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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (8/8/11) 11:18pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Missed two weeks, 'cos I'm lazy.]

Movies:  <none>
TV:  <none>
Books: Zoo City, Y: The Last Man [deluxe edition, vols. 4 and 5]



Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
This is a fantasy novel set in a world where some magical event circa 2004 made it so that anyone who committed murder wound up with an animal familiar and, in some cases, magical abilities.  Specifically, it's set in Hillbrow, a Johannesburg ghetto that gets the nickname "Zoo City" because it becomes home to to a community of 'animalled' people.

It may be more useful, though, not to think of Zoo City as a fantasy novel but instead as a hard-boiled-detective novel that happens to have a fantasy setting -- because Zoo City is all about detective-novel tropes.  We have the reluctant 'detective' -- in this case it's Zinzi December, who typically uses her powers to hunt down lost items -- brought in by very rich and powerful people for a shadowy case.  She wants to turn it down, she senses that she's in over her head, but she needs the money.

And from there, it pretty much hits the standard beats of that detective novel.  She realizes the case wasn't what it seemed, and there are innocents in danger.  The threats to her and to the people around her get more and more dire.  The shadowy forces she's tangling with turn out to be more and more powerful.  She keeps finding clever ways to stay alive, and get the next clue that takes her to the next person to interview, who sends her just a little bit closer to the horrific thing that's really going on.  And in the end, the corruption isn't completely fixable.

But honestly, the dime-store-detective plot is just an excuse to explore the fantastical setting.  Not that I don't appreciate the dime-store-detective plot -- it's well-constructed, it accelerates nicely, and it rarely flags.  I suspect that this is frequently the biggest difference between genre fiction and literary fiction:  genre fiction relies on stock plotlines, mainly to make sure that it has a functioning plot, and an audience that can wonder how that plot will turn out; literary fiction knows that we really care about the characters/setting/prose style/what have you, and eschews plot almost completely, often (but not always) making itself unreadable in the process because nothing's really happening.

So the plot is not the main attraction, but it's there, and it works, and god bless it for that.  But no, you're really there to see how this world works now that all the worst criminals are 'animalled'.  What sort of society do they build for themselves?  What are the rules of magic in this universe?  How do scientists react? or the media? or the prison systems?

But honestly, I suspect that even the fantasy setting was a bit of a sideshow, and mainly I just wanted to see the bits and pieces of Johannesburg that the book showed me.  Somewhere amidst all the magic was the bizarre world of a South African ghetto.  *shrug*  Maybe it's just a travelog for a spoiled and sheltered American.


Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan [deluxe edition, vols. 4 and 5]
I can't think of much new to say about these last two volumes of The Last Man; I pretty much said my piece about it in my earlier review.  In the last two books, Vaughan continues to slam down some of the best cliffhangers I've seen in ages.  ("Oh, but -- how? -- ohmigod they're so screwed.")

But it's the end of the story, so he has to resolve things and tie things together.  The story sets up some obvious questions:  "What killed all the men?"; "Will Yorick get back together with Beth?"; "Will humanity survive?"  Predictably, Mr. Vaughan sort of gives us answers to those questions; predictably, they're disappointing, because the story isn't really about the questions at the center -- it's about the world that they're exploring.  (This, I say again, is why a film adaptation would be all wrong -- films tend to hyper-focus on those Big Plot Questions, whereas TV shows tend to explore worlds.)

In the end, it dismisses its questions completely, and just tells us what happens to the people.  I'm a sucker for endings like that; your mileage may vary.


For next time:  More of season 3 of Beverly Hills, 90210, and a book about pirates.

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[User Picture]
From:innocentsmith
Date:Tuesday (8/9/11) 1:20pm
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(This, I say again, is why a film adaptation would be all wrong -- films tend to hyper-focus on those Big Plot Questions, whereas TV shows tend to explore worlds.)

Yeah, I tend to think that a movie adaptation would pretty much by its nature have to focus on Yorick, and maybe the "what caused the Gendercide?" questions to the exclusion of all the other plots. Which would pretty much defeat the purpose of the series, and those plotlines aren't all that satisfying either. (Although it would be interesting to see if they had the guts to keep the Yorick/Beth end result the same. I suspect they wouldn't. And that would suck.) Much better to do a TV show, if you're going to adapt it at all.
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