Review: “Zombie Baseball Beatdown” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Zombie Baseball Beatdown
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Little, Brown and Company, 2013

I received my copy of Zombie Baseball Beatdown through one of the generous donators over at ARCycling. I don’t know who, but I thank them nonetheless. My copy is an ARC, and so may differ slightly from published versions.* Anyway, I requested this book from the program several months ago because I thought it sounded fun. When it arrived and I read the synopsis on the back, my heart sank. Not because the story looked any less fun, but because I had failed to realize something that would have caused me to stay away if I had known. Zombie Baseball Beatdown commits what I usually consider the cardinal sin for a novel–it preaches. I read for entertainment, not to be preached at, and I don’t appreciate being told what to think. I was more than ready to hate this book for its sins, but I have to admit that once I got past its occasionally-strident moralizing it was moderately entertaining.

Rabi and his friends Miguel and Joe are at the park practicing baseball when the apocalypse starts. Not the nice park, that one’s being used by Sammy and his cronies, bullies who make Rabi and his friends’ lives miserable. No, Rabi and company are practicing down by the Milrow Meat plant, in the park that’s only livable when the feed lots and their stench of manure are downwind. It always smells in this part of town, it’s just a question of how bad, but today….today it smells like something straight out of the pits of Hell. The owner (Sammy’s dad, incidentally) goes on TV to explain how this is a planned thing, something about upgrading their ventilation, but Rabi and friends know something fishy is up. And that’s even before a zombie tries to eat Rabi’s brain….

Like I said above, I was all set to hate this. I’ve been preached at too many times by crappy books to have much tolerance for it these days. However, for most of the book Mr. Bacigalupi managed to keep the preaching down to an undertone that was at worst mildly annoying. It usually didn’t feel forced, at least insofar as the observations flowed naturally from whatever was happening. Of course, Mr. Bacigalupi set up the various courses of events specifically to be able to make those observations, so it isn’t completely natural. So what is being preached about? Well, first off there’s the bullying and racism. Not controversial, since nobody really defends the practice. It didn’t really resonate with me, but I’m not the target audience. Then there’s the issue of illegal immigration. Miguel’s family is illegal, and of course they are very hardworking and model citizens. Why on Earth would we want to keep them out? Mr. Bacigalupi stops short of offering a viable solution to the whole immigration mess (not surprising, since I don’t believe there is a good solution) but he does plenty of criticizing. His target? Those (mostly conservative) politicians who want to get “tough on immigration.” I don’t want to turn this into a political post, so I’m going to keep most of my comments to myself, but I will note that Mr. Bacigalupi’s stance (at least as revealed here) is distinctly missing any indication that he thinks there is anything wrong with illegally entering the country. Finally, there’s the whole attack on the meat industry specifically and large companies in general. I’m not sure if Mr. Bacigalupi is actually pushing for vegetarianism–he stops short of coming out and saying so–but he definitely wants you grossed out over how your meat is processed. To this end, he paints a stridently unappealing picture. And of course, the company is large, rich and untouchable, above the law, threatening to bury the protagonists in legal costs if they tell anyone what they’ve seen, blah, blah, blah…. Can you tell I’m tired of the “large companies are inherently evil” trope?

Setting aside the preachiness, this was at least moderately entertaining. The characters were a bit one-dimensional, especially the villains, and the segue from climax to epilogue was abrupt at best, but it did manage to keep me reading. Zombie aficionados should be aware that the zombies don’t play all that large a role in the story before the ending sequence–no Walking Dead here. On the other hand, this is a Young Adult novel. I wasn’t really expecting full-on zombie action. Instead, for most of the book Rabi and friends are up against Sammy or Milrow and its minions. Just be aware that your zombie action will be limited.

CONTENT: Mild zombie violence. Some bullying, including racism. No language, no sexual content.

*Probably not, but I think I’m legally obligated to say that when reviewing an ARC.

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