Review of Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human

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Review of Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human

Originally appeared in the Sunday Times. Reprinted with permission

This is not a book that you can take home to meet your parents.

Apocalypse Now Now is a book that makes neither friends nor excuses, ruthless in its satire and gleeful in its descriptions. It is the latest newcomer to the growing South African speculative fiction genre, hot on the heels of Sister-Sister by Rachel Zadok, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, Space Race by Alex Latimer and Sunday Times Fiction Prize winner For the Mercy of Water by Karen Jayes. In brief: Apocalypse Now Now is set in contemporary Cape Town (thankfully sparing us any description of the mountain or the wine farms), an excellent setting for a supernatural chase. Baxter runs a pornography supply at his school, negotiating the gangs and politics with ruthless cunning and a complete disregard for social niceties. He is a misanthrope, and a somewhat charming reprobate who is mostly clever but is also as annoying as a teenage boy can be. His girlfriend Esmé is kidnapped, and he is thrown into Cape town’s exceptionally seedy supernatural underworld. We meet with Boer War-era psychics, half-springbok boys, inter-dimensional gatekeepers and a pirate queen armed with Uzis. There are fight scenes, wise and grizzled warriors and mecha, which made my inner twelve year old happy. Overall, it cannot be faulted on the variety of its cast and settings – the book melds local mythology with pop culture in a way that is almost self-consciously awesome.

Human-ApocalypseNowNow-UK_thumb[2]But this is where it is very clear that this book is heavily influenced by Lauren Beukes in a way that potentially overshadows Human’s own voice. The world-building, the wry observations, the inserts of alternative media, the cocky, irreverent narrator – it very much bears the shape of South Africa’s current rising star. It even has similar jacket treatment, courtesy of the fabulously-talented Joey Hi-Fi, that cover designer of lore. I thoroughly enjoy Beukes’ work – my reviews of Zoo City and The Shining Girls make that clear enough. But I didn’t pick up one of her books – I picked up Charlie Human’s work. And it is clearly a debut work – some of it could have used more polish, and perhaps more fleshing out. Esmé, for example, is nothing more than that tired trope of manic pixie dream girl. She’s sexy and petite and Goth and that’s about it. Oh, and she smokes, which I suppose is somewhat rebellious in 2013, given the laws against it. I know she’s not really the point, just the MacGuffin that drives the story, but I found her and Baxter’s great romance rather flimsy. They are, after all, just teens. That any teen relationship is given such importance is unfortunate – Baxter might have been more interesting if he wasn’t just a spotty teenage brat with a god complex and a chip on his shoulder.

That said, this is still a refreshing read with fantastically sharp humor that takes no prisoners. While his life flashes before his eyes, there is a flashback of a happy playground and children on swings. Baxter is dismayed to realise that it is also playing a jingle from a popular washing powder commercial. Ronin, the supernatural detective/martial artist he turns to for help is fantastically rounded, and the alternative history of the Boer war is a masterpiece. The book also spares no contempt for Cape Town’s obnoxious upper classes and airs while also taking potshots at the stark divide between the rich and poor of Cape Town. And, mostly importantly, it doesn’t have a neat and tidy ending, which suits the book perfectly.

Ultimately, Apocalypse Now Now is something delicious and different, and while it could have used more polish and a little more depth, it is still more interesting than many of the year’s offerings thus far. The ending has left a nifty little backdoor for a sequel, and knowing publishing trends these days, chances are that it will become a trilogy.

Read what other people thought:

Paranormal Hyperactivity – Gareth Langdon

SFX Magazine Reviews Apocalypse Now Now 

Popbucket: 9/10

Feminism Isn’t a Hobby

Today, people will be wearing black in some kind of attempt to soothe their consciences about the appalling treatment of women in South Africa on a daily basis, made manifest in the tragic rape and death of Anene Booysens. Like with the rhinos and the POI Bill, today people will express their sort-of pissiness with the system by adopting faddy shit that will be forgotten in a month. 

I suppose one could admire it, but really, its slacktivism on a Kony 2012 level. People will wear black once, sign a petition and then go on their merry ways, cracking jokes about how dumb women are (notice there’s never any men in blonde jokes) and listening to Chris Brown, that hooting dickhole. Everyone is quick to make fun of feminism, saying how unnecessary it is, how angry it is, don’t we know that things are awesome for women now? We can, liek, even vote and shit. Yay.

Where have all these well-intentioned but clueless people been? Why is it that you get upset for a week, whereas some of us are upset all the time because each and every day is a mass-perpetuated war on women around the world? How can you not see this as anything except slow genocide? Girl children are exterminated before birth in India qua being a girl. There are groups in America insisting that women who have abortions should be imprisoned. Women who bring claims of abuse at the hands of famous men are ridiculed and shamed. Add to this the mass rapes in refugee camps in Africa, the continued assault on women in South Africa, the extent of which isn’t even fully understood.

And yet people have the audacity to wear black and think this helps anything. There have been organisations working tirelessly for decades, trying to make what difference they can in a violent world that has no respect for women. Jesus, there are infants being raped. How can people trivialise this by wearing a different colour? 

There are ways people can help. People can learn to grow a goddamn spine and not laugh at rape jokes or complain when fuckwit DJs play music by misogynist assholes (or act like misogynist assholes themselves). You can volunteer your money, time and help at any number of women’s shelters, or teaching at a school lacking resources. You can help one woman out of poverty, whether it is through putting a girl child through school or helping her find work through your own connections.If you’re ever fortunate enough to be hiring, try make an effort to give more women a chance, and equal pay. When we see a woman being verbally abused, we can step in. If we think a woman is being abused at home, have the courage and basic decency to offer help. 

Wearing black and signing an Avaaz petition is as insulting as it is pathetic. Making a difference takes the work of everyone, every day. Think about all the times men around you have been crude and disgusting, and every time a woman stands up against it, she is humiliated. Not the poisonous shits who were telling the rape joke in the first place. Feminism is not a hobby – it is the combined efforts of everyone across all class, sexual orientations, gender and race lines to eradicate the hatred for women that is endemic to nearly every society on this planet. Don’t let people get a free pass because they listened to Facebook and wore black. It doesn’t mean anything if you’re only a feminist for a day. 

Organisations that need our help: 

POWA – People Opposing Women Abuse

Rape Crisis Cape Town

Directory of South African Welfare Organisations

Bombani Shelter for Abused Women (Alexandria) 

List of Shelters that the Soul Food Project Supports

Usindiso Ministries Women’s Shelter

AmCare List of Women and Children’s Shelters

The Frieda Hartley Shelter for Women in Distress (Johannesburg)

Review of Exhibit A by Sarah Lotz

This isn’t a new title, having been published by Penguin in 2009 and brought for me by friend Mark during the infamous Exclusives.co.za firesale of 2010 for about R15. Now I don’t usually read crime novels (I used to until Patricia Cornwall ruined everything) and I usually don’t read local crime fiction because well, its on the news too. But I was looking for an easy read in the time of tonsillitis and so Exhibit A volunteered itself after Travels With A Roadkill Rabbit was just too painful twenty pages in. (I hate reading novels that read like self-indulgent travel blogs. It really is a mom gushing about her holiday with her perfect family; I barf in my scorn.)

Anyway, so Exhibit A. A lawyer mostly overworked, terrifically clumsy and nicotine-riddled takes up a court case on behalf of a young woman raped by a policeman in a police station. Set in the fair Cape with a small, entertaining cast, Georgie Allen (Cape Town’s worst-dressed lawyer) tries to find out if Nina was lying, if everyone else is actually telling the truth, and what really happened on a cold Friday night at the Barryville police station. No gore and with a sharp eye aimed at all the charming prejudices of South Africans, it was free of the cliché and sleaze that so often accompanies crime novels. My favourite character is the dog, Exhibit A. A proper brakhound as fierce and loyal as any companion one could hope for, he is far more endearing than any of the other characters, and I was most gleeful when (spoilers!) Georgie chooses to get Exhibit A back rather than sleep with the rather pedestrian Rachel. As a pet-lover and avowed enemy of the shoehorned love story, this pleased me greatly.

I don’t have many gripes with the story, but the author could have held off on writing out the accent of Patrick, the Scottish advocate. It has become almost verboten to write accents, as it is considered ham-handed and often poorly reflective of the actual accent itself. It also disrupts the actual flow of the sentence, as the ‘pronounced’ words looked misspelled amongst the normal spelling, unlike actual sentences from another language. I know this is one of the reasons why I don’t really enjoy Pratchett’s Wintersmith series; the accent of the Wee Free Men grates upon my eyes like a furious cheese grater. Whether its Cockney in Victorian literature (Oh, Arthur Conan Doyle) or Scottish brogue amongst South African English, it just mangles the writing. How many times does one need to see ‘fooking’ before getting the point?  A personal point, but still worth mentioning.

In any case, Cape Town and all its folks was a well-handled setting, and the crime itself was fascinating. Georgie would make for a good television show, being self-depreciating without being unbearable like Victoria in Language of Flowers. It makes for good reading when one can sympathise with the shortcomings of the protagonist, instead of disliking them as much as they do themselves.

I’m not sure hardcore crime fans will dig it, since there isn’t as much gore and ruined female flesh as crime seems to be burgeoning with, but the story was honest and the characters interesting and there was far less artifice and deus ex machina that litters crime novels these days. (I really have no respect for authors who start every book with a destroyed female body and then add ten more before the book is through in clichéd gore porn.) Exhibit A is dry and funny and a quick read. Sure, it won’t appease the gore fans, but that’s why I enjoyed it.

And maybe Cape Townians will enjoy the references more than I could.