Zone 23 is a roller coaster ride. Actually, it is the whole fun fair! This is a very clever and gritty novel but beware; there are horrors as well as sardonic humour in Hopkins waterfalls of evocative description so detailed you can taste the stink, feel the despair and shudder at the pressure of the constant noise.
The plot intertwines the desperate lives of Taylor in his slum existence with that of Valentina who is struggling to maintain a connection to a more attractive lifestyle in what passes for normality in this dystopia. C. J. Hopkins repeatedly mentions the futuristic date in which he has set his story but, as the character, Sarah, tells us, meaning has been so manipulated by corporations any knowledge of days, years, history and even geographical position has become corrupted. Sometimes I think this society in which everything is a commodity is hundreds of years in the future, then I think it could be tomorrow and I very afraid too much of it is today.
Hopkins painstaking conducts us through the struggle of Taylor and Valentina to survive, survival which is threatened by pregnancy. Taylor and his lover Cassandra are in danger because men and women of his degenerate caste A.S.P’s are not meant to have children. Valentina, whose foetus has been approved and genetically modified (shades of Midwich Cuckoos), is fundamentally revolted by the prospect of this alien baby and runs away from her husband, Kyle. Their attempts to alter the situation though crippled by drugs, surveillance and ignorance is heroic, demented, brutal and often grotesque but Hopkins keeps us edgy and expectant about their prospects. Zone 23 blasts away any comfortable thinking as to freedom of thought let alone freedom of speech. The chapter on Normals is brilliant; it is also very unsettling.
The most powerful aspect of this novel is the language. I was astonished by the length of sentences, all of which are properly structured and sensible, but which grow to such a size (sometimes a whole page) because Hopkins depicts the environment, the characters and the cascade of their thoughts in elaborate and exquisite detail. The way the author hammers the reader with information echoes the experiences of the people he is describing. It is a style more redolent of nineteenth century. I could not read this book quickly for a variety of reasons: the author is directing attention by entering the book as a narrator, because of the complexity of the social comment, because of the challenging nature of the some of the subject matter, because of the sheer weight of qualified and modified statements and because I just had to stop and think about what was being written. The element which haunts me the most is KILL CHAIN! and the soulless though avid application of the players, most of whom are Clears – as Valentina’s baby will be, in removing undesirable (not like them) people.
I will definitely read Zone 23 again but I will buy a paper copy so I can do so more easily.