Meat by Dane Cobain for RIP XVIII

Back in 2017, I had the pleasure of being on the Shadow Judges Panel for the PFD Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year with Dane. (More here and here). Dane’s own website can be found here. He writes mainly in horror/thriller/mystery genres, but has written non-fiction, poetry and is a musician too. He kindly sent me a copy of his 2020 horror novel Meat some time ago, my plans were to review it for RIP that year, but I finally got around to reading it this year – apologies Dane for the delay!

I should mention that Dane is a vegetarian, and researching factory farming for this horror novel strengthened his resolve in that direction and he is now a vegan. While not being preachy about it, he does include a list of further reading and some interviews with various experts about novel animal viruses and factory farming at the end of the novel. I should also add that I’m still a meat-eater, but I generally buy better quality, better reared and higher welfare meat these days. Anyway… to the book!

Vet Tom Copeland is starting a new job, not by choice. He was fired from his practice for pilfering the ket (under threat from someone else), he lost his home and his family in the process. But he was able to get the job at Sunnyvale with no questions asked. Boss John MacDonald proudly shows him around the factory farm, with it’s double security cordon all around, which houses around 100,000 animals – chickens, pigs, cows, sheep. Copeland’s job is to keep the animals healthy so they can be turned into meat, with no fuss, no comment on the awful conditions. One day he is called to the pig section, where the staff have found a dead one. Even after just a couple of hours, the pig is starting to decompose, but the small bite marks on it are clear.

… “It means we don’t have a case of cannibalism on our hands, but we do have something out there that got a little peckish and decided to take a pig down. […] It looks almost like the teeth of a rodent,” Copeland murmured. “A mouse, perhaps. Or a rat.”

“What kind of a rat can kill a pig?” Fields asked. It was a rhetorical question, but it got an answer.

“The Rat King,” Gowan said. He was a simple man with a calm, dreamy voice, but he’d been working at the complex ever since it had opened and he had a reputation amongst the workers as a Sunnyvale Yoda, except with a Coventry accent and no major talents.

Forty pages later, we meet the creature that lives under the plant.

It had twenty-six eyes and fifty-two paws, hundreds of abcessed teeth and thirteen brains, all determined to do things their own way. The creature was blind and frightened, but it was also angry, hungry and out for blood.

This is just the start of things of course. Animals start to exhibit dangerous behaviours and Copeland can only take samples to try to discover what’s happening – obviously MacDonald needs it kept quiet, then one of the pig staff is attacked and hospitalised. The chickens are misbehaving. This all coincides with the arrival of a government inspector, and an animal rights protestor managing to get into the site. Then the cows go mad, and escape their pens and the staff must herd themselves in the admin building, barricading themselves in. The inspector meanwhile calls in the Army, as it is obvious that something is terribly wrong and mustn’t be allowed to escape.

We move into a new phase of the novel, with the staff under siege from the animals, with dwindling supplies, limited to the upper floors of the building. They get one drop of supplies from the army, but otherwise they’re on their own. It’s a war of attrition – some brave souls try to make it out of the compound with uniformly fatal results, others get turned upon by their colleagues. But others get ill and become zombies needing drastic action to stop, whatever has driven the animals mad can transfer to humans too.

Where will it all end? Who will survive, if any? I couldn’t possibly say more.

Back in 2012, I read a book about zombie cows escaping from an abattoir – Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan, which was very much a comedy. Meat is rather more serious, although not without a sense of humour – you need one where zombies are concerned. The horror comes on two fronts, firstly there’s the conventional humans vs zombies and the ‘Rat King’ creature, but the real horrors are to be found in the descriptions of factory farming, of the inhumane conditions (and illegal by UK standards) that the animals are kept in at Sunnyvale.

With Copeland as the main protagonist, Cobain populates Sunnyvale with interesting supporting characters, notably John MacDonald and his niece Jill, Scottish security boss ‘Big Jim’ Benton, and not forgetting Harry Yorke, the protestor. As attrition takes its toll on the survivors, we even start to feel sorry for the boss of this awful place – well just a little, for just a little while. Jill, however, will show she’s made of stronger stuff.

I do enjoy a good zombie novel, and this has the added quality of making your think about the meat you do eat (if any). Thank you Dane, it’s great.

Source: Review copy – Thank you! Paperback, 447 pages incl appendices. BUY at Amazon below via my affiliate link:

4 thoughts on “Meat by Dane Cobain for RIP XVIII

  1. Calmgrove says:

    My first thought was ‘Is this an update of Animal Farm?’ and there’s certainly a hint of that from your description; but zombie action combined with polemic against factory farming takes Meat way beyond. It certainly sounds less po-faced than Richard Adams’s The Plague Dogs which disappointed me hugely after Watership Down‘s fireworks.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It’s definitely a novel of two halves – the first the horrors of factory farming, the second the zombie consequences and survival of the fittest. I didn’t really get any Animal Farm vibes from it, (I’ve not read the Plague Dogs)

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