Welcome to the first We Try It! post, part of what will eventually be a daily feature. We Try It! posts are reviews of just about anything, from books to movies to websites to products. For my first review, I chose the book Feed, by Mira Grant. Why? Because it’s about zombies and bloggers, and has a huge, bloody, RSS icon on the cover.
I hesitate to say Feed was an excellent book. As I was reading, I had a hard time even thinking it was a good book, but once I had consumed the book in its entirety and allowed it to sink in, it grew on me quite a bit. Most of the issues I found with the book (typos, continuity errors, etc) can easily be chalked up to less than perfect editing, which is nearly expected when reading books from smaller, niche publishers like Feed’s publisher, Orbit Books. The book also started falling apart as soon as I began reading; I nearly lost pages 63-66 when reading at the park, as they were not actually attached to the binding. Cheap production aside, Feed is an engaging and imaginative story about our world in 30 years, as a zombie infested dystopia.
Mira Grant is the alter-ego of Seanan McGuire, author of Rosemary and Rue and described as an “urban fantasist” by the publisher’s review of Feed. I am unfamiliar with any of her work as McGuire, but Feed has inspired me to seek out her earlier works. I’m not as curious about Grant/McGuire’s previous works as I am about what she will produce in the future, however. What struck me most about her writing style – which is sharp and clever – is how much potential she has to be a phenomenal storyteller. As much as I enjoyed Feed, I’m delighted to see what she’s going to do next.
Feed is the first in what will be the Newsflesh (heh.) trilogy, followed by Deadline (which will be released in 2011) and Blackout (which I’m assuming is coming in 2012). The main characters, Georgia Mason and her brother Shawn, are part of a world where bloggers are more respected than the mainstream media. The story takes place 30+ years after a freak incident wherein the cure for cancer combined with the cure for the common cold mutated, resulting in an unfortunate case of zombie apocalypse. Unable to defeat the hordes of suddenly undead corpses and their hunger for sweet, delicious brains (among other body parts), the world is a much different place in 2039 than it is today. Most people stay in their homes, protected by gated communities, and get all their news from the blogs. The U.S., where Feed is set, is divided in to zones based on likelihood of zombie attack. Traveling in public requires frequent blood tests, and most individuals are restricted to certain zones unless they have certifications and licenses issued by the government to be in more dangerous areas. Our protagonists, Georgia and Shawn, are able to travel to all but the most infested areas of the country. Early in the story they are selected to be the official bloggers of an up-and-coming Republican presidential candidate as he campaigns across the country.
The blogging world in Feed is divided into somewhat of a class system, with different sub-groups pulling names from late 20th to early 21st century pop culture. Straight news reporters, like Georgia, are referred to as Newsies. Adrenaline hounds who directly interact with the undead, like Shawn, are called Irwins. Humor bloggers are called Stewarts, and those who write poetry or creative pieces are called Fictionals. While I was personally skeptical that anyone, even post-zombie apocalypse, would treat fan-fic about politicians as serious journalism, I found something called RPF (real person fic) on LiveJournal which seems to attract a lot of readers, so who am I to judge? Georgia and Shawn’s team is rounded out with a Fictional, who goes by Buffy, as she’s a tiny blonde who kicks ass. It’s tricky to pull of a story set in the future that relies on a lot of humor based in people and things long dead when the protagonists were born, but Grant pulls it off.
It’s rare to see a female lead in a horror novel, let alone one as complex as Georgia. Grant carefully keeps her from becoming any sort of female stereotype, her motivations and actions are a complicated and nuanced as any male horror lead. There are no romantic entanglements for the two leads, including any sort of Flowers in the Attic-type of issue between the two of them, which I worried about as soon as I learned Georgia and Shawn weren’t related by blood, only adoption. I suppose I’m so used to seeing women in fiction, either on the page or screen, who can’t have a story told about them unless it involves The Man They Love, I expected the worst. Instead, Georgia and Shawn’s relationship is something that’s incredibly rare in any storytelling – it’s one of mutual, unconditional respect. Buffy has a relationship with a male campaign staffer, but it’s treated as an incidental point of the plot.
The story takes some time to build, and the first 150 pages or so could probably have benefited from better editing to help pick up the pace. The last half of the book, however, is tightly told and the plot unfolds rapidly. It took me at least several weeks to chug through the beginning, but I read the last half in a single evening. The antagonist is written to be rather one-dimensional, and it’s fairly obvious who it will be even before it’s revealed in the story. (And it’s not a zombie, just a run of the mill evil human.) While a lot of the action is somewhat predictable, the plot did take several twists I wasn’t expecting to turn out as they did. The foreshadowing is, I think, more telling than the author might have intended, but I was pleasantly surprised by how, well, surprised I was by several developments.
All in all, Feed is an interesting and engaging book with a handful of flaws that are pretty easy to overlook. I’m hoping to see some growth in Grant’s skill and Orbit Book’s editing in the second book. While the overall tone is rather grim, the scenes are peppered with bits of humor, which Grant handles surprisingly well. She has a great ear for dialogue and her characters speak to each other in a way I considered to be very natural. She’s done a great deal of homework on the science behind her story as well, and this non-science-educated reader bought all of it as believable. I’d recommend it to horror fans, fans of strong female leads and anyone who likes a good zombie yarn.