I really loved THE
SHINING GIRLS, and so I’m not terribly surprised to find that I
really enjoyed SLIPPING, Lauren Beukes’ latest. I suspect that you
will as well if you share my taste for weird, off-beat books and
strange stories — and if you don’t, seriously, what are you even
doing here. SLIPPING has all the great traits of her earlier work,
but at the same time, it also displays her narrative flexibility.
The stories range from short — less than half a page — to complex, multipart explorations of human nature and embodiment. Some are played more or less straight in a contemporary setting with characters you might meet anywhere. Others take on science fiction and the boundaries of what humans can do. Some zip into outer space, or retell fairytales, or offer narratives of vengeance for the noxious sexist things people to do one another. Many of them are set in various versions of Beukes’ home, South Africa, and they attempt to show interesting slices of a world that many people know only in vague shapes and suggestions.
What draws me to Beukes’ writing is the strong and very genuine sense of weirdness — her work unsettles, forces you to pause, obliges you to re-read and roll something over in your head. Did she really just…? Yes, she did. Sometimes it’s genuinely gross, body horror at its best, and other times it’s strange, uneasy. While she has an incredibly consistent style and tone, each story feels fresh and distinct — they are cut from the same cloth, perhaps, but they are presented in such radically different ways that they, and their characters, don’t feel repetitive.
Beukes has an incredibly descriptive sense, and while she doesn’t lovingly detail every single element of every single scene, she provides enough information to be captivating — I know what I need to know to get through the narrative, and I’m not bogged down with unnecessary information. For all that her style can be sparse, though, it’s still rich: I can feel the sun, smell the surroundings, sense the precise shade of paint a character is looking at, even when it’s spattered in gore or covered in weird alien jelly masses. And for all that I talk about her gross stories, don’t let that put you off — this really is a diverse mix, and there are lots of tales herein that have little to nothing to do with grossness!
If you haven’t read Beukes before, this strikes me as a really great introduction. It showcases her dynamic range and gives you a taste of her writing and storytelling style, and lets you browse through at your leisure. I suspect that you’ll leave wanting more, and fortunately, there’s definitely more where this came from. If you have read her before, you definitely need to get on it with this book, whether you like science fiction, fantasy, contemporary, or just plain weird.
Paul StJohn Mackintosh for SEE THE ELEPHANT enjoys the collection.
SLIPPING is a
collection from a writer who many readers will know only from one
book: SHINING GIRLS. That’s their loss. Because Lauren Beukes,
judging from these tales, is one of the best fictional chroniclers of
modern life per se. If many of the stories use science fiction
tropes, it’s with a literary intent that mixes genres freely to get
a far better purchase on the contemporary reality of South Africa,
and the world at large. Beukes’s sci-fi South Africa seems far
closer to post-Black Lives Matter America or post-Brexit Britain than
many versions of their own land from native authors. Western readers
may not want to face the implications of that parallel: Beukes makes
Any fans who expect Beukes’s short stories to be some kind of post-feminist psalmody against male violence, though, are liable to be disappointed – for about the first five minutes anyway. (The essay “All the Pretty Corpses” is also in the volume, for those expectations.) This fiction is as close to J.G. Ballard or William Burroughs, in spirit, as to Ursula LeGuin – or to Neill Blomkamp. We have techno-enabled body horror, ultraviolence, societies in meltdown, gunplay, queasy biotech, twisted glitterati, and giant killing machines, mostly rendered in a sharp, acerbic, hard-edged style that rarely slows down enough to point to an overt moral. The Ballardian parallel also extends to Beukes’s experimental leanings – there are stories that employ cut-up techniques, and others with a strong whiff of Pop Art.
Not all of the stories, especially the early ones, are weird tales or fantastic fiction in any narrow dogmatic sense – never mind the essays and journalism collected at the end of the volume – but they all bear the imprint of the same fantastic imagination.
Beukes doesn’t seem in any hurry to leave South Africa behind, even if her Cape Town closely resembles Ballard’s Super-Cannes. Just as well, given how essential the South African environment seems to be for her imagination, even when she’s writing about Chicago, or grotesquely fecund alien planets. I just hope she invests plenty in home security and bodyguards to defend her film rights and foreign rights wealth. Given the society she sketches in charcoal, blood red, and dayglo spraybomb, you can see the risks. But pray that South Africa never loses one of its brightest, best chroniclers, for that would be a sad loss for the country, and for us all. Often jolting reading.
At BOOK RIOT, A.J. O’Connell includes the book in Only Have A Minute?
7 New Collections of Short Fiction for SFF Lovers.
Okay, guys, so his
one isn’t strictly short stories. Lauren Beukes, the South African
author of The SHINING GIRLS and the recently re-released MOXYLAND and
ZOO CITY, includes non-fiction with fiction in this collection. (Her
nonfiction has been widely published, as has her fiction.) The
stories in SLIPPING include dystopian science fiction, talking cats,
fighter pilots saving Tokyo, and killer art installations. If you’re
a fan of Beukes’s dystopian visions of Johannesburg or her wicked
sense of humor this book’s for you.
For more information about SLIPPING: STORIES, ESSAYS, & OTHER WRITING, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Clara Bacou
Design by Elizabeth Story