Saturday, January 02, 2010

Roger Smith's urban dystopia

I've come under the sway of graphic-novel readers and urban-fantasy lovers in the past year, and I've dipped into a dystopian comic or two myself. Maybe that's why I pick the following as an emblematic sentence from Roger Smith's South African thriller Wake Up Dead:
"A woman in a Muslim headscarf scuttled across the road, carrying a plastic shopping bag and a tub of Kentucky chicken, and disappeared into Dark City. Otherwise the road was empty and silent."
Smith's Cape Town slums are as grim as any steam-punk Victorian hell hole, and none of his characters ー rich, poor, black, white or colored ー has anything better than a bleak present and an infernal past.

The novel's flashbacks, narrative asides and occasional political jabs, even the inflections of its characters' speech, contribute to a vivid sense of place. The only question is whether that place is Cape Town or hell.

Here are two more bits I like:
"But he would rather give his life for that dream. ... Or, rather, the lives of the ragtag army of boys who had come to believe in him as some kind of hip-hop Selassie."
"Two years before, Billy Afrika had stood there, over Clyde Adams's gutted body, and made another promise. Swore he'd take care of his friend's family. He'd handed in his badge and become a mercenary. No one had used the word mercenary, of course. You were a contractor, skilled in close protection."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

And Mr. Afrika's unnamed employer was Xe (née Blackwater), no doubt.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

From Page 11:

"It got worse.

"The South Africans had been recruited by a security broker in Cape Town who had hooked them up with an American outfit in Iraq, Clearwater Tactical. Clearwater paid the broker, who paid them, deposited the money in their bank accounts back home each month. Or was supposed to. But they were each thirty thousand down, and the broker wasn't taking calls."

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Glad to know I can recognize thinly-disguised identities.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, one suspects that the similarity of Clearwater and Blackwater is no accident. But that's just the background to the novel, to the character of Billy Afrika in particular. The international intrigue is just part of the backdrop to the domestic bad stuff. And that bad stuff is pretty bad.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

And you haven't even touched upon Pollsmore Prison. Talk about hell.

January 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're right about that; it's no place I'd want to spend a vacation. But then, you'll know that the line between prison and the outside world is especially porous in this novel.

January 02, 2010  

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