Friday, October 15, 2010

Sci Fi Friday Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Sometimes I debate what titles I should include in my Sci Fi Friday reviews. Should I expand it to Sci Fi/Fantasy? (No, because I generally dislike fantasy and don't want it interfering with my science-y goodness) What about horror? Or superhero graphic novels? While Feed falls firmly into the horror genre, what with all the zombies running around, there are also some awesome bits of science and tech, allowing me to make it a Sci Fi Friday contribution without hesitation.

Which is a good thing because there's been a dearth of SF in my life lately

Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1)It's been twenty years since the dead have risen. Mutated from the cures for humankind's greatest illnesses, the virus lies dormant in every human being, ready to reanimate the corpse to become one of the walking dead with the incessant need to feast on human flesh.

Siblings Georgia and Shaun, along with their friend Buffy, are mid-level bloggers ready to make it to the big time when they're selected to be part of the press team for presidential candidate Peter Ryman. Dedicated first and foremost to reporting the news, the bloggers unwittingly become part of the news when a series of suspicious zombie attacks start following Ryman. A cut fence here, an infected horse there, and it begins to become very obvious these aren't accidents - someone is using the zombie virus as a biological weapon.

Technically this is an adult novel, but I'm confident it will have plenty of teen crossover appeal. Georgie and Shaun are in their twenties (no definitive age is given that I saw), and they also still live at home, under the imposing shadows of their famous-blogger parents. There's been some talk over the past year about a potential new marketing category called "new adult" and I think Feed could easily be classified there.

Grant has included lots of funny details for readers to pick up on. While it's explained that Georgia was born at a time when the most popular girls' names were Georgia, Georgette and Barbra as George Romero was recognized as a sort of patron saint of the zombie apocalypse, it's up to zombie fans to guess where Shaun's name comes from - Shaun of the Dead anyone? (And for the uninitiated, Barbra was the woman in Night of the Living Dead) Bloggers have also organized themselves into a couple of factions - broadly the Newsies, the Fictionals and the Irwins, who like to go out in the field and poke zombies with sticks (they also give out an annual award called the Stevies, solidifying the tribute to the late, great Steve Irwin). Each faction has sub-factions - for example in the Newsies, the people who deliver the news with a healthy dose of opinion are called Stewarts. I loved these little glimpses into Grant's world building, and make it clear she probably has lots of details planned out for this trilogy.

As a blogger, and as someone who probably gets 90% of her news from various blogs (and the other 10% still from internet sources like the New York Times online or streaming Rachel Maddow's show), I absolutely loved following a group of citizen journalists on the campaign trail. Of the trio, Georgia and Buffy were definitely my favorites, but Shaun and Georgia have a great rapport as well.

While I loved the blending of genres in this book (new adult, zombie horror, journalistic thriller), and Grant has clearly done some great work with her world building, the overall setting just never worked for me. It's been twenty years since the zombies first rose, which really isn't much time at all, and there's already a fully functioning government? It felt like the zombies were never that much of a threat if the whole world didn't collapse, and now that the government is functioning so well the zombies are only terrifying on a personal level (like if you're like Shaun and enjoy poking zombies with sticks) and no longer on a widespread level. There are so many weapons and defense tactics and decontamination safety protocols in place, that society really isn't in danger of ever collapsing, which for me is half the fun of zombie stories. Humanity can try to rebuild, but it shouldn't be as good as it was before, unless a much longer period of time has passed.

I know this review is getting long but I have to praise Grant on one other thing - this has one of the best surprises I've ever read in a novel. If nothing else, strictly from a writing standpoint it's fascinating to see it done, and her technique for accomplishing it. It's a huge spoiler so I can't go into detail, but as a writer myself it was interesting to see an author do what I'd long thought was impossible.

Feed is the first book in a new trilogy, but there's no severe cliffhanger ending here and feels like a complete story in itself. I recommend picking this one up, though personally I don't know if I'll be back for more - the fully functional society really irritated me on some levels.
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