Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now is a wonderfully trippy and complex work of South African urban fantasy. The plotting is labyrinthine, drawing in a number of details that make this world feel rather expansive – there’s a serial killer dubbed The Mountain Man, who leaves a third eye carved into his victim’s foreheads, high school gang wars and underground criminal enterprises, family trouble, and concerns over psychological health – all on top of a healthy dose of supernatural elements. In short, there’s a lot going on here, and plenty to keep this listener supremely interested.
Apocalypse Now Now is the first-person account of Baxter Zevcenko, an egotistical high schooler and self-styled entrepreneur who heads up an illicit ring of pornography distribution catering to the whims of his classmates. He’s a complete holier-than-thou know-it-all, but after his girlfriend, Esme, is abducted by The Mountain Man, Baxter’s search for her leads him deep into the rabbit hole of Cape Town’s paranormal underbelly, and an education that is a far, far cry from the exploits of his typical school day. Baxter is far from loveable, and, in fact, is an outright jerk and oftentimes openly hostile. Human uses this first-person account to tremendous effect, though, particularly as Baxter begins to realize he is not actually at the center of the universe and that the world is quite larger than he ever believed possible. There’s a good bit of personal growth for this smarmy boy and his personal reflections shine through in the first-person narration that might have otherwise been lost in a less focused narrative style.
When Apocalypse Now Now crossed my path, I had figured it would be a fun bit of urban fantasy, and while it definitely is that, I found myself surprised and pleased to discover a story that was much deeper, and much richer, than I had first expected. Throughout the book, Baxter is confronted with the symbol of an octopus, and this is a terrific thematic symbol for the book itself – there’s a lot of complex story tentacles weaving their way through the book. One of the most interesting aspects is the South African mythology and folklore Human puts on display, putting tokoloshes and Mantis gods right at the forefront, which is a welcome relief from the usual zombie and vampire fare that typically dominates American urban fantasy. And while Human does present a fair share of zombies here, they are quite a bit different than the customary undead brain eaters.
Bringing Baxter and his Cape Town locale to life is David Atlas, whose narration is spot-on and wonderfully immersive with a South African accent. He brings distinct voices to the cast, making it rather easy to separate which segments of dialogue belong to which characters – you’ll never be at a loss to tell if Baxter is speaking, or if it’s Ronin, the gruff ex-soldier turned supernatural bounty hunter hired by Zevcenko to help him find Esme. A few times, the narrative is disrupted to shift viewpoints to a female character with interesting historical ties to Baxter, and these segments are narrated by Fiona Hardingham. Her accounts are also expertly handled, and confined strictly to her viewpoint, as if relayed from a journal. Hardingham does a great job with the material, and I wish she had more material to work with; unfortunately, her character only makes a few brief appearances in the book. Atlas and Hardingham make this 10 1/2 hours of listening silky smooth, though, and do a sterling job adapting Human’s words to audiobook form.
Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com