Lowdown: A group of baseball playing teens discover there is more to their town’s meat factory than meets the cow.
There can be no doubt concerning Paolo Bacigalupi’s skills as a science fiction author. I got to know him with a bang through his Hugo winning Windup Girl; then I got to love him even more through his YA novels Ship Breaker and Drowned Cities. Yet as good as his books are, their scope is limited: they all take place in the same post global warming apocalypse universe, thus rendering them more like one big book than separate creations. The question is, can Bacigalupi prove himself able to write another book without sacrificing quality? Zombie Baseball Beatdown, or ZBB, is Bacigalupi’s answer to that question.
ZBB aims lower than its predecessors. As in, it is another YA book, but it feels like it is aimed at the younger YA market. Or am I getting that feeling because ZBB’s story is told in first person by a teen?
We follow Rabi, a resident of a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere USA, and the son of an Indian (from India) mother and an Anglo father. Rabi plays baseball with his peers, who – like him – happen to be typical Americans. Yes, including Miguel, the son of illegal Mexican immigrants whose parents were deported and who now lives with his uncle and aunt. At least Miguel can play baseball, unlike Rabi. The other kids tend to be your average pale skinned Americans, and some of them have a problem with the darker skinned ones. Especially Sami, whose father runs the town’s meat factory: a massive paddock of cows supplying all the beef consumed by the seven surrounding states.
Oh, there is a lot going wrong at that meat factory. Not only are the cows held in abysmal conditions, not only does the money they generate corrupt those who run the factory, and not only are the factory labourers slave driven. There is something else going on there, an experiment to make the cows bigger, an experiment with rather fishy results. And now it is up to our group of three baseball+comics loving youths to save the town. They have a lot on their hands: they have to fight prejudices, they have to fight immigration authorities, and they have to deal with the food industry with its rich lawyers. All in addition to some zombie cows.
Clearly, ZBB is not taking place in the same universe as Bacigalupi’s predecessors. Clearly, though, it still deals with similar themes, showing us that while Bacigalupi can take us into more than one imaginary world his mind is still very much occupied with the same as before: basic human rights and civil liberties in contemporary USA, the environment, and the hand to hand relationship both have with one another. Once again he shows us, this time in a book that will turn plenty of its readers into vegetarians, how too much regard for capital turns into disregard to people and the world they live in. After reading this book, and knowing what I already know about the American meat industry through films like Fast Food Nation, I would find it quite hard to touch meat the next time I visit the USA. It’s makes me feel good to know this very approachable book might make the difference with children who read it and perhaps stir them towards making this one a better world.
ZBB is certainly approachable. It is an easy, relatively short read; and it doesn’t mess its reader about, taking its reader for a thrilling ride from start to finish. It has the humour (zombie cows – say no more!), its discussion on immigration is very relevant to "stop the boats" Australia, and its ending is way cleverer than your average happy ending clichés of normal YA standards. In other words, Bacigalupi produced yet another class act.
Overall: Entertaining and inspiring while being easy. I can’t ask for anything more. 4 out of 5 stars.