My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m glad I started reviewing books on my blog, because otherwise I don’t think I would have found this one. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this before, and I doubt I will again.
Beef represents, for me, the best of what science fiction and eco fiction have to offer. It extrapolates from today’s issues into the near future and explores what might happen if certain fictional, metaphorical, elements are introduced. It has a strong viewpoint and voice, without being unpleasantly polemical. Rather than preaching at its readers, or drowning them in gloom, doom, and apocalypse, it draws them in with delightful characters, vivid situations, and laugh-out-loud humor.
That said, this book is probably not for everyone. It’s not for the perfectionistic, the moralistic, or the easily offended. It’s about corpse eating, infidelity, depressarians, and toxic capitalism, and there is a lot of drug use and profanity, even by major characters whom one comes to know and love. And the “alternative” spelling of the word “whoa” as “woah” (which the author does) has become one of my pet peeves in the past year or so, but when I saw it here I was willing to give it a pass. Like the other transgressions depicted therein, it kinda fit the novel’s sensibilities. And who knows, maybe “woah” is the correct spelling in that timeline. Language evolves and all that.
I also felt that the book as a whole went on a bit too long. It might have been fine, and packed even more punch, as a novella. I sympathized with Royston’s dilemma, and I give the author major kudos for giving his hottie female character curves and booty (rather than anorexia), but I didn’t find her as fascinating as Royston did, especially when she spent so much of the novel getting high and saying silly things about destiny.
As I approached the end (reading it in bed on a Kindle, flicking the electronic pages, I would see that I was 75% . . . 80% . . . 90% done), I was on the edge of my metaphorical seat wondering how the author was going to end it. I couldn’t imagine what all the build up was going to lead to that wouldn’t be a disappointment, but Blackwell pulled it off. I totally didn’t see that coming. I also have found that this novel is one that becomes richer on reflection. While reading it, I was just being carried along by all the wild sheeshing on a sheeshing stick, but two days later I’m still thinking of new connections that I hadn’t immediately made between ideas.
I had not heard of the author before reading this book, but that may be because I am woefully ignorant of Australian authors (and Australian pop culture generally). I think that Beef could have also been easily set in the United States, as we also have no shortage of greedy capitalists, religious cranks, socially awkward nerds, and cows, but it was interesting to view the future world through the lens of another culture, and I think Blackwell’s work deserves an international audience.