Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: "Feed" by Mira Grant

The zombie apocalypse has come--and stayed. Twenty-five years after the initial outbreak of the virus, the infected continue to shuffle hungrily after warm flesh. Worse, every single living person is a carrier for the dormant virus, which could claim them at any time.

Even in the face of the undead, however, life goes on. Bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are selected to cover the presidential campaign of Peter Ryman, the first candidate to have been a teenager during the first horrifying outbreak.  Few have trusted the official media since censoring and misinformation led to the (un)deaths of thirty-two percent of the population--leaving bloggers in the position of viral truth-tellers for the world. Ryman hopes the presence of the Mason team will give his campaign the legitimacy and the popular support he needs.

Georgia and Shaun, poster children of the apocalypse generation, are prepared for cross-country travel through a zombie-filled wasteland. But even the living dead aren't as lethal as ordinary humans with an agenda. Political schemes escalate from sabotage, to murder, to biological terrorism. The Masons were hired to tell the world the truth--and someone doesn't want it told.

  4 out of 5 stars

I'm not much for zombies, myself. The thought of becoming fodder for unthinking, unrelenting hordes is nightmare fodder for me. Nor can I drum up a lot of passion for Blogging: The Vehicle For Truth And Salvation. I view people who get passionate about blogging the same way I view people who get really intense about their font choices: I'm glad you have a hobby, but don't tell me that the future of the world rests upon it!

Nevertheless, I loved Mira Grant's Feed--which should tell you something.

It is a fast-moving novel without seeming frantic or hurried, punctuated with moments of gallows humor, suspense, and heart-pounding action. The ordinary tedium of a presidential campaign is spiced up by regular interruptions by flesh-eating zombie hordes, rival snipers, and the occasional bombing. Ryman's campaign takes on a deadly earnestness--which cuts down on the meaningless pontification we suffer at the hands of our present-day political candidates.

When every single person on earth has their blood tested daily to make sure the Kellis-Amberlee virus inside them isn't waking, there's little time for nonsense.

Even if its villain is cartoonishly evil (not to mention obvious), Feed's supporting cast is likeable and engaging. Its greatest strength lies in its two narrators, Georgia and Shaun. The Mason siblings are complex, cynical and idealistic by turns, devoted to finding and telling the truth, equally devoted to one another in a weirdly charming co-dependence. Shaun's seemingly carefree irreverence towards authority and mortality both is juxtaposed against Georgia's somber ruthlessness. Did I mention that Georgia lives a half-life, the Kellis-Amberlee virus already partially live within her body?

For readers who look for such things, I'm happy to report that Feed offers us not one but two aromantic characters, those rare birds. I had a moment of concern that the book's twist would reveal an illicit relationship between the siblings--too much Game of Thrones!--but thankfully, that never came to pass. Georgia and Shaun are simply close, and uninterested in romantic attachments. There is too much life to be lived to bother with dating.

A book about zombies and blogging is necessarily going to be littered with self-aware references to pop culture. Romero becomes a cultural hero on the level of a prophet, children are named after movie characters like Shaun of the Dead and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, etc. This can become a little tiresome.

Mostly, though, the post-apocalyptic world that Grant has built is vivid and fully realized. She answers the question "what do we do when the dead rise?" with a degree of practical realism that elevates the book above the reader's expectations.

Its thirty chapters are punctuated by blog entries from the Mason team: Georgia's grimly factual news reports, Shaun's more colorful zombie-killing adventures, and poetry excerpts from Buffy, their editor and filming expert. (Why are the death-defying Irwins and the Fictionals invited along on a political campaign? Hush. They're a team.)

I'm going to end with this little speech Ryman gives early in his campaign, even though it's lengthy, because I loved how well Grant conveyed politician-rhetoric, but also Ryman's sincerity and reasons for continuing to live a full and hopeful life in a world that might look a bit like Hell.
"You still haven't answered my question, young man."

"Well, Ms. Greeley, that would be because I was thinking," he said, and looked out at the small gathering. "I was taught that it's rude to answer a lady's question without giving it proper thought. Sort of like putting your elbows on the table during dinner." A ripple of laughter passed through the crowd. Ms. Greeley didn't join in.

Turning back toward her, the senator continued: "You've asked me my position on the Rapture, Ms. Greeley. Well, first, I think I should say that I don't really have 'positions' on religious events: God will do as He wills, and it isn't my place or my position to judge him. If He chooses to lift the faithful into Heaven, He will, and I doubt all the politicians in the world saying, 'I don't believe you can do that' would stop Him.

"At the same time, I doubt He's going to do anything like that, Ms. Greeley, because God--the God I believe in, anyway, and as a lifelong Methodist, I feel I know Him about as well as a man who doesn't devote his life to the Church can--doesn't throw good things away. God is the ultimate recycler. We have a good planet here. It has its troubles, yes. We have overpopulation, we have pollution, we have global warming, we have the Thursday night television lineup," more laughter, "and, of course, we have the infected. We have a lot of problems on Earth, and it might seem like a great idea to hold the Rapture now--why wait? Let's move on to Heaven, and leave the trials and tribulations of our earthly existence behind us. Let's get while the getting's good, and beat the rush.

"It might seem like a great idea, but I don't think it is, for the same reason I don't think it's a great idea for a first grader to stand up and say that he's learned enough, he's done with school, thanks a lot but he's got it from here. Compared to God, we're barely out of kindergarten, and like any good teacher, I don't believe He intends to let us out of class a little early just because we're finding the lessons a little difficult. I don't know whether I believe in the Rapture or not. I believe that if God wants to do it, He will... but I don't believe it's coming in our lifetime. We have too much work left to do right here."

According to Grant, the initial outbreak is scheduled for later this summer, so be on your guard!

Complexity of Writing: 3/5
Quality of Writing: 3/5
Strength of Characterization: 5/5
Logic of Plot Development: 4/5
Evocation of Setting: 4/5
Effectiveness of Pacing: 4/5
Resolution of Conflict: 4/5
Emotional Engagement: 4/5
Mental Engagement: 3/5
Bechdel Test: pass
Diverse Cast:  pass
Content Warning: character deaths, animal deaths

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