Zombies, they are everywhere these days. Short stories, novels, video games, movies, TV Shows, comic books – one can hardly go anywhere without running into some form of these shambling creatures. Very many of these zombie stories take place after or during the zombie apocalypse, where the dead have risen and the notion of civilization is a thing of the past. This isn’t exactly the case in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, which begins with Feed and was nominated for the Hugo Award.
Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun run a popular blog newsite, After the End of Times in the year 2039, about 25 years after the Rising – the first time the dead rose in 2014. Georgia is a Newsie, who reports straightforward news; Shaun is an Irwin (so named after Steve Irwin), since he goes out and pokes & prods the zombies for the cameras, which draws in viewers to their blog; while their third primary leader, Buffy, is a Fictional, who writes stories and poems. Their blog grows in popularity, especially when Senator Peter Ryman invites Georgia and crew to join his campaign trail, becoming the first bloggers allowed access to such a presidential campaign. This, of course, increases their popularity/ratings, but with the legitimacy afforded by such an invite, consequences and fallout are naturally expected. The consequences in Feed, being a science fiction/horror hybrid (with political thriller elements thrown into the mix), are more than anything for which Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy bargained.
Feed is one of those novels where giving more of the plot would take away the joy of reading the novel, so I’ll stop with the plot review and cover some of the other great things Grant (an open pseudonym for Seanan McGuire who also writes Urban Fantasy) does in the novel and the construction of her zombie-fied world. For starters, zombies are explained in a very scientific fashion, with a logical and plausible rationale for the root cause of the dead rising and attacking people. Two cures (one for Cancer and one for the common cold) bonded into a super-virus, Kellis–Amberlee, which causes the dead to reanimate and spread their disease.
There is a great deal of Genre Savvy in this novel. For example, as Georgia Mason logically points out, people have been ‘prepared’ for zombies since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and the countless zombie films after it. In fact, Romero is considered something short of a messiah since the film is considered a warning or instruction on how to handle zombies. Therefore, the most popular names after the Rising are George (males) and Barbara, Georgia or Georgette (females) though I suspect Shaun is taken from Shaun of the Dead. Grant also doesn’t try to subvert what the shambling undead are, most people do call them zombies.
The characters are terrific and believable. Georgia is a bottom-line no-nonsense character who upholds telling the truth as the ultimate ideal. Shaun is the more adventurous type and can be seen as a charming and intelligent character from Jackass – think Johnny Knoxville or Bam Margera fighting zombies for our entertainment. The relationship between the brother and sister, adopted after their parents the Masons had to kill their own son when he became a zombie, is one of trust, love, and respect. Shaun and George are not related by blood; however, their bond is no less strong because of it. In presidential candidate Peter Ryman, Grant gives readers what seems to be the ideal man running for the most powerful job in the world. The relationship between Ryman and his wife Emily is painted as ideal as well. As much as the characters themselves are incredibly well drawn, it is in their one-on-one relationships that Grant’s ability to lend emotion to her characters really shines. Georgia/Shaun, Peter/Emily are not the only two, but the best examples in the book. When a third character comes into the picture of the paired characters; however, is when things start go, for lack of a better term, a little wonky. Again, I feel revealing the specifics might take away from the true power of Grant’s story, so I leave it to the reader to explore these themes in the novel.
Grant goes into great detail about the scientific nature of the cause of zombies, and she does it an informal conversational way through Georgia that it is both gripping, provides a breather from some of the more intense narrative scenes, and pushes the story forward. While the narrative is told mainly in Georgia’s first person voice, it is interspersed with passages from the blogs of Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy. In both the ‘breaks from action’ and well handled scientific rationale, I was reminded a great deal of Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant vampire novels Peeps and The Last Days. Mira Grant also plausibly renders a societal landscape that is surviving, and one could almost – almost – say is thriving after the zombie outbreak. In other words, zombies haven’t destroyed humanity despite all attempts, but have become a fearful aspect of the world whereby people are still more than hanging onto the edge of civilization.
Feed is a brilliant novel that embraces the tropes of the zombie story, expands the zombie mythos, speaks to modern fears, plausibly renders a political landscape, and forces the reader to turn the pages to see what happens next. This is the first of a trilogy and is a brilliant explosion of narrative power from beginning to end, that begs the reader to pick up Deadline, the second book in the trilogy immediately. I can understand why this was nominated for a Hugo award – it is in a word – superb.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford