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book reviews by Althea

Review: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing

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Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing
Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiction

Muse – Brief, poetic and appropriate as an introduction. A dash of the fantastic, a bit of horror – and a comment on the creative process.

Slipping – A re-read (and worth the second look.) “Last year, Beukes’ ‘Broken Monsters’ impressed me… and this story continues to impress. The technology here is beyond today’s capabilities – but the behavior of the humans here is all too believable; the situation not just credible but likely.
With most countries banning ‘enhanced’ sports, the +Games has found a home in Pakistan, where bionic athletes compete not solely for an audience, but for corporate and military observers. The hope? For the surgeon to showcase their wares, resulting in a payoff.
Why would anyone opt for these extreme and experimental surgical procedures? And what is the human cost? Beukes answers these questions with this horrific and emotionally wracking portrait of one young South African competitor.”

Confirm / Ignore – Brief, but timely and insightful look into the mentality involved in creating fake social media profiles.

Branded – You can read the story on i09: http://io9.gizmodo.com/5943053/a-bran…. This is a precursor to ‘Moxyland,’ and shares some of the same themes, especially the idea of paid sponsors wearing commercial logo ‘tattoos’ and receiving nanotech enhancements that allow them to get ‘high’ off seemingly innocuous products.
If you haven’t read this – or Moxyland – yet, I recommend doing so. (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…)

Smileys – An older woman, heading to market, is approached by a young man who can’t have anything good in mind. The outcome is surprising, and kick-ass. Loved it!

Princess – A weird fairytale/allegory about sexual awakening, and the romance between a popstar celebrity and her Ecuadorean maid, complete with happy-ish ending. Bizarre.

My Insect Skin – Powerful and disturbing. This is a short vignette, but packs an emotional punch in with more layers of complexity than the reader initially expects. Impressively excellent writing.

Parking – Remember The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita”? Well, this is a reversal of that scenario. A traffic warden develops a crush on a woman who regularly parks on his beat. Things don’t work out so well. Exploring both issues of class and human nature, Beukes eloquently allows for understanding, without demanding or excusing.

Pop Tarts – With just one step into the future, Beukes shows us the possible next gen of reality TV. What happens when your best friend is the next big star, her – and your – every move followed by the cameras? A blackly humorous look at where the trends are leading.

The Green – WOW. Dystopian military sci-fi/horror. This story is so excellent. Our protagonist has been recruited from the slums to a military-style research corporation specializing in R&D. They use people like her for highly dangerous harvesting operations on alien planets. On-the-job injury or death isn’t uncommon. But a new project is particularly demoralizing: they’re experimenting with corpses; using some kind of alien ‘mold’ to reanimate them, zombie style. Seeing your former lover in this state is pretty rough, understandably. But is it the worst thing you can imagine? Beukes is up for the challenge of taking the horror one step further.

Litmash – Bits from a Twitter ‘story’ challenge. Some of them are amusing, but this isn’t really my kind of thing.

Easy Touch – At this point in time, it’s a familiar story: a woman with a dying child has been sucked into a 419 scam, lured across international borders and convinced to sink her assets into the hopes of a big payout. But Beukes does something a bit unexpected with the tale.

Algebra – It’s just the story of a relationship. Not usually my sort of thing. Nothing really that unusual or remarkable happens. You might think, at first, the little A-Z sections are a bit gimmicky. But the end result is just wonderfully done.

Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs – Again, at first, I didn’t think this was going to be my kind of story. Wild and weird, cartoony Japanime action… But then, I said, “Waiiittt… this is sounding an awful lot like the Takashi Murakami exhibit we had at the Brooklyn Museum.” And then, Haruki Murakami (the writer) shows up as a character. Next thing you know, Takashi is there too. And I was laughing out loud on the subway… It’s awesome.

Dear Mariana – This one is more in line, mood-wise, with ‘Broken Monsters’ (and maybe ‘Shining Girls; which I haven’t read yet.) A poorly-typed letter to an absent ex-girlfriend begins innocuously enough. But as the narrative continues, an ominous tension crawls to the forefront.

Riding with the Dream Patrol – Drawing from Beukes’ experience as a journalist; this one almost feels like non-fiction. The concerns about issues of privacy, ‘classified’ data and technology are all-too-current.
“The problem is that you can justify almost anything as national security, and the guy who gets to decide what should be declassified is the same person who decided it was classified in the first place. … And all this is being sold to us as for our own good.”

Unaccounted – Things have gone sour between humanity and the aliens. We’re in a state of war. Alien ‘diplomats’ are now held prisoner at a military facility. And, in a situation disturbingly reminiscent of Guantanamo (or any other military prison/base), the lines between correct operating procedure, the rules of bureaucracy, ethical actions, and the violation of all of those, becomes increasingly blurred. Powerful piece.

Tankwa-Karoo – Attendees at a rave festival slip more quickly than they could have imagined into Mad-Max-style bloody power struggles, when they hear that outside civilisation has collapsed. Bitterly hilarious.

Exhibitionist – This is an excerpt from ‘Moxyland.’

Dial Tone – Similar in theme to “Confirm / Ignore,” but instead of social media, the narrator here makes ‘prank’ phone calls.

Ghost Girl – A college student studying architecture and struggling through a passionate but unstable romantic relationship finds his perspective challenged when the ghost of a teenage goth girl starts following him around and bugging him.

Nonfiction

Adventures in Journalism – An essay on Beukes’ work as a journalist and how those experiences and techniques have informed an enabled her fiction.

All the Pretty Corpses – An introduction, or notes on ‘The Shining Girls,’ with a story about the truly horrific murder of a woman Beukes knew, and tried – and failed – to gain justice for. Not easy reading.

Judging Unity – An introduction, based on an interview, to the writer, lawyer and human rights activist Unity Dow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_Dow Succeeding in interesting me in her writing!

Inner City – An introduction/notes on “Zoo City,” again, giving insight into how real-life experiences informed the novel.

On Beauty: A Letter to My Five-Year-Old Daughter – A feminist essay.

Many thanks to Tachyon and NetGalley for the chance to read this collection from one of my favorite authors. As always, my opinions are unconnected to the source of the book.

View all my reviews

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