Review of Charlie Human’s novel Apocalypse Now Now

The Burden of Praise

Title: Apocalypse Now Now

Author: Charlie Human

Publisher: Umuzi

Published: 2013

Price: R190

The days of the cloth-bound hardcover books must have been a spectacularly exciting time for book lovers. All you had to guide you when choosing a book were its title and author’s name. That was it; well perhaps you may have had a recommendation from a friend. The point is that you would have had no real idea what you were about to read. There were no blurbs, quotes of praise or elaborate illustrations, just you and the book. Now that is a real adventure. Not like today where are we given an abundance of promises, heaps of expectations and often great disappointment as a result. This is what happened when this reviewer read Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now.

Apocalypse Now Now follows the character of Baxter Zevcenko, an ordinary teenager except for the fact that he runs a porn syndicate at his school, is repeatedly called a sociopath and has murderous dreams.  The story is already gripping from the get-go with Baxter introducing himself as a serial killer in the book’s opening lines but the plot only starts galloping along when Baxter’s girlfriend Esmé is mysteriously kidnapped, throwing Baxter into a hidden supernatural world on the hunt for her. The anxiety of the plot is heightened by Human continually playing with the readers perception of reality, making you unsure if what Baxter is seeing is real or a fantasy from his twisted and lonely mind.

What this book guarantees you is an exciting and adrenaline inducing ride along the lines of a Dan Brown novel with questions permeating every page and the answers hiding somewhere in the next chapter. But don’t come here expecting to read something highly original because it is essentially just another teen fantasy novel (think the newest teen sensation The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare). You have your teenager going about his or her ordinary life when suddenly someone close to him or her is kidnapped or killed, in Baxter’s case it is his girlfriend. Then they are thrust into a hidden and magical world and shown that they have hidden powers and are the possible key to saving the world from destruction. There is even the clichéd moment when the scope of this hidden world is revealed to the protagonist. It is the same plot in a new setting.

But my does the setting save the book. Placing the narrative in the familiar streets of Cape Town will make any reader acquainted with the city feel as if they are part of the narrative, whether it’s Baxter eating on Long Street or driving in Woodstock or the final battle happening right next to Table Mountain. Human’s use of South African myth and folklore also encourage the reader’s connection with the story such as making Baxter’s bounty hunter Jackson Ronin a former member of MK6 and the “apartheid security forces biological-weapons unit”. Or the inclusion of tokoloshes and sprites, which every South African has heard about before and, in some cases, thanks to the Daily Sun, have even seen make news headlines. It makes the reader feel as if this hidden world could exist just around the corner.

Human’s first novel does fit perfectly into South Africa’s budding speculative genre right alongside Lauren Beukes’ Time-Travelling serial killer in the Shining Girls and Nerine Dorman’s black arts magician in Khepera Rising. It is dark and twisted and places familiar South African settings within a magical world. Yet, Human’s Apocalypse Now Now simply does not compete with the skill and execution in Beuke’s or Dorman’s works and this is where the disappointment lies. The praise and reviews that were heaped upon this novel made it appear a masterpiece, something so spectacular that even Terry Pratchett would have had his socks knocked off. But instead of enhancing the book, this praise only served to create a little disappointment. Apocalypse Now Now is an excellently entertaining read and will definitely make you chortle at its killer one-liners but it is the not the unique tour de force that the blurbs led you to expect.

So to ensure that you as a reader enjoy this book to its fullest hilarious potential this reviewer recommends that you do not read any blurbs or quotes of praise or even any more reviews. Instead be daring and buy the book based solely on its name and cover (the cover illustration is very hard to ignore after all) and enjoy it for what it is: a darkly funny and deviant adventure.

* Link to PDF Version of The Burden of Praise

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