An art installation so tactile as to feel alive, a ghost that lurks alongside a promising architecture student, a girl gutted from the inside to make a premiere athlete: all stitched together into a punk tapestry of stories and other short pieces.
Cape Town author Beukes (Zoo City, 2016, etc.) makes good use of her South African homeland, though she often turns Johannesburg and Cape Town into futuristic wastelands, as in “The Green,” a sci-fi militaristic nightmare of a short story, or “Riding with the Dream Patrol,” an unsettling look at where our cyberfuture could be headed (hint: bad places). There are also more straightforwardly bizarre entries, bordering on pure science fiction but never losing Beukes’ dark comedic edge, particularly “Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs,” wherein a fighter pilot (a woman, of course) must save Tokyo. Also, there are talking cats to spice things up (where there are hairballs, there must be cats). Some of the most effective pieces are the shortest, such as “Dial Tone,” where Beukes evokes the lonely desperation of her nameless narrator in less than four pages, as the character places crank calls and is often simply soothed by the dial tone. Or “Confirm/Ignore,” in which the narrator berates readers, and society at large, for their obsession with pop culture: “One day I get Bette Davis and Bettie Page confused. This is not my fault. It’s yours.” Her brief autobiographical pieces—on her first forays into journalism and a letter to her young daughter on the meaning of beauty—wrap up the slim volume nicely.
Utterly bizarre and equally addictive, these pieces demonstrate that Beukes has only tapped the surface of her prodigious and wide-ranging talent with her novels.