Reviews for Lauren Beukes’ must-read collection SLIPPING: STORIES, ESSAYS, & OTHER WRITING keep rolling in.
At SCIFINOW, Jonathan Hatfull praises the book.
With her novels BROKEN MONSTERS
MOXYLAND, ZOO CITY, THE SHINING GIRLS, Lauren Beukes has established herself as one of the genre’s most exciting voices. The stories assembled here not only show off her eclectic range of influences and interests, but the strength of her voice, her passion for her subjects, and that fantastic blend of anger, analysis, sensitivity and wit.
Several of the stories show an uncertain near future in which technology and humanity exist in an uneasy co-dependency. The titular ‘Slipping’ is the story of Pearl, a teenage athlete competing in an Olympic event in which the runners’ cybernetic enhancements are discussed more than their own skills. With her distrust of authority and personal belief system, Pearl’s struggle is her own.
Tech concerns come through with a more classic dystopian feel in sci-fi tales like ‘The Green,’ in which a bunch of grunts harvest terrifying flora and fauna for an uncaring corporation and may be worth more dead than alive, depending on what killed them. ‘Riding With The Dream Patrol’ is set in 2017 and finds journalist Lauren Beukes reporting on the government’s use of social media to monitor us, and doesn’t feel very sci-fi at all.
There are stories that have no genre element at all, simply focusing on attempts at human connection, or on people facing unwanted attention. While she can certainly deliver delirious, pop-culture-strewn explosions of science fiction (we’re referring to ‘Unathi Battles The Black Hairballs,’ in which the titular character fights a gigantic hair monster in Tokyo before going on a very trippy journey involving performance art, talking cats and the infamous Suicide Forest), she is just as capable of giving us a vivid and strong character like Thozama, who tries to fend off a ‘helpful’ vigilante while carrying her produce to her shop in the excellent ‘Smileys’.
Couples come together and separate, stalkers are confronted with the grim facts of their behaviour, lonely people debate doing a Tom Ripley to their friends, and students learn to be more selfless by befriending teenage ghost girls. The best short story collections should feel like a treasure trove, a carefully curated present from the author to the reader. If you’re a fan of Beukes’ work, this is a gift.
Kelly Garbato at VEGAN DAEMON enjoys the collection.
I love Lauren Beukes, and I generally dig short stories – especially those belonging to the SF/dystopia genre. So I was pretty psyched to get my hands on an early copy of SLIPPING, Beukes’s very first collection of short fiction and non-fiction essays. (There’s also 2014’s POP TARTS AND OTHER
STORIES, which I’m not counting since it’s comprised of just three short stories – all of which appear here.)
The fiction generally has a science fiction/dystopian bent, with a few fantasy and contemporary pieces mixed in. There’s even a fairy tale of sorts: a modern-day retelling of “The Princess of the Pea” that’s both a critique of celebrity culture and an ode to female masturbation that (spoiler alert!) is all kinds of awesome. While all are unique and imaginative, a few themes are common across many of the stories: transhumanism, e.g. through technological advancements in prosthetics, nanotech, neuroanatomy, etc.; an erosion of privacy/the rise in the surveillance state; and a rise in corporate control, most notably over our bodies and selves.
My favorites are the more overtly feminist stories, of which there are quite a few. By linking pregnancy with Franz Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS, “My Insect Skin” posits that pregnant women are on the cusp of becoming something “other” – from whore to Madonna, maybe – a point driven home by the street harassment the not-yet-showing narrator encounters while out for a jog early one morning. In “Parking,” a Nice Guy ™ parking cop falls in “love” with a woman from afar … and then tries to blackmail her into a date. “Litmash” is a fun – and entirely too short – twitter exercise (part of a fic-festival), in which followers proposed genre mashups for Beukes to storify in 150 characters or less. (I don’t know which I like better: #Sex&TheDystopianCity or #MyLittlePonyNoir.)
The non-fiction isn’t as plentiful, but it’s every bit as powerful. “All the Pretty Corpses” laments the banality of violence against women – and also reveals the all-too-personal inspiration behind The Shining Girls, which involves the death of a family friend whose murderer was never brought to justice. Similarly, “Inner City” follows Beukes as she prepares for Zoo City. Her research takes her to Hillbrow, a dilapidated and forgotten neighborhood in Johannesburg, and a refugee camp that’s been condensed into a church. The book ends with “On Beauty: A Letter to My Fiver-Year-Old Daughter,” which is fierce and lovely and defiant, but also bleeds despair for the future of her wonderful, brave, and kind daughter. For all of the five-year-olds who are already well on the way to learning that they’ll be judged on outer beauty, no matter what’s in their hearts and minds.
Overall, SLIPPING is a fairly solid collection; the worst I have to say about the odd three-star story is that it’s merely forgettable (yet still readable enough). But the other pieces, the ones I lost myself in/to? Those will stay with me for a long time to come.
VOL. 1 BROOKLYN recommends the title.
Lauren Beukes’s fiction starts with big ideas and runs them through an assortment of permutations–whether it’s the surreal changes to humanity in her novel ZOO CITY or the convergence of art and horror in contemporary Detroit in BROKEN MONSTERS. Slipping collects an abundance of her shorter work, demonstrating her penchant for incisive writing is visible in more minute doses as well.
THE OVERLY ATTACHED READER reviews SLIPPING.
A collection of twenty-six short stories & essays written by Lauren Beukes, author of THE SHINING GIRLS, BROKEN MONSTERS and ZOO CITY. Why haven’t I read any of Lauren Beukes’s work before? This book was my favorite kind of strange!
The overall atmosphere is dark and disturbing. Many of the stories are spine-chilling in a “sensing a sinister presence while walking alone in the dark” way. Most of the characters seem to have a deep longing for something better and are doing the best they can to survive in the harsh and unforgiving world they were born into. There’s a mix of realistic stories and science fiction, but even the ones set in a strange environment have a recognizable tinge. Throughout the entire book, I felt like I was in the middle ground between fantasy and reality. Beukes takes the current state of affairs to an extreme using familiar attitudes and rationalizations. Strip away all the strange details and it’s all uncomfortably real!
As is the case with many collections of short fiction, not all the stories resonated with me. Sometimes the weird little details are so distant from my own frame of reference that I have a hard time visualizing what was going on and/or feeling like I had a full grasp of the message being given. The absolute weirdest–and most fun–story was Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs (available at link), a short story that readers of Haruki Murakami will appreciate. It’s hard not to be intrigued by a badass flight sergeant wearing “knee-high white patent combat boots made from the penis leather of a whale she had slaughtered herself”!
This author is definitely on my must-read list now. I love her empathy, imagination, and how she explores important issues in a creative way.
For more information about SLIPPING: STORIES, ESSAYS, & OTHER WRITING, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Clara Bacou
Design by Elizabeth Story