May 12th, 2010

Mortal wound

Alive or Dead, the Truth Won't Rest

In fall of 2008, I had the privilege of reading a book my friend Seanan had written, a zombie political thriller then called Newsflesh. It was the first thing of hers I had read; she was a very prolific author and I had not taken the time to read the chapters of the book I'd been receiving for months. I was very afraid. We had been friends for several years. What if I didn't think she was a good writer? That would be awkward. But the book sounded cool, even though I had never read an entire book as a Word file before. So I read it.

It blew me away.

(Confession: I just lied to you. That was the second book of hers I read as a Word file. The first book was good and I enjoyed it. So I knew she could write. I read this book. Then I couldn't believe I knew someone who could write like that.)

I have been waiting since then for the rest of the world to be able to discover how fucking good this book is, and now it can. You can hold in your hot little hands Feed, by Mira Grant, the first book in the Newsflesh Trilogy. seanan_mcguire describes it as Transmetropolitan meets The West Wing meets Night of the Living Dead, and I think that's a perfect description.

In 2014, the cure for cancer and the cure for the common cold made sweet viral love and infected the entire human race. Since the Rising, everyone who dies becomes a zombie. The good news: we survived. The bad news: so did they. Now, in 2039, society has rebuilt itself to accomodate the constant zombie threat. Blood tests are routine security checks to make sure someone isn't about to undergo viral amplification and start eating people. Most laws support a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy. Various areas of the world are considered uninhabitable hazard zones. Like, say, Alaska.

One consequence of the zombie apocalypse is the rise in prominence of bloggers, who—because of their ability to spread information quickly during outbreaks—saved countless lives and now share a status on par with journalists, receiving the same credentials and access they're granted. Our heroes are a team of intrepid bloggers—Georgia Mason, Shaun Mason, and Buffy Meissonier—chosen to follow the presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman. Soon enough, however, people start dying, and they find that they have as much, if not more, to fear from the living as they do the undead.

For a zombie book—and I know there are a lot of zombie books and you are tired of zombie books—there is surprisingly little hardcore zombie action. I would say only ten to fifteen percent of the book actually features onscreen zombies. The book is more about what a post-zombie apocalypse world would be like. How does society change? Customs, traditions, fashion, politics, journalism, entertainment? The worldbuilding is meticulously thought out, and the virology has been researched extensively. It's more science fiction than horror. With a conspiracy, because everyone loves a good conspiracy. A zombie conspiracy! There are more than a few "Oh, shiiiiit" moments.

Georgia, like Toby Daye, is a prickly heroine, but Feed is very different from the Toby books. Georgia and Toby have different glasses of water. Georgia, like Spider Jerusalem, prizes the Truth above all else and, just like in Transmetropolitan, the frequent call to arms can seem a bit overdramatic, as can the sentiments about the perils and virtues of journalism. But, hey, this is a goddamn thriller, and it's allowed to lay it on thick when the stakes are high. This is the kind of book that makes e-mail exciting. Another criticism I'm willing to give the thriller pass to is that the characters are more black and white than the grey characters in the noir world of Toby Daye. While they feel real enough, I think they could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Thing is, though, I haven't even scratched the surface of all that is good and awesome about this book—and, I predict, the next two, which I anxiously await. As soon as I began reading the physical book, over a year after having read it on my computer, I was reminded of why I had loved it. It's so goddamn well written. It's very hard to put down, and it literally made my heart race at points, the tension was so high. And sometimes I almost got teary. It's that good. And you know who agrees with me? John Rogers, showrunner of Leverage. "Wow, Mira Grant's FEED is pretty damn great," he said on Twitter. And then when he finished, this was his (vaguely spoilery) reaction.

I honestly think this book deserves to be absurdly popular, and I maintain that it has the potential to be a mainstream hit. It even has a cool website where you can read the first chapter and learn more about the post-Rising world. Alive or dead, the truth won't rest. Rise up while you can.