Moxyland by Lauren Beukes is a cyberpunk novel set in a dystopian, not-too-distant future Cape Town, South Africa. Big corporations run everything, and society is essentially controlled through technology: for example, law enforcement can easily use a citizen's cell phone to tase them, and being disconnected is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Corporate-run orphanages are used to train and recruit employees, and the penalty for attempting to defect to a rival company can be high.
Beukes's book follows the intertwined stories of four young people: Kendra, an art school drop-out who's been accepted to participate in a potentially sketchy marketing program; Toby, a drug-addicted vlogger who engages in all kinds of illicit activity in Cape Town's underground scene; Tendeka, an activist trying to foster revolution against the corporate tech-driven society; and Lerato, product of a corporate orphanage and now a high-ranking employee for Communique.
When I read Neuromancer, I thought that cyberpunk was just way too technical for me. I didn't major in computer science, I'm not a programmer, and you're going to completely lose me with all that sort of jargon. But then I read Snow Crash, and I felt like I "got it." Moxyland is written more along that sort of vein: there's an element of grit and seediness amidst all the shiny future tech, and that is the sort of cyberpunk that I can get on board with.
Beukes's world-building in Moxyland is impressive in how believable a future it seems to be. People today are already reliant on technology for nearly everything, and the way many people treat their phones, you'd think they were natural appendages. Moxyland takes all of that, but one step further, connecting it with the increasing privatization of society's institutions. It is already possible to track people using their mobile phones, and the way mobile phones are utilized by the society, the corporations, and law enforcement in this world don't seem too far off the mark for what's possible in reality.
Now, while the stories and the world-building held real interest for me, I didn't find myself all that invested in some of the characters. I didn't feel like I got much information about them, so I had a hard time understanding motive or drive. That is, with the exception of Lerato, to a certain extent. Toby comes across as nothing more than a self-important and entitled brat who goes out of his way to rebel against his upbringing in any way possible, for the sake of some kind of Street Cred in the hip youth culture. Tendeka is an activist, but apart from being anti-corporations, I'm still unclear what exactly he's trying to fight against. He doesn't seem to have a truly organized and thoughtful purpose, and the actions he takes seem to endanger more people than they help or enlighten. Kendra I guess you could say I liked second-best. She, like Lerato, seems to sort of straddle the fence between the corporate world and the underground. I suppose I like them because they're more moderate in their politics and appear to think shit through a little more, not that it always does them much good.
All that being said, I still enjoyed reading Moxyland. Despite not being overly engaged by the characters themselves, their stories were interesting and I appreciated Beukes bringing aspects of actual Cape Town flavor (particularly slang) to her world's youth culture, instead of inventing something completely new for the sake of futuristic world-building. I thought that lent a more authentic sense to the possible reality of her world. If you're interested at all in things like corporate take-over dystopia or cyberpunk in general, I'd recommend giving this a try. It's not a book I really see myself RE-reading, but I'm certainly not sorry I picked it up. There are some interesting twists at the end.
Overall, it was mostly pretty okay. Good, but not necessarily great. I think it could work as a film if done well; maybe the right actors would be able to make the characters feel more dynamic.