by Patch O'Furr
Johannesburg, Jacana Media, June 2010, trade paperback R150,00 (344 pages).
Okay, I have a thing for listing books by their original editions, but I can’t really expect anyone (except Rakuen Grolithe) to order this from South Africa. The international edition (383 pages) was published by Osprey Publishing/Angry Robot in Botley, Oxford, UK, in July 2011, and distributed in the U.S. by Random House; U.S. prices hardcover now o.p., trade paperback $15.00, and Kindle $5.99.
“Zinzi has a Sloth on her back”. Literally. Zinzi December is required by both law and magic to go about with a live sloth clinging to her back, or hanging out of her handbag or backpack, for her involvement in her brother’s death. If she tries to get rid of or kill it, or gets too far from it, she will be almost instantly reduced to a cloud of ash.
She is not the only “animalled” character in this winner of the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award (for the best science-fiction novel first published in the U.K. during the previous year). In this alternate-world novel (that almost every reviewer has said should be classed as “urban fantasy” or “magic realism” rather than as s-f), the “Zoo Plague” has been in force worldwide since the 1990s. Everyone guilty of murder, or of being responsible for someone’s death, is “assigned” a domestic or wild animal familiar known as a “shavi” for the rest of his or her life. The shavi is linked to the human’s lifespan, so an animal that’s outside of its natural habitat, or would normally die of old age, will live as long as its human does.