Feed by Mira Grant
In the spirit of this book, appropriately and punningly titled Feed — it’s about flesh-eating zombies — I need to offer the inside information that the author Mira Grant is actually Seanan McGuire in the real world. Having upheld the principle of journalistic integrity, reporting even the facts you didn’t know you wanted to know, let’s get past the pseudonym to the content. It’s fascinating to watch the shift in the mood of this book. It begins in much the style you would expect of a YA novel with youthfully irresponsible protagonists jauntily dicing with death as the zombies attempt a slow-moving ambush. There’s all the usual tension with the adoptive parents and a general sense of the generation gap. Then as we get out on to the campaign trail, we slowly get more serious so that, when the zombies break into the compound where the presidential hopeful is giving a campaign speech, the mood has become darker. It’s a clever manipulation of tone and, up to one-third of the book, the actual politics of an America overrun by zombies is underplayed. The morphing from a moderately conventional future history political drama with zombies into a mystery/whodunnit is also well handled as the evidence of a murder campaign builds (bearing in mind that, under the legal system outlined in the book, the militarisation of the dead is a terrorist offence, punishable by death). By then, we have clearly passed beyond what might have been considered YA territory. We’re very definitely in the realm of adult sensibilities as we view the inside of the Senator’s stables and get up close with the dead horses (and the cats, of course).
There’s a fair amount of infodumping about how the viruses are thought to have escaped into the wild. The structuring of the blogging news and opinion service is also much explained. This is inevitable at the outset so that we understand the social forces that have shaped the culture. Given that there has been a major disruption to the fabric of society, I’m faintly sceptical as to the scientific progress that’s been possible. I can see the need for all the portable blood-testing kits and would understand the high priority for their production. But there do seem to have been major technological advances in home and public building construction to provide security for entry and then during the essential showering and clothes washing processes. The computer advances are also quite spectacular and there’s a lot of miniaturisation. Obviously, there are fairly active R&D facilities supplying secure manufacturing complexes. The problems of food production and water purification for drinking have also been resolved given the need to avoid consuming the active virus. This creates a society at bay. It’s already had to give up the defence of Alaska and now focuses its survival in defended urban areas and self-help communities.
I suppose when you are writing a book about integrity in news reporting that you should tell a story in cold blood. By that I mean you should never flinch from uncomfortable truths. So, if people have to die, then it should be reported objectively. There are too many books written today where you end up with the same basic cast of heroes as you started with. It seems everyone with a headline name gets to survive while the rest are cannon fodder. In this case, we have what proves to be a major conspiracy and it reaches into all the spaces where the resistance is lowest. That’s the way of darkness. Somehow, it always seems to have the power to sneak into corners and take up residence where you least expect it. The impressive thing about Feed is that Mira Grant does not shy away from death or from dealing with its consequences, reanimated or otherwise. After the key death, we then change back to a more conventional thriller format in which the survivors attempt to survive. It’s rather like watching these news reporters from the front line of the battlefield. There they stand with impressive explosions in the background, reciting facts about the number of casualties. These are the people who are seen to take risks to bring us the news. It may not be very sane or, indeed, entertainment in any sense of the word because, truth be told, we’re all probably watching in the hope the next explosion will take off the reporter’s head on camera — there’s a ghoulish streak in all of us. But the point of this book and, I suppose, of all these broadcasts from live fire environments, is that someone has to be brave enough to do it, otherwise we would never understand the truth of how awful it really is.
As will by now be fairly obvious, I like this book. Despite the fact that it runs a little too long, it’s smart and, for once, intelligent. I know, it’s almost a perfect oxymoron: an intelligent zombie novel. Go figure. Anyway, Feed has a sincerity about it that avoids the sin of preachiness. It stays true to itself right up to the end, and beyond where there’s also an interesting interview with the author. She reminds us that this is the first in a trilogy, now titled Newsflesh (kinda catchy in a zombie fodder way). The next in the set are called Deadline and Blackout, with the teaser excerpt of Deadline closing off the book. I’ve already ordered my copy. So should you.
Adding one more piece of good news, Feed was shortlisted for the 2011 Hugo Award of Best Novel.