Today's book review is Feed by Mira Grant. (Mira Grant is the officially non-secret pseudonym of Seanan McGuire.)
This is the first book of a trilogy; it ends with a moderately important step of the plot, at what is probably the most reader-friendly place the first book could end, but the larger story is compelling enough that there is some cliffhanger feel.
This is a zombie book. Well, to be a little more specific, it's a suspense/thriller book that takes place in a world that has zombies; the zombies aren't the point of the plot, but they're a very big part of the world and a lot of the action involves fighting zombies.
I'm really not into zombies. I think some of the humorous takes on them in popular culture are very funny indeed, but I don't think zombies are inherently funny. I also don't think they're inherently cool, or awesome, or attractive; they're just nasty. So, why did I read a book that I knew features zombies so prominently? One simple reason -- I love the author's other writing so much that I thought that she could write a zombie book and I'd like it.
And I was right. Right from the opening scene, Grant's light, breezy style, feeling very much like the blog entries that had me hooked on her writing long before she came to the attention of the book business, had me laughing in the right places and totally engaged. This book did some real damage to my sleep schedule because I couldn't put it down. It hit me with a plot twist that really shook me, and I'm in a quandary because I can't even begin to call this a review without talking about it, but it's such a massive spoiler that even hinting at it is just out of the question.
On one level, this is a nearly mindless high-speed romp through a world derived from a premise so silly that it is not enough to suspend your disbelief, you must actually expel it. On another level, it's a spot on, scathing commentary on the society we live in today, with a clear message that a lot of people need to hear. I could quibble about a lot of things that don't seem to be quite right, but they're just quibbles; the story works.
9 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
In 2014, an engineered virus that cures the common cold meets another engineered virus that cures cancer, and the two of them combine to form an infinitely virulent super-pathogen that infects everyone, which in some weird way exists in two states. The quiescent state, that infects everyone, means nobody gets colds or cancer, but in the activated state, you drop dead in an hour or so and then get up and shamble around with a craving for flesh. The activated state is highly contagious, any exposure to the bodily fluids of a zombie and you're toast, and just being in the area where they've been is dangerous. Somehow, this only killed a third of the world's population in 2014. (This is probably my biggest quibble: as deadly as Kellis-Amberlee is described as being, I can't understand how two thirds of the world could have survived.) The mainstream media tried to hush it up, but bloggers told the world what was really happening fast enough that we survived. Skip ahead to 2039, where almost everyone spends their time locked up in institutionalized terror. You can't go anywhere without taking high-tech instant blood tests to prove you're not infected. Our heroes are an intrepid team of bloggers, an industry that's a little bit more organized, licensed, and managed than it is today, but that retains its fierce attitude of independence. They get their big break when they're invited to embed with the presidential campaign of Wisconsin Senator Peter Ryman. Our three main characters are Shaun Mason, whose blog sensationalizes the adventure of surviving and dealing with zombies, making him an "Irwin", his brother Georgia Mason, who just reports the facts as she can find them, a "Newsie", and Buffy Meissonier, who wears two hats, the super-hero level tech and computer security wizard, and the blogger who writes poetry about events (a "Fictional"). Getting the exclusive to cover the campaign is a huge break, and the three bloggers break from the site the currently work for and go independent. They meet the candidate and decide that he's either the most decent person to go into politics since Abraham Lincoln, or an incredibly good fake. Things start to get exciting when there is a zombie outbreak at a campaign event, and our heroes discover that the alarms that failed to go off, allowing the zombies to catch people unaware, had been sabotaged. The campaign rolls along, though. The rival candidate who is a bimbo drops out, and her tame Newsie Rick jumps ship and joins the heroes' team. As Ryman is giving his acceptance speech for the nomination, there is a zombie outbreak at his ranch (where he persists in raising horses, despite the fact that any animals above 40 lbs. can turn into zombies) and his oldest daughter and his wife's parents are killed. Shaun and Georgia investigate the scene and find a syringe full of the activated virus in the stall of the horse where the outbreak started. They also find a cat that somehow survived the decontamination, who is touchingly adopted by Rick. Ryman accepts David Tate as his running mate, despite the fact that Tate is a religious fanatic who thinks that the continuing zombie menace is God's punishment for America not being religious enough. The bloggers are driving cross country with their equipment when they are ambushed by a sniper who shoots the tires out of their vehicles. Buffy's boyfriend is killed, reanimates, and bites Buffy. Before Buffy dies she confesses that she had been providing secret information to Ryman's enemies -- but she hadn't thought it would mean anyone getting killed, just in Ryman being embarrassed into losing the election. The CDC arrives and the next thing Shaun and Georgia know, they're waking up in an isolation ward. Because, apparently, someone reported them dead after the wrecks, before they could call in. If Ryman hadn't used his influence, they'd have been assumed to be zombies and shot. Several weeks (troublingly -- things should be happening faster at this point) pass, and the bloggers' affiliates find the proof they've been hunting for, evidence of a conspiracy and of Tate's guilt) pass, and Georgia arranges to confront Ryman at a big political event. Ryman isn't willing to listen right then, and kicks them out. They go back to their trailers, where first Rick discovers that his cat has been killed, then some things blow up, and then Georgia gets shot with a zombie juice dart. This is the big shock -- the heroine, the primary viewpoint character, dies. Attached to her final blog post is the evidence. Then Shaun and Steve, the head of security, go back to confront Tate, who tries to hold Ryman's wife hostage with a syringe, and then, seeing that he's fucked, declares himself a martyr and stabs himself with the syringe. Shaun fills him with enough lead that he can't rise. The book ends with Georgia's funeral, attended by Ryman, presumably president to be, and his new running mate, Rick.