Re/membering the Future? Speculative Fiction by Eben Venter and Lauren Beukes

12 Feb 2018

This article analyses two novels set in dystopic South African futures, namely Trencherman (2008 Venter, Eben. 2008. Trencherman. Cape Town: Tafelberg. [Google Scholar] ) by Eben Venter, and Moxyland (2008 Beukes, Lauren. 2008. Moxyland. Johannesburg: Jacana Media. [Google Scholar] ) by Lauren Beukes, a discussion framed by the following theoretical issues. The first question is the extent to which these novels might be considered ?future histories? in terms articulated by Michael Green (1994 Green, Michael. 1994. ?Nadine Gordimer?s ?Future Histories?: Two Senses of an Ending.? Wasafiri 9: 14?8. doi: 10.1080/02690059408574338 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar] : 15), defined as speculative novels which give serious and detailed attention to the conditions of a particular time, as would be the case in a historical novel. A related question is the extent to which these novels project into the future current societal conditions in South Africa, with regard to the historical drivers of contemporary society. I discuss these questions with reference to the notions of dystopia and ?critical dystopia? (Stobie 2012 Stobie, Cheryl. 2012. ?Dystopian Dreams from South Africa: Lauren Beukes?s Moxyland and Zoo City.? African Identities 10 (4): 367?80. doi: 10.1080/14725843.2012.692542 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar] : 369), the latter denoting a dystopia containing hopeful elements. A subsidiary question is the differing ways in which both writers use the grotesque to symbolise different forms of oppressive state power. Drawing on treatments of the grotesque in Krzychylkiewicz (2003 Krzychylkiewicz, Agata. 2003. ?Towards the Understanding of the Modern Grotesque.? Journal of Literary Studies 19 (2): 205?28. doi: 10.1080/02564710308530325 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar] ), Csicsery-Ronay (2002 Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan. 2002. ?On the Grotesque in Science Fiction.? Science Fiction Studies 29 (1): 71?99. [Google Scholar] ), and Nettels (1974 Nettels, Elsa. 1974. ?The Grotesque in Conrad?s Fiction.? Nineteenth-Century Fiction 29 (2): 144?63. doi: 10.2307/2933288 [Crossref], [Google Scholar] ), I consider corporeal and linguistic forms of the grotesque in Venter?s novel and their role in signifying the toxic morality of apartheid; and in Moxyland, a form of grotesque arising from the fusion of human organism and technology, and its role in signifying a technological mode of oppression. I conclude that Trencherman is a dystopic future history; and that while Moxyland is a critical dystopia, it should not be considered a future history.