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.
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