Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review of Feed

Feed is the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse and will be followed by Deadline and Blackout. The series is by Mira Grant, another name for urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire. Normally I do not go near zombie stories, being very squeamish about blood, gore and descriptions of eating brains. However, I made an exception in this case for several reasons - and was glad I gave it a chance.

In the year 2014, a cure is developed for both cancer and colds. Unfortunately, this is not as idyllic as it sounds since there is a major disadvantage to these cures: they form the Kellis-Amberlee virus which, in turn, creates zombies. All of humanity has technically been infected with this virus, although it remains inactive for a time. Usually, people do not become zombies until their death results in resurrection as undead or they come into contact with the virus in its live state.

As one may imagine, the world has greatly changed as a result. Going outdoors or gathering in large crowds is no longer safe, and anytime a person is about to enter into contact with others they must undergo tests to make sure the virus is not alive, sometimes multiple times in a short period. One of the big changes is that the traditional media has been replaced by bloggers, who were instrumental in saving lives when the outbreak first occurred. They had no agenda other than ensuring survival and were allowed to freely state what they saw and learned. Many lives were saved due to their efforts and each one had a special place on the Wall, a collection of final blog entries to honor those who died in pursuit of truth.

Georgia ("George") Mason is part of a blogging team, along with her brother Shaun and their friend Buffy (who renamed herself instead of being just another "Georgette" in honor of George Romero). George is a "Newsie," the type of writer who strives to present an unbiased, factual viewpoint. As an "Irwin," Shaun is likely to end up getting himself killed since he makes the news by entering danger zones and getting up-close and personal footage of the zombies. Buffy writes fiction, but she's also a genius when it comes to technology. Together, they will soon make blogging history when they are chosen to cover the presidential campaign for Senator Peter Ryman, one of the front-runners for the Republican candidate. However, they discover an even bigger story after a couple of zombie outbreaks and George begins to suspect foul play.

Even though I occasionally experiment with horror, it's not my genre of choice, especially if it's the gory type that has body parts strewn everywhere. So I don't go near books that proclaim "ZOMBIES INSIDE" and almost overlooked this one when a copy showed up in my mailbox. Then I noticed that Mira Grant was the same as Seanan McGuire, whose October Daye series has become a must-read for me. That made me curious enough to read the opening paragraph, which had the same light, humorous narration as the author's other books:
Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot -- in this case, my brother Shaun -- deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens. As if we didn't already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked. This isn't a surprise. It hasn't been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to get technical, it wasn't a surprise then. [pp. 5]
After this, I was considering trying it, but I moved it to definite when Seanan McGuire left a comment saying it was more political science fiction than horror. After reading it, I'd definitely agree - it's not scary or full of graphic descriptions of blood spurting everywhere. Although there are jokes made about brains getting eaten, I was thankful there were no actual occurrences of this nature. As far as being grossed out goes, it was fairly mild - there was nothing that was described in such detail that it turned my stomach and I've read plenty of fantasy books containing parts that were far more disgusting than anything in this book.

That's not to say there is no sense of danger or excitement. Although it is about bloggers covering a political campaign, it is set in a world in which field reporting is not a safe profession. The very first scene in the novel has George and Shaun being chased by zombies, and this isn't the only such event - but fortunately the book is about much more than that. It's part adventure and part political thriller, but it's also an examination of what the world might be like 26 years after a cataclysmic change. It's also about the value of truth. Throughout the text are several entries from different blogs, many of which are both thoughtful and emotionally powerful reflections on the media and the world.

Although the details of how the world has changed since the Kellis-Amberlee virus was unleashed were very interesting, there was too much explanation about the world at times. This was definitely a fascinating take on the zombie apocalypse, and I much preferred reading about what it meant for the world than constant attacks by the undead. However, sometimes description about how different life has been since the zombies went on for long paragraphs and interrupted the momentum of the narrative, which was all from George's point of view.

The ending was amazing - it was a very unusual, gutsy conclusion but strongly moving. It elevated my opinion of the book quite a bit.

While reading, I did feel like the main political candidates were too extreme. The Senator George and her team were reporting for seemed too good to be true - an honest, well-meaning man. His opponents were a woman who boosted her place in the polls by wearing little clothing and low-cut tops and a religious fanatic who thought the virus was God's punishment on the world. Not a single one of them seemed like a well-balanced individual characterized by various good and bad traits, but seemed to fall into categories that were each on one extreme or the other: the good guy, the floozy and the crazy, hateful one.

Even though I usually would treat a zombie book like zombies themselves and run the other way, I'm glad I read this one. It contains the undead and has some tense chases involving them, but the focus is more on the political campaign, conspiracies, issues with news and media and a look at a world that has had to adapt to survive. It's not too heavy since there is a sense of humor that runs through the main character's voice, although sometimes this narrative does get bogged down by long descriptions of every little detail of the way life is after the zombie apocalypse.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher (they sent me both the ARC and the final copy and this review is based on the final published version).

Other reviews:


Benjamin said...

Good review, Kristen! I'm not really a fan of zombie fiction either. I have some friends who like it, but I tend to find it too gimmicky. The big exception to this would be World War Z by Max Brooks, which I thought was fantastic.

Kerry said...

I'm not a zombie person either and I usually avoid them like the plague (pun intended). Like you, I'm not interested in the blood, guts and brains eating.

However, I did really like this one. I see it as a zombie book for people who don't like zombies, as it is more about the mystery and world-building than the gore. I described it as being more about bleach and blood tests than blood and guts.

I love post-apocalyptic books that spend part of the story on the new world and part either discovering or describing the apocalypse through the eyes of the survivors. So that parts that didn't work for you (George's history lessons) I really like. (The used-to-be-a-scientist part of me liked the scientific aspects too.)

I'm not so keen on actual apocalyptic books (although it depends) but looking back at the apocalypse works for me.

Kristen said...

Benjamin - Thank you! I admit it, I'm just squeamish although I can't really see being that fascinated by zombie fiction otherwise, either. Why was World War Z an exception for you?

Kerry - Yes, I also usually avoid zombie novels like the plague. I agree that this is a good zombie book for people who don't like them since it is about so much more (and I like your description about bleach and blood tests).

In addition to that, I also thought it was also more interesting to have it set after the apocalypse once everyone has acclimated to zombies as part of everyday life instead of during.

It's not so much that I didn't like the history lessons since I found the differences to be one of the more compelling parts of the novel. I just thought there were times they went on for far too long, and I always find long periods of telling rather awkward anyway.

Which type of science did you used to work with?

Kerry said...

Kristen - Chemisty and Biochemistry, although I haven't worked in the field since I got sick 20 years ago. All the same, you can see why this was right up my alley. :)

David Scholes said...

I enjoy all of your reviews on this site Kristen.

I'd love it if one day you could find time to review some of my work:





I have also just completed a new novella “Soldier of the Brell” which I will make available as an e-book download from the Xlibris site and on the IPAD, Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony Reader and other E-readers.

Rabid Fox said...

I've still got this one on my wish list despite reading some mixed reviews for it. It wasn't until I started reading reviews that I realized it was part of a trilogy--everything is a trilogy nowadays.

And don't feel too bad about being averse to horror, as you're not alone and it's a much maligned genre. Find some Peter Straub and Dan Simmons, that may appeal to you more. :)

Cinema Cafe Podcast said...

Great review Kristen. For many people its vampires, and while I love me some vampire stories, for me zombie's do the trick. Not the shambling masses per se, but rather the character study that the concept presents for writers. I'm a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson, so zombies meets journalism was a total selling point for me. I really liked how the author incorporated Thompson's gonzo style of journalism throughout and my favorite character in the book was George. The perfect antidote for a high traffic, high volume news world.

That being said, without giving anything away, I'm unsure how I feel about the coming sequels but Grant (or McGuire) is a fantastic writer so I can't wait for some more political zombie intrigue from her.

Another zombie book that has been getting some fair praise is Amelia Beamer's The Loving Dead. That one sounds pretty interesting and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Benjamin said...

Kristen, I had only heard of World War Z once or twice before a friend recommended it. I thought it was a little silly and cheesy at first, which I think is intended, but then there was a point when I realized that the author was pulling no punches in depicting a true zombie apocalypse. Especially in what might be necessary to survive. I really liked how the book gives a global view and scope of the war, yet gives a very personal touch by telling it through the accounts of the survivors. Very well done.

orannia said...

Great review Kristen. You have me dithering. I'm not a zombie fan at all nor am I an apocalypse fan, but...I like the sound of the first line and the political science aspect. Hmmm.

Kristen said...

Kerry - Oh yes, I can definitely see why this was right up your alley if you studied chemistry and biochemistry.

David - Thank you! I'd love to have time to cover more books, but unfortunately I only make a small dent in the books I want to read each year.

Rabid Fox - It does seem like the vast majority are trilogies, doesn't it? Or very occasionally a duology or a long series, but very rarely a single book.

Thanks for the author recommendations! There were a couple of Dan Simmons books I have considered trying for horror before. I've enjoyed some of his science fiction. Peter Straub is an author I haven't heard of before so I'll have to look him up. Usually around October I get the urge to dabble with horror a little. This year I made a deal to read Duma Key by Stephen King so I'll probably read that in October (I've never read a book by King even though I live close enough that I've driven by his house before).

Cinema Cafe Podcast - Thank you! I never really thought of zombie stories as being a character study opportunity, but after reading this, I can see it a little better. George was my favorite character as well - I really liked her practicality and dedication to the truth.

I'm also a little unsure of the following sequels (I assume for the same reason you are) but I'm sure they'll still be interesting. I read part of the beginning of book 2 in the back as well as the author interview and that made me feel a little more sure about it.

Benjamin - Thanks for the information! That sounds interesting; I may have to check out World War Z sometime. (Why do I keep saying that? It's like I haven't noticed my Goodreads to-read list is growing at a disturbing rate while the amount of spare time available is not.)

Kristen said...

Orannia - Thank you! I'm not a zombie fan at all either (I've gotten a few as unsolicited review copies and usually glance at the book, see "Zombie" and don't give it a second look). This one was interesting with the look at life after the apocalypse and the political/reporting aspect. I do still prefer McGuire's October Daye books, though.