Thursday, 22 April 2010

Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

One of the horrible glimpses of mortality that mid-life crisis has brought me, is the realisation that I am not as cool as my parents.

Mum and Dad lived in London during the swinging sixties, when Dad was a groovy young newsreader at the BBC. They were never what you'd call ravers. Rock music was never their thing – Dad's fond of George Melly and Humphrey Littleton; Mum likes show tunes – and they are, despite when they lived, somewhat naïve as regards drugs. Their taste in art and culture is that of bright a undergraduate circa 1959, all post-impressionists, Leonard Bernstein and middle-brow writers. But, they really lived life. They had trendy BBC friends, went to all the latest shows and concerts, and took holidays to exotic destinations in the Med.

I've hung out with arty people and taken drugs and liked the right sorts of music, movies and books, but well, what does it all amount to, really? Mum and Dad got enormously into amateur theatre in Porirua, which seemed like the lamest thing ever when I was in my twenties, and yet they both eventually received Queen's Service Medals for their efforts and are quite highly regarded among a particular demographic. And what have I done to compare with that?

For many years, I assumed that my superiority to Mum and Dad was self-evident, a thing as natural as being young itself. That's the trap of youth, I think. When they say “youth is wasted on the young” that's surely one of the things they mean, the wasteful impatient arrogance of the young that drives them out of the nest to urgently re-invent a world that, generation after generation, refuses to change.

It's this desperate arrogance that drives the characters in Moxyland. I recognise their ambitions, because at one stage or another I have felt them all. Moxyland is a tragedy, in the classical sense, as the good are undone by their better nature while evil exults. Kendra is killed by choosing ambition before art; Tendenka dies when his idealism curdles into self-importance. In the meantime, if Kendra and Tendenka are the world's creative spirit and it's conscience, then Lerato and Toby represent the forces of vacuous self-gratification and cold-hearted corporate control. Both are the product of damaged societies. Toby has been spoiled and indulged until there is nothing decent left in him, while Lerato has been deracinated by the horror and disease of the previous century. Between them, they represent the future of Afirca.

Although Moxyland is full of racy cutting-edge culture, it's message is ultimately that of grumpy old men everywhere. The short-view of youth sees only the waves crashing in, while from the long view of decades one begins to see that these have nothing against the power of the tides. Instead of being a frightening possibility of the future, it becomes a description of the eternal way of the world.

But what do I know? This is a dystopian satire for the BoingBoing generation, what some people call post-cyberpunk, but – come on! - it's straight cyberpunk, through and through, bristling with Sterlingesque futurism and a plot reminiscent of Rainbows End. In fact, all those writers and all those books are still working away at the issues first raised by the likes of John Brunner and Norman Spinrad in the sixties. So, the New Wave keeps crashing and you keep getting knocked over by it until eventually you get tired of it and get out of the water altogether, and sit in the dunes up the beach waiting for the sunset.

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