I feel like I know Seanan McGuire (who uses the pseudonym Mira Grant for her Newsflesh trilogy). My favorite podcast is the SF Squeecast and Seanan never ceases to make me smile and laugh and marvel at her sense of humor. But I had never read any of her books. Seen as every single one of the series was nominated for a Hugo (and some other awards as well), I figured this would be a good place to start.
Published by: Orbit, 2010
ebook: 571 pages
Series: Newsflesh #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: You can’t kill the truth.
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.
FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own—a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.
The cover is the first thing you see of a new book and rarely have I come across a cover, title, and series name that so perfectly represents what you find inside. This is, ostentatiously, a zombie book. The word “Feed” written in blood across the wall may give you a clue. But what’s that? An RSS feed symbol right above it. Because, you see, this is much more a book about the news, and what’s more, the news in the near future, which mostly happens on blogs. The series title “Newsflesh” mixes these two main topics together just as beautifully and I must congratulate either Mira Grant herself, or her editor, or whoever came up with the brilliant title. Good, now that’s out of the way, you can imagine that I approached this book with more than a little bias. I like Mira Grant. I love the cover and title of her book. But did I like the content?
I made a note at the 47% mark. Things before that point are a bit of a mess, things after it incredible fun. With this almost even split, I’m surprised my overall impression is a rather good one. Picking this book up felt like sitting down with Seanan McGuire and letting her tell me a story. Georgia’s voice is both quirky and no-nonsense, the dialogue between her and her brother Shaun is snappy – if you’ve ever heard Seanan McGuire speak, you’ll know exactly what you get in her writing.
The biggest problems I had in the first half were (1) immense amounts of info-dumping and (2) the complete lack of drive or conflict. The reason I enjoy stories, be they movies, books, computer games, or comics, is that I enjoy watching characters I care about in conflict. If there is no conflict, for me there isn’t much of a story. Unless the world-building is so breathtaking that you can distract me with it, I won’t be hooked. Georgia and Shaun are an incredible team. They publish the news! Georgia, a Newsie, values the truth above all else, while her brother, a Irwin, writes action reports about encounters with zombies – accompanied by video footage of him in mortal danger, of course. The third member of the team, Buffy, blonde and skinny (thus the nickname), is head of the Fictionals, a brand of blogging that should need no explanation. She is also responsible for the blog’s tech support, and boy does she know her business.
We spend about 250 pages watching these people do what they do best. Meet zombies, publish the news, join Senator Ryman on his campaign. Almost everything goes according to plan and when it doesn’t, it turns out Georgia has a back-up plan with every person executing their job as smoothly as a well-oiled cog. That’s great, I thought, they are good at this. But we knew that from the very beginning and the lack of conflict drove me almost insane. What’s the problem? What’s the conflict? For the entire first half of the book, there is none. And then, things go crazy.
The other thing that irked me was the clumsy world-building. On the one hand, we experience how the world has changed first-hand. The number of blood tests required to get into your own house, let alone a public building, is insane. Georgia’s suffering from a form of the virus that affects her eyes, requiring her to go through even more trouble than the average human. Everybody is infected, it’s just that you have to die to become a proper zombie. And once you do die, you will. At that point, well-known rules apply: destroy the brain!
All of this becomes clear from the plot itself, it is shown, just as it should be. Additionally, the author goes off into long explanations of how the world came to be that way, how security is ensured, etc. They were well-written info-dumps, but info-dumps nonetheless.
If you read the ebook, watch out for that 47% mark because that’s when Mira Grant hooked me and I couldn’t put the book down anymore. Finally, there was some mystery. There was danger – and not just from the zombies, which as I said, our protagonists have pretty well under control. I don’t spoil in my reviews so I won’t tell you why I was suddenly so intrigued. Let’s just say that all of a sudden, there were things at stake for every party involved. The needless info-dumps stopped, the plot thickened, the characters got to show who they were through actions and the brief excerpts from their respective blogs at the end of each chapter.
I’m sure that not everybody will agree with the ending but I couldn’t think of a better one. In the end, it was worth the read. For a while, I thought that maybe Mira Grant just isn’t for me but the second half of Feed was a Hollywood blockbuster in book form. It wasn’t perfect but it was a fun popcorn read. I’ll be back for more.
RATING: 7/10 - Very good
- Fed (alternate ending)