Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deadlands by Lily Herne

Lele de la Fontein has problems not all that different from many 17-year-olds: prone to whinging; stubborn; convinced her step-mother hates her; resentful that she's been taken from a warm agricultural community where she and her brother lived with their grandmother until she died to the smelly, dirty, and hostile city; out of place in her new school where the in-crowd students mock her as Farm Girl; and attracted to the bad boy in her class. But most teenagers don't live in a world where the dead rise and what remains of humanity has been forced into fenced enclaves.

This is the Cape Town city enclave, ten years after the dead reanimated and the living fought a savage war of survival, one that would have been lost if not for the arrival of the mysterious Guardians. Daily existence is mostly pre-industrial. The Guardians can control the reanimated, the Rotters, and established the enclaves but no one knows anything about them, where they came from, what they look like under their hooded robes. They rule the Deadlands, the area outside the enclaves. Within the city, a fanatical religious cult has taken over. The Resurrectionists worship the Guardians as saviors and see the Reanimates as the next step for humanity, as one of the ReBorn. In response to her teacher telling her that things are much better now, Lele thinks to herself:
Sure. Trapped in a muddy, stinking prison, surrounded by a sea of dead people and ruled by a bunch of hysterical nutters, that's so much better than before. Not.
This is Lele's world and it is treacherous. Her parents are trying to steer her into a career path but if she is too rebellious she might find herself forced into marriage and required to produce as many children as possible. Under the influence of bad boy Thabo, Lele gets involved in the anti-Resurrectionist, anti-zombie movement, the ANZ. Through Thabo, Lele learns about the Mall Rats, and underground organization able to supply pre-war goods.

Looming over the life of all teenagers is the Lottery, an event demanded by the Guardians in return for reintroducing technology. At the Lottery Dance, teenagers are selected to be taken by the Guardians. This is considered an honor though no one knows what happens to those chosen. Lele is supposed to be exempt from the Lottery because her brother Jobe had been taken by the Guardians at the beginning of the War and returned. Unfortunately for Lele, she has been noticed and she finds herself "chosen" and in the back of a wagon driven by Guardians with four other teenagers hurtling toward an unknown fate.

Deadlands is the first book in a young adult series by the mother and daughter team of Sarah and Savannah Lotz writing as Lily Herne. South African author Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City and Moxyland said that...
Deadlands is cool, provocacative and sharp as spiny teeth. A viciously satirical, pop-culture loaded, teen zombie apocalypse with heart – it's smart, dark, sweet, gruesome, political and, best of all, funny.
Lauren sums up everything I like about this book.

Before I go any further, let me address one issue. There is a lottery in Deadlands in which teenagers are chosen. Someone is going to say that since there is a lottery it must be derived from The Hunger Games. No. Lotteries are hardly new to literature (Shirley Jackson, anyone) and this lottery only gets four pages. The implications of the Deadlands Lottery are huge for this post-apocalyptic society but it is given only a brief treatment to get things rolling.

You can read Deadlands as "teenagers fighting the establishment" and it works well there. The writing is sharp, no superflous exposition, you get to the heart of the story quickly. Important questions are answered so the reader isn't left with a "gerrr, what the hell is going on and why do I have to wait until the next book for answers" feeling. I'm a sucker for this sort of story having grown up on Robert Heinlein's juvi novels. But, as Lauren points out above, there are satirical elements to the story.

In personal correspondence and social media I've noticed that events in the US are carefully watched by the world. What happens here can have far ranging effects. In many cases, observers from other countries are more aware of what's going on in the US than many of its own citizens. I suspect that the Resurrectionist cult is based on the religious extremism that is asserting itself in this country where we have fanatical true believers prone to rewriting history some of whom call for the death of non-believers, corrupt individuals exploiting that fanaticism for their own ends, and people who wear the outward trappings without the fanatical adherence because it is easier not to get noticed.

The authors take a poke, sometimes humorous, at consumerism and popular culture. Sarah seems to have something against malls.

Below I explain several references found in the story which might not be obvious to non-South Africans. There might be a spoiler depending on the level of detail you are willing to accept before reading a book so be warned.

Unless you live in South Africa or know someone planing to visit South Africa (which is how I got my copy), you won't be able to read Deadlands now. It is available for pre-order from Amazon UK and will be available 18 April 2013. Here is the link.

Deadlands takes place around the year 2020. The war has been over for 10 years. When dead reanimated there were visitors in the country for the soccer World Cup which took place in 2010.

The new history textbook given to Lele's class references an iconic photograph from the 1976 Soweto Uprising. A dying Hector Peterson (Pieterson), shot by police, is shown in the arms of a classmate. The Resurrectionists use this to how how bad things were in the past in contrast with the security people now enjoy.

The Cape Town city enclosure was constructed around what is now the Khayelitsha township in Cape Flats. It is about 20 miles outside of Cape Town proper. Cape Town was destroyed in a great fire during the war against the reanimates. I wonder if it is irony on the part of the authors to move the survivors to a fenced enclosure in Cape Flats which has been described as apartheid's dumping ground.

The Resurrectionists use gangster and slasher films to show the people how bad things were in the old days. Lele and her family go to see Jerusalema. This is an actual film and now has the title Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema. It is a 2008 production and quite good. I watched it on Netflix and ordered it on DVD immediately after it ended. I'll review it later.

You will read references to a panga. The Panga is a machete and shows up in many South African crime stories.

You can order one from The Knife Center. I'm planning to get one for my zombie contingency kit. I already have a cricket bat.

Ratanga Junction is mentioned in the story. This a theme park and part of Century City. A super-regional mall is nearby.

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