Book Author: Mira Grant
Publishing Date: 2010
George Romero’s worst fears realised as world is taken over by zombies? it’s actually not that bad say bloggers. That is, as long as you don’t get bit.
Mira Grant’s (aka Seanan McGuire) novel Feed is set twenty-six years after the first ‘Rising’ of the dead from an airborne virus meant to the cure the common cold. Georgia and Shaun Mason are bloggers of the highest order. In search of truth and dead things to poke they get the break of a lifetime when they are picked to follow Senator Ryman on his bid to be the next President of the United States of America.
They’ve grown up in a world plagued by zombies and fear of infection. However, things are not entirely as bad as the horror films have led you to believe they will be. It is because of those very same horror films many people have survived. To the extent where people still get up and go to work, they just do it with a gun strapped to their belt and a blood testing kit at the ready.
Georgia is a truth-seeking ‘newsie’ whilst brother Shaun is an adrenaline hungry ‘Irwin’, together with tech head Buffy–a ‘fictional’ who blogs poetry–they form a powerful triumvirate ready to take on the American political system from the inside. It isn’t long before things start to go a bit south when an outbreak of zombies ruins a triumphant public engagement for the Senator. When the second outbreak of the campaign hits far too close to home Georgia smells something rotten in Wisconsin. With brother Shaun and their stalwart team of bloggers–both in the real world and online–they hunt out the biggest story to hit the world since the outbreaks began. It will take them into battle not with zombies, but with religious belief and political intrigue. By the end some of them will be shot in the head by their friends before they can turn into zombies themselves.
The story starts with action, suspense and more than a little drama hooking the reader immediately into this new world order of zombies, those who pester them, and those who like to blog about it later. The world is set fairly quickly with a fast-paced introduction into how people live with the threat of infection and outbreak. Grant’s world is very plausible. Filled with constant security and human and animal virus checking the young Masons have a routine of testing and disinfection that would tire the most extreme germ phobic. The author has obviously done a lot of research and has thought critically on how to extrapolate a future society’s coping mechanisms for such an omnipresent threat.
We see most of the story and action through Georgia’s eyes and in her words as she details the journey from ‘beta’ bloggers hugging the coattails of a parent site (ala Huffington Post) to ‘alphas’ with a domain and a following of their very own. At time her style is quite utilitarian, with little descriptive narrative. The dialogue between the characters is quite sharp, but suffers from an overload of glib. Both Georgia and Shaun are wise cracking to the point of disaffection from the reader at times. They are extremely close—so Georgia keeps telling us—however, it often feels disingenuous through their smooth under pressure attitudes that never seem to falter. They are passionate about what they do, yet they are cold in their pursuit of that passion.
I believe the author is trying to convey that they’ve learned to bury their emotions and are facing a dark and terrible situation through commitment to the truth. Their life of zombie baiting and truth perusing has made them hard and professional . This idea is repeated so many times that it becomes a hollow motto. Their relationships with each-other and with others seem to be more for convenience in the drama to come than born out by the writing. Georgia in particular is robotic and so overly focused on her pursuit of the truth that it is hard to find any sympathetic attachment to her. The world revolves around Georgia with either everyone falling into step with her goals, or engaged in a plot against her.
At first the novel had a lot of momentum despite my misgivings about the emotional detailing between characters and lack of atmosphere even during action scenes. Then it kind of plateaued and began to slide into the familiar territory of action/thriller and horror films. With a villainous ‘god-fearing’, southern Governor as the antagonist to the sincere and plain speaking, mid-western Senator Ryman the final portions of the novel followed very familiar paths in its journey toward the inevitable show down over the ‘truth’.
And the zombies? Well they felt more like an afterthought than a potential threat. Despite the constant discussion of security and viral testing, even when there was a zombie attack it didn’t feel that dangerous or terrifying. The fear in any of the characters was never present. It was all a little too clinical.
What keeps the reader reading though is the clean and easy style. The dialogue is snappy and reminiscent of great film dialogues full of bravado in the face of adversity. There is also a lot of thought put into the history, virus and technology used throughout. There is an understanding of how different groups in the US might develop and use their power depending on their beliefs of how to deal with the various moral and logistical questions that would arise in a world under constant viral threat.
The author has not skimped on the world building aspects of the story and should be applauded for trying to put forward an alternative to the usual “zombies overrun world, but for a few intrepid and wacky survivors”. The novel is also punctuated with thought-provoking blog scraps and the occasional emotive hit, not from the central characters, but from their friends reactions to them and their words about them. The Mason’s were hard to get along with as characters, but in the end you could believe that people loved them even if you aren’t sure why.