Review: Zoo City

Zoo City
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gritty, entertaining, and to my Australian eyes, exotic South African urban fantasy with a strong magic realist streak. Beukes’ strength is in bringing locations to life, and the grimy urban-industrial landscape she populates with her collection of desperate and dissolute grifters is a compelling character in its own right. Thoroughly engrossing, and a refreshing change from similar British and american grim-noir tales, whilst projecting a unique cultural identity all its own.

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As part of Connor’s home-schooling I’ve been teaching him haiku. It’s a wonderful way to learn imagery and active language, and to teach him to consider the weight of a word before using it: when space is limited, everything has to count.

His first few efforts were simple things, but yesterday, sitting in the library at Murdoch University where we were using my rostered day off to indulge in a home schooling day trip, he cracked the active-language barrier, and gave me this one:

Bony flaming wings
slaughtering humans for food
Fire-breathing reptile.

The delicacy of thought, with the bloodthirsty gusto of the 8 year old. What’s not to love?


Some years ago I took part in the Write a Book in a Day challenge at the behest of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre: a group of writers and artists, locked together in a room, with a single aim– to turn a bunch of blank pages into a printed, illustrated book in 24 hours.

Sometimes, we get together and cry.

In all seriousness, it’s a brilliant concept. It’s huge buckets of fun for the creators, it raises valuable money for the recipients, and there genuinely is not a single loser along the way. It is one of the few everybody wins concepts going around.

This year, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild is taking part for the second year. The equation is simple: get on it. do some good. Make writers cry.



12 years ago I had a car accident, and when the chiropractor x-rayed me I had shrunk by a centimetre and a half, and my body’s vertical axis had slid to the right and twisted, so that my natural line of balance involved leaning forward and to the left like some sort of physical representation of the Greens.

Yesterday, after a gap of four years or so, my new chiropractor x-rayed me– I have lumbar pain and dysplasia that would impress the dancing skeletons in a Disney movie– and discovered something that had been hidden by the car crash damage.
My left leg is almost two centimetres shorter than my right. and what’s more, it always has been. There’s some medical name for it that I missed because I was too busy goggling at the x-ray, but what it amounts to is this:
All the calf-tightness and cramping I experience when I was playing sport: this.
The lumbar pain and excessive bowing of my lower back: in part, this.
The degenerative arthritis that’s beginning to effect my lowest vertebrae: 40 years of this.
My excessive weight gain over the past ten years: naaaaah, that’s just me.
So here’s me– fat, middle-aged and wonky. And wondering why nobody ever played me on the right wing….

Me and a few mates. Owned by Disney. Aren’t we all?


My workplace held a Christmas in July lunch yesterday. I quite like Christmas in July: it’s the ultimate why-the-hell-not? excuse for a bunch of people to eat food that, for some reason nobody quite understands, they limit themselves to eating once a year. Nothing about it makes sense, and there’s a refreshing honesty overust how deeply everyone is deluding themselves in order to give permission to do something they could be doing any day of the week without repercussion. Maybe there’s some obscure appendix to the Bible that says we shalt not eat plum duff with custard except on days we all agree Jesus was born except the day he actually was. Or something.

Not all mass delusion ends in lime koolaid. Sometimes it end in crackers.

Anyway, in that spirit, here’s a Christmas thumbnail. Make of it what you will. It’s all very New Yorker-lite, this one. I like it more than I should, middle class pretension being one of my own personal delusions.

Edward… I’m not happy.


As I’ve mentioned previously, our youngest son has been battling a condition known as Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome for the better part of three months. It’s disrupted his home life, blown his school attendance out of the water, and generally consigned him to a never-ending rotation of doctors, specialist, chiropractors, shamans, witch doctors, faith healers, and boogeymen.

Yesterday was the first day back at school after their winter break for most kids in Western Australia, and Master 8 had his heart set on joining them. He’d set a personal goal of having his vomiting under control enough to attend: CVS it can be managed, if not completely eliminated, at least until some magic point where he ‘grows out of it’. All he needed to do was have a run whereby he stayed vomit-free between 8am and 3pm, and we were all set to send him back. His bag was packed, he was full of chatter about catching up with friends, he had a project he’d been working on he wanted to show the class…

Yeah, you know where this is heading.

Last night, we gathered on our bed and had us a family meeting– Master 8, his Mum, and me. And we’ve decided that it’s time to formalise the teaching arrangement that’s been forced upon us over the last 12-odd weeks. From now until the condition clears, at the minimum, we’ll be formally home schooling him. Even if he went back to school, the chances of him passing Year 3 were touch and go. More time away will only confirm the need to repeat. At home, he’ll get the attention, focus and targeted goal-setting that will give him the best chance to continue his education with the minimum of disruption. 10 puke-breaks a day are more easily accommodated when you’re sat round the kitchen table with your Mum.

There’s a lot of running around to be done: associations to be contacted; permissions signed; forms and letters and probably blood, sperm and third-eye aqueous humour samples to be given; but it’s the right decision, and gives him a chance to have a normal schooling life that takes his condition into account.

Thankfully, he’s a boy with a sense of adventure, and he’s set himself to see the possibilities in the arrangement– ‘school schools’ don’t hit the zoo, the beach, the museum or the public libraries anywhere near as much as home schools do, so he tells us….

Sometimes, wanting the best for your children makes your chest too tight.