On Wednesday 27 April 2011, known to all South Africans as Freedom Day — the anniversary of the country becoming a democracy — China Mieville announced Cape Town author Lauren Beukes as the winner of the Arthur C Clarke award for Science Fiction.
Beukes’ novel Zoo City is causing a stir internationally. The book was shortlisted for The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) award for best novel (the award went to Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House), the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and also earned the author a John W Campbell nomination.
“It’s totally surreal and overwhelming and humbling especially with THAT shortlist,” the author posted on Twitter shortly after the announcement.
During her acceptance speech, Beukes joked that she had not prepared a speech other than “Curse you McDonald,” as she assumed Ian McDonald was sure to take the top spot.
Zoo City beat five other shortlisted novels: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Generosity by Richard Powers, Declare by Tim Powers and Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan.
Beukes is the first South African to win a Clarke Award.
Zoo City’s setting is a dystopian Johannesburg where criminals have to wear the living embodiment of their sin in the form of an animal. These so-called “Zoos” have taken refuge in the slums of Hillbrow, out of sight and mind of the rest of city who regard them as lepers.
The novel’s protagonist is one such Zoo. Zinzi December is a disgraced former journalist who spends her days with a sloth strapped to her back like a backpack. She earns a living by writing 419 scams and finding people’s lost things. It’s during the latter activity that she finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy involving an unscrupulous music producer and South Africa’s favourite teen music stars.
The novel is Beukes second with imprint Angry Robot. Her first novel, Moxyland, is set in a future Cape Town where the government controls its citizens through their mobile phones, and large corporations use nano-technology to entrench desire for their brands in the human bloodstream.
The author is currently at work on her third novel.