by Mira Grant
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mira Grant's zombie novel Feed created a complex world in which the living must not only have to deal with the walking dead, but must also cope with their day to day lives. Told from the points of view of Georgia and Shaun Mason, two bloggers, the novel examines journalism, politics, and personal responsibility in an unsafe world. The Masons, along with their technical wizard, Buffy Meissonier, manage to score big when they are selected to cover the presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman.
The zombie who populate Grant's world of 2040 have been terrorizing the world for more than a decade, initially created when a virus as developed and latter mutated that had the effect of causing people who were dead to be able to continue to shamble through life. In response to this, society changed in its openness, but also in the various layers of security which were required to do the most normal tasks. Grant manages to demonstrate this change exceedingly well in her repetitive descriptions of her characters submitting to numerous blood tests over the course of the work before they can gain admission to houses, public buildings, cars, and so forth.
While the repetition works with the blood tests to show the safety precautions necessary, there are other places where Grant's repetition goes overboard. It feels as if her journalist characters spend about a quarter of the book providing data dumps to the reader, who, theoretically, knows at least the outline of the zombie invasion and the techniques used to combat it. By having her journalists write about such mundane (to them) topics on their blogs and in their journals, the reader is dropped out of the otherwise well conceived narrative to learn the necessary background.
Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy, who provide that background, are likable characters who draw the reader in, almost allowing the reader to overlook the data dumps. Georgia and Shaun, especially, the two narrators, have a wonderful backstory of being adopted by a couple who had lost their natural son to an early zombie attack. While Grant provides plenty of details about their family, what is less clear is how they are able to afford the near military and professional grade equipment, for blogging, broadcasting, and security. However, as with the data dumps, the characters can overcome that niggling detail.
The political campaign they are set to cover is for Peter Ryman, a Senator whose life is so perfect, there is constantly the feeling that another shoe is going to drop. Eventually, when his campaign does run into difficulties, the Masons realize that they may be the result of sabotage, a conclusion that the reader comes to much earlier than the Masons, which wouldn't be an issue if the Senator's own security details weren't also oblivious to the danger. Their proximity to the Senator's campaign, however, gives the bloggers, and the author, an opportunity to comment on the differences between the politicians we would like to have and those who we actually have.
Perhaps the strongest part of the novel deals with the virus that causes zombification. This clearly demonstrates the author's interest in disease vectors and pathogens and she has done her homework. More importantly, she manages to explain what is happening without lapsing into jargon, so rather than causing the reader's eyes to glaze over, the reader comes away with an understanding of how disease, not just zombification but in the real world, spreads.
Feed has some issues in that the super-high-security touted throughout the novel appears to disappear due to the exigencies of the plot and it isn't entirely clear how society can continue to function when the world is subdivided and as untrusting of outsiders and depicted in the novel. However, the characters Grant has created are real and engaging, pulling the reader into their post-apocalyptic world, and the mystery she introduces, and only partially resolves, is complex enough that the reader will want to continue despite the novels lapses.
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