that Moxyland is somehow old-fashioned–some kind of South African The Sound and the Fury. Good. Because it is. Most reviewers of this novel have pointed to how new it is, how it bristles with punk energy, how it is edgy and eats its way out of the cyberpunk corpse or some such.

Yes, all of that is true, but it’s only half of the story. Moxyland reads like Lord Byron meets Lady Gaga, Dorothy Parker meets Axl Rose. It’s, in a word, something old meets something new.

Take the first character we meet–Kendra, who is on her way to get tattooed as a living poster girl for a multinational corporation. That’s something new. But she’s also a photo student who uses only “oldschool” film that has to be developed–this after the last Kodochrome processor is long-since dead.

Think of Toby, the familiar lovable stoner, whose rich parents bankroll his degenerate ways. We’ve seen this figure since the ’60s, except that Toby is also a streamcaster with a loyal Web following, whose own chaotic life becomes a reality series for the world. Old meets new.

Tendaka is the inflexible white knight paladin straight out of King Arthur and yet is also a gay activist/freedom fighter/terrorist/tagger–depending on your labeling preferences.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Moxyland is, yes, very new because it speaks to our time and our future, but it is also very old because it speaks to where we have been. Beukes’s writing is new and crisp because she has invented a kind of post-modern patois, but she uses this new language to tell a story that resonates with the narrations of the last thousand years.

And voice is the thing. We read voices the way we read faces. The reason art students have trouble painting faces is that every human being is an expert at reading them. The arm could be six inches too long and we wouldn’t care, but if the face is off–what the hell? People can spot a false face a mile away.

We read voices in the same way. A writer’s voice tells us five critical things: (1) who the writer is, (2) what the writer is trying to do, (3) what the writer thinks of the subject, (4) what relationship the writer has to the reader, and (5) what relationship the writer has to language, itself. People can spot a false voice a mile away.

And so, Moxyland could run aground because it sounds too futuristic, or too modern, or too traditional. But it does none of these. Beukes’s voice sounds simultaneously futuristic, modern, and traditional. That’s no mean feat. And on top of it all, Beukes creates four narrators with four distinct voices.

I hate the term tour de force, not because it isn’t descriptive but because it is overused. So I guess I’ll coin my own term for Moxyland: it’s a tour de guerre.
February 3rd, 2011
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11 Responses to “Moxyland–The Next 100”

  1. Tweets that mention Moxyland–The Next 100 | J. Robert King -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lauren Beukes and Rudi , Romi. Romi said: RT @laurenbeukes: "Moxyland reads like Lord Byron meets Lady Gaga, Dorothy Parker meets Axl Rose." RT @jrobertking: http://ht.ly/3QiU2 & … […]

  2. Curtis Says:

    You always nail it. Always! I almost hate to risk reading the book. It could easily not live up to the quality of your review. You do not waste words.

    Now, to the handful of words you used to discuss voice. Never mind the number of chapters I’ve plowed through relative to ” voice.” You got it said in what, sixty words? Clear. Understandable. Specific and dead on.

    When you get around to your book on writing, my guess is it will fit on the back of a large envelope and cover all things necessary to the process. Like I said. You don’t waste words.

  3. Rob King Says:

    Wow! Thanks so much, Curtis. I must admit to being in a bit of a crisis of faith about the direction of my writing. Your note is a helpful course corrective. Thanks!


  4. Curtis Says:


    Let me see if I can say this is an erudite and pastoral manner. Screw the crises and get on with your writing. It is who you are and what you do.


    P.S. I’m trying to learn not to waste words. 🙂

  5. Rob King Says:

    Thanks for the kick in the ass. Seriously, I needed it. Tonight, perhaps because of your encouragement, I came up with my first new novel idea in months. It may be worthless, but it’s a start.

  6. Curtis Says:

    Don’t you just love “compost” time? Instead of light sabers on a catwalk in a glorious face off with Darth Vader we deal with the gunk monster in a trash compactor.

  7. Rob King Says:

    Let’s just hope you’re right. My last idea turned out to be a non-starter. But I’ve got a new idea. I hope this is the one that gets me out of the trash compactor. Regardless, I’m just now in the trash compactor.

    Thanks, Curtis!

  8. Curtis Says:

    One interesting thing about the trash compactor, while there we produce better material than we realize. Your Moxyland review is a seamless piece of writing. It reflected what you are extremely good at–distilled thought. My guess is “good” is not how you felt about it when you wrote it.

    Since your writing does business in deep waters rather than surface reporting, it requires a gestation period. That is not fun. There is no timer or calendar associated with it. During the wallowing the doubt monster threatens at every turn. But, the period results in very strong writing that reviewers will describe as “an in depth piece. Defines the imaginative. Once of his best.” Personally, I doubt they have a clue where it comes from or how it came into being. But, those are nice things to say, so we will let them say them.

    My hunch is if you keep faffing around in the compactor you will find the thing necessary to stop the threat of the crushing walls. And, you will also enter into a new phase of writing.

    P.S. Don’t throw the non-starter idea away. Throw it in a drawer. Who knows, five years from now it could easily have cooked long enough to be a shooting star of an idea.

  9. Rob King Says:

    Sadly, suffering does tend to produce better art, as long as it doesn’t kill the artist.

    Don’t worry, Threepio, I’ll get out of this mess.

  10. Curtis Says:


  11. Curtis Says:

    ” Mike check.” “Mike check.” eeeerrrrrraaawwwww ” Mike check.” Is Rob in the room? I repeat. Is Rob in the room?

    Dude, I’m getting older. Throw me a paragraph or two. Something about a hole in time will do. I’m falling through one now. I don’t need a life line. I just need something to read while I make the trip.

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