By Mira Grant
The end of the world has come and gone. The horror movies were right along: zombies will kill you … at least until you rise up and start killing right alongside them. But what most of those movies neglected to mention was what happened after the zombie action. For brother and sister, Shaun and Georgia Mason, the zombies are a fact of life. They grew up after zombies appeared, and terror had settled into the national fiber of life. The siblings are professional bloggers, dedicated to reporting and making the news. Their careers kick into high gear when they are selected to shadow presidential hopeful Senator Ryman. Unfortunately, what started as a chance to scoop political gossip and jump into the big leagues deteriorates as conspiracies are uncovered and people die.
Mira Grant’s first book in the Newsflesh series, Feed, has been nominated for a Hugo award for Best Novel. If the rest of the Hugo nominees are of a similar caliber, the judges will have a hard time deciding anything! Additional nominees include the Blackout/All Clear duology by Connie Willis, Cryoburn+ by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. I picked up this book because of its nomination and due to a special celebration price by its publisher for ebooks.
Feed is an impressive novel that treads into territory covered almost exhaustively by horror writers : zombies. Somehow Grant has managed to take this tired subject and give it new life (heh). Feed reads like a movie script due to its heavy reliance on dialogue and action to advance the plot. At 600 pages, it is not a light read. And its action is nonstop, leaving the reader exhausted on behalf of its main characters Shaun and Georgia. Nonetheless, the friendly banter between characters and the light tone achieved throughout by Grant make it an easy read. Like the best zombie movies, it focuses upon a select few people so that when they inevitably go under fire, viewers are more invested in their survival. Occasionally, it telescopes out to give perspective to the main characters’ struggle.
Another great strength of the novel is its use of virology, geography, and field research to lend veracity to the story. Grant acknowledges the help of others to fact check and proof read her work. This strong groundwork allows such a fantastical subject to achieve the potential of actually happening, and to suck the reader even deeper into the horror of a future America controlled by fear and zombies. I appreciated knowing what the author blamed for the zombie attack, as well as the how’s and why’s of its spread, just as much as the details about electronic bugs and computer servers. These facts are what kept me up at night, and made this story stick so strongly with me.
I also enjoyed the subtle and not so subtle references to pop culture that suffused the subtext of the novel. First and foremost was the names of the main characters, Shaun and Georgia. They are obviously named for Shaun of the Dead and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. I love the movie Shaun of the Dead! Another character is named Buffy (the Vampire Slayer), and the classifications of bloggers refer to Jon Stewart and Steve Irwin. The conversations, particularly between the siblings, were light hearted, usually in spite of the situations they were in, were reminiscent of B-movie zombie flicks filled with machismo and humor.
The weakest part of the novel, for me, was the villain. He certainly was evil enough and certainly not a surprise, but I would have liked more explanation of what drove him. Also, some of the action and connections among the bad guys were particularly convenient for the plot. The ending felt a little rushed, and some important details of the conspiracy were brushed over. Overall though, this book is a keeper.
A good read-a-like for this novel is World War Z by Mel Brooks. The subject and the epistolary nature of each is similar, as well as the measured manner in which information is shared with reader.
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy horror or science fiction stories.