Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I needed something fun and relatively quick to read last week. Fortunately, I had a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi‘s Zombie Baseball Beatdown [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] that I picked up at Book Expo of America.
This is a
middle grade book about baseball and the U. S. meat industry and racism and bullying and comic books and of course, the zombie apocalypse. It’s the first book I’ve read from Bacigalupi, and it’s rather different from his other work. From the official description:
“Rabi, Miguel, and Joe are practicing baseball near their town’s local meatpacking plant, and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know the plant’s toxic cattle feed is turning cows into flesh-craving monsters … With no grownups left they can trust, Rabi and his friends will have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and a few of their enemies) if they want to stay alive.”
The bad news is that while the violence is rather cartoonish, it would still give my son nightmares, so I won’t be reading this one to him. The good news is ZOMBIE COWS!
There’s actually a lot going on in this book. Bacigalupi takes some no-holds-barred shots at the meatpacking industry in particular. The description of the cows crammed into the pens, or the way they’re butchered, is far more disturbing than the zombie scenes. While I’m fairly certain our meat processing corporations haven’t actually unleashed the zombie apocalypse, the rest of the details ring nauseatingly true.
The protagonist, Rabindranath, is great. He’s a math geek, and I loved the way Bacigalupi described things through his eyes, the way he looks at the other players on his baseball team and sees their stats like power meters from a video game, their strengths and weaknesses all laid out for him.
Of the three heroes, Rabi, Joe, and Miguel, only one of the three is white. Without getting too preachy, Bacigalupi examines what it’s like to be a kid in America who doesn’t look “American.” They send Joe out at one point because, being the blond, blue-eyed kid, he has the superpower of being unnoticed and invisible. The fact that Miguel’s family is undocumented also comes up, both the consequences and the pain and fear Miguel carries every day.
In the end though, everything comes back to zombies. Kids with bats and balls chasing zombies, then turning around and running like hell from other zombies. Trying to get help against the zombies, only to run up against police officers who don’t take them seriously and lawyers more concerned with making the problem go away.
I’m curious what a younger reader would think of the story, how much they’d pick up on the commentary vs. how much they’d just get into the zombie-smackdown.
Oh – and I loved Bart the zombie-cow.
Anyone else read it yet? What did you think?
September 14, 2013 @ 12:56 am
I absolutely loved Shipbreaker, but I haven’t read this one yet. I’ll have to check it out.
September 14, 2013 @ 12:24 pm
I’m not into zombies so I probably won’t read this one, but The Windup Girl is worth reading. It’s a hard read (in that the story is unrelentingly cruel), but, I think, an important one. I’m sure the social commentary in this zombie book of his is just as worthy and important. What age bracket would you recommend it for? Do you think it being marketed to a lower age-bracket than it should?
Jim C. Hines
September 15, 2013 @ 10:15 am
I always have trouble recommending age ranges. I don’t really think it’s being marketed to the wrong group, and I suspect most middle-grade readers who are up for reading a book this size would be okay with the content.
September 15, 2013 @ 4:25 pm
I’d caution about The Windup Girl – I’ve read at least one Thai woman’s review of it that says it’s dreadful and ignorant, and based largely off of stereotypes and conversations with white expats.
Daniel D. Webb
September 16, 2013 @ 8:07 am
I hadn’t seen this one, somehow…though it’s possible my mind just declined to acknowledge it. I’ve no objection to reading middle-grade fiction; some of it, such as the Artemis Fowl series, is very good and intelligent enough to be enjoyed by people of any age. I do have an aversion to zombies, but that’s largely due to overload. Working in a bookstore, you get to see a LOT of zombie stuff. Still, this sounds like zombie fiction that touches on very interesting themes, which is unusual. I think I’ll see if we have a copy…