At its heart, Libba Bray's book Going Bovine is a road trip novel. From missed busses and a purchased junk car to drunken college kids to convenience store hijinks to a major theme park, this story touches all the bases. And yet, the backstory of terminal diseases, wormholes, destiny and the fate of the universe give it more than the average road trip.
Cameron Smith is diagnosed with Bovine Spongeform Encephalitis, also known as Mad Cow disease. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen until chapter 16. While some backstory is important, I believe this novel took way too much time in the lead up - it felt very slow. Some brief flashbacks occurred in the story, and would have been a better way to build Cameron's character.
Leading to that change-over are an increase in appearances of the Punk Angel Dulcie, and an unfortunate decrease in Don Quixote references. This latter is unfortunate - I found this a nice tie in between the characters (even if it was layed on a bit thick in the early chapters).
After this, the pacing of the escape from the hospital and the road trip were just about right. Individual elements were well described, and the whole thing seemed remotely believable. Bizarre occurrences and strange dreams lead a Life on Mars feel to this story.
The end felt a little rushed and muddled - I see the points that were being made, and with proper ambiguity, but it didn't hang together well. Better editing, fewer flashbacks - not sure. The character of Dulcie, so crucial to Cameron in the middle stages, basically vanishes.
A few pop culture items are created for this book, such as Rad XL soda, and the band The Copenhagen Interpretation (a reference to the scientific theory of parallel worlds). For other pop culture bits, the author has chosen to substitute a false set instead of referencing the existing - instead of quoting Star Wars, the characters quote Star Fighters. Libba Bray said the book was "about poking a little fun at modern life and pop culture" - perhaps this was the reason for the made up memes.
Is it Science Fiction? There is wormhole travel (through space and time) and supernatural events. Missing are science technology, aliens and other sci-fi props. Definitely more adventure than sci-fi or fantasy.
In summary, I found this book to be a decent road trip, but really slow to get going and somewhat misdirected at the end. I would like to read another book by Libba Bray to get a better sense of her authorship, but I am afraid that "Going Bovine" measures in at just under four stars.