By: Beverley Dias
Dub Steps is the 2015 Dinane Debut Fiction Award winner and the work of freelance writer, Andrew Miller. The title invokes curiosity and I was pleased to discover that my guess wasn’t too far off the mark. Dub Steps is a reference to the dub music of “Scratch” Lee Perry and a tongue in cheek play on the author’s intention to keep things in a constant state of motion. The genre of the book initially put a damper on my spirits (ET, Star Wars? Really?), but as I soldiered on, I discovered that this branch of science fiction is anything but shallow. Instead, it is a genre about philosophy, hopes and dreams. The book has a strange, lingering aftertaste and was reminiscent of an English set work book (The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham) which I read at school many eons ago. The movie didn’t quite live up to the book, but that’s a story for another day. Subsequently, movies like Apocalypse Now and The Day After Tomorrow got my nod of approval. I’m still not sold on Star Wars.
The story is set in South Africa a few decades from now and stars Roy Fotheringham, a disillusioned, middle-aged marketing executive whose specialty is creating Virtual Reality spaces. After a drunken night out, he awakens to an eerily empty Johannesburg where life has basically reverted to the Stone Age: no internet, cellphone networks or electricity. He embarks on a cross country adventure in a stolen armoured truck in a dual quest to find human life as well as to physically purge himself of his demons by wreaking anarchy along the way. He eventually stumbles upon Babalwa, a 20-something year old woman in PE and after months of no human contact, a savage sexual encounter ensues as the two desperately attempt to create a connection. The two make their way back to Johannesburg where they find a small community of survivors which they join and attempt to eke out a life in the ruins of the life they used to know. I am reluctant to disclose the rest of the plot, but will admit that Dub Steps is an interesting and refreshing read.
The post-apocalyptic world is a common subject in science fiction, but Miller puts a fresh spin on the genre, giving it a depth and texture which will keep you hooked. I also enjoyed his writing style where the story unfolds as an older Roy reminisces on a time when the group of “left behinds” was struggling to come to terms with their new reality and attempting to reincarnate their identities. The story is about humanity in a post-digital world and explores reality, sex, love, friendship and regret and also examines the loneliness of humans which leads us to hibernate in a cyber world instead of being fully present in our reality. It also speaks to a yearning for a future where past mistakes don’t make a repeat appearance.
Miller’s sentences and chapters alternate between long and short, with a rhythm and motion which is almost musical. What was my take on the story as a whole? It really got me to question the meaning of being human and placing myself in the shoes of the survivors, I questioned if I would have been able to rediscover my identity if every semblance of my former self had been stripped away in the blink of an eye.
Dub Steps gets my recommendation and a huge thumbs up from me as I look forward to more from Andrew Miller. I hope that he can explore various genres because there is an ingenuity to his writing style which I thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps, part of my fascination is with the fact that this is a local story with characters who could very well be the guy next door.