I have a dilemma. You see, I want to write a review of Deadline, the second book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. It’s one of those books that just knocked me on my ass so much I can’t NOT talk about it. (See what you’ve done to me, Mira Grant: you’ve reduced me to double negatives!) Problem is, I can’t review Deadline without spoiling Feed, the first book. (Seriously. I can’t even quote the blurb without revealing a MAJOR spoiler.) But reading Deadline makes no sense anyway unless you’ve read Feed first, which I assume most of CC2K’s regular readers haven’t. And since they’re both so awesome, they’re both worth reading.
So I’ll review both. The review for Feed is up first; Deadline will be on the next page, under heavy spoiler warnings. That way, if someone happens to stumble upon it…well, I can’t say they haven’t been warned.
The Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Deadline, and the yet-to-be-released Blackout) were written by author Seanan McGuire, under her open pseudonym Mira Grant. I’ll admit it: I picked up Feed primarily on the basis of how much I liked McGuire’s October Daye series of urban fantasy novels; I had heard the reading experience would be quite different, and horror/science fiction isn’t generally my thing, but I was willing to take a chance on an author whose writing I already liked. Feed blew all of my expectations out of the water, and then some. Last year, I named McGuire/Grant as one of the ten “Authors Who Rocked My World in 2010.” McGuire was already a strong contender for that slot on the basis of the October Daye novels (which just keep getting better and better) alone. It was Feed that propelled her from “strong contender” to “shoo-in.”
Feed followers news bloggers Georgia (George) Mason, Shaun Mason, and Buffy Meissonier after they are invited to travel along the campaign trail with a presidential candidate. Along the way, the group has several close encounters with zombies — not too surprising, in a world that has been battling zombies for the past 25 years — but soon they begin to suspect there might be a bigger conspiracy at play.
I suspect the blurb can explain this better than I can, so I give you the blurb, courtesy of the Hachette Book Groups website:
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
NOW, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.
When I picked up this book, I expected it to be a horror novel featuring zombies, the literary equivalent of a George Romero movie or something. (Romero, ironically, is credited in this world as the savior of the human race. It was because people had watched so many Romero movies that they had any idea how to kill zombies.) But what I found was a taut, intense political thriller with science fiction undertones that just happened to feature zombies. Grant uses zombies to explore some greater ideas here, namely the “culture of fear” that has emerged since 9/11, the evolution of the news media now that anyone with a computer can “make” news (how many news stories have you seen lately that have started with a YouTube video or blog post), and the American political machine. Zombies are only background noise.
I think George (Mason, not Romero), our narrator, puts it best:
“One thing I did learn from those classes is that the world is not, in any way, what people expected thirty years ago. The zombies are here, and they’re not going away, but they’re not the story. They were, for one hot, horrible summer at the beginning of the century, but now they’re just another piece of the way things work. They did their part: They changed everything. Absolutely everything.”
In the world Grant has created, zombies are not creatures of fantasy, but science fiction: in 2014, a virus that cured the common cold was released without sufficient lab test into the atmosphere by bioterrorists, who believed they were “liberating” the cure for mankind. It combined with another virus, the cure for cancer, and the two merged and created an entirely new virus: Kellis-Amberlee. No one realized anything was wrong until the recently dead started rising, turned into flesh-eating monsters. It took several years for humans to contain the outbreak, but after that zombieism had become an irreversible part of life. Every human on Earth has the virus, laying dormant in their system, waiting to be activated. Death will activate it, as will being bitten by a “live” zombie (the live virus activates the dormant one). Sometimes, the virus amplifies spontaneously, for no reason at all. Us stalwart Americans have done what we seem to be best at: created impressive-looking security measures (blood tests at every door, retinal scans, constant decontaminations, etc.) that may or may not be effective, but serves to remind us nonstop how BAD and SCARY the world is.
Sounds like a fun place to live, right? But what’s really scary about Grant’s world is not how fantastical it seems, but how familiar; zombies or otherwise, Feed is scary because it could really happen.
In the wake of the Rising, people’s distrust of the media grew. While the CNNs/FoxNewses/MSNBCs of the world were reporting everything was fine and dandy, that rumors of a zombie uprising had been greatly exaggerated, it was independent bloggers who were reporting the real story. There were inaccuracies, there were biases, but people were able to put all the disparate accounts together and get some approximation of the real story. That’s where George comes in.
George is a Newsie, a blogger dedicated to straight news and the pursuit of the truth. Her adopted brother Shaun, in contrast, is an Irwin, a thrill-seeker who likes to do things like poke zombies with sticks just to see what will happen; his particular profession is quite appealing to audiences, most of whom have locked themselves away from the big, bad dangerous world. Buffy is a Fictional — pretty self-explanatory there — and the team’s tech guru. George is my kind of heroine: intelligent and strong, someone who uses her brains rather than brawn. She can be prickly and blunt, but her honesty and integrity make her very appealing. (She’s also an avid Coke drinker, which in real life would probably make her my best friend.) When it becomes clear that the attacks against the campaign aren’t accidental, she’s adamant about sticking with it and finding the truth.
I love the dynamic between George and Shaun. They are close in a way most siblingswill never be, having an almost symbiotic relationship. But it makes sense: both were orphaned in the Rising; both were adopted a few months after birth by the Masons, also news bloggers, who treated them more as photo opportunities than children; and they both learned at a very early age that the only people they could count on in the world were each other.
The pace definitely picks up as the novel progresses, as does the sense of danger. The end of this book is a roller coaster ride. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger, but it is a tough read. It also sets you up well for book 2, Deadline.
Which is where I shall break. Spoiler warning now…