Feed by Mira Grant is one of those books that proves it’s important to step out of your comfort zone once in a while. I’m not a big fan of zombie novels, to put it mildly. Usually I’d steer well clear of anything involving zombies — or vampires, for that matter. I decided to give Feed a chance as part of my attempt to read all the Hugo-nominated novels and shorter works this year. Boy, am I ever glad I did, because it proved to be one of the most captivating and entertaining novels I’ve read all year.
The world is a very different place in 2039, two and a half decades after “The Rising,” in which two seemingly benign viruses somehow mutated and combined to turn a sizable chunk of the population into mindless zombies. For one, the quote-unquote mainstream media did a lousy job reporting on the outbreak as it happened, while the blogosphere took the lead keeping the populace informed on what was happening and how to stay alive. As a result, news blogs have taken over as the most important source of news.
Enter Feed’s protagonists, siblings George (short for Georgia) and Shaun, who are two thirds of a blogging crew that was hand-picked to be embedded in the primary election campaign of a Republican hopeful for the US presidency. As they join the campaign, it quickly becomes clear that there’s something rotten in the state of Zombieland (sorry) when the campaign runs into a series of improbable and deadly mishaps. George and Shaun find themselves on the front line of not only a vicious electoral campaign, but also of a struggle that may define more than just the political landscape of the country…
So why is Feed such a good novel, and why would I recommend it even to people who are usually as allergic to zombies as I am? Well, first of all, it’s incredibly captivating. It’s impossible to put down. There is, to put it simply, not a boring moment in this entire 500+ page novel. I tore through it in one 24 hour period, only taking breaks to eat and sleep. I laughed, I cried, I cheered for the characters. The last time I experienced this amount of can’t-put-it-down-ness was when I read The Name of the Wind for the first time. This may not be the most original or deeply literary novel I’ve read this year, but it’s definitely the most fun one. For sheer entertainment value, Feed scores a solid ten.
Secondly, the characters. George and Shaun, are simply amazingly fun people to read about. They’re good at what they do (i.e. blogging) and they’re borderline obsessed with it. They’re funny and nerdy and affectionate. Their family background set them up for all kinds of psychological scars (their parents are basically the publicity whores of the blogger era), but they bear those scars with grace and no small amount of self-deprecating humor. Their names alone made me grin (George, Georgia and Georgette became popular names after George Romero’s movies inadvertently turned out to be great manuals on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, and Shaun — well, you know. Of the Dead?). I loved these people, and one of the reasons I couldn’t put this book down is simply because I had to find out what was going to happen to them.
Third: the entire conceit of blogs becoming a respectable source of news just tickled me. Raise your hand if you ever found out about an important breaking news story on Twitter or a blog before it hit the mainstream media. I have, several times, and it’s one of the reasons why I found Feed’s scenario so plausible. Mira Grant creates an entire blogger ecology with different roles and scales of magnitude. It all makes sense, and it’s fun to follow a relatively small-time crew as they rise up through the ranks. (Oh, and to those people who complained about the absence of sites like Twitter from the book: I actually think it was a very smart decision to leave out those types of brands. After all, if this book had appeared 20 years ago, people would have complained about the absence of IRC and Usenet, and 15 years ago it would have been ICQ, and 10 years ago Myspace, and so on… It’s already hard enough for an SF novel to avoid feeling dated after a while; including internet brand names is a surefire way to speed up that process.) And while at first I was a bit unhappy about the fact that Mira Grant chose to start sections of the novel with block quotes from the characters’ blogs, because it felt a bit too info-dumpy to me, trust the author to grab the opportunity to twist that feature into one of the most emotionally gripping scenes I’ve read in years. I was moved to tears, and I still get chills thinking back on it. If you haven’t read the book yet, you’ll know the scene when you read it. Trust me. It’s a memorable one.
Fourth, the descriptions of the world a few decades after the zombie apocalypse. Mira Grant offers a realistic look at how things might turn out. From ubiquitous blood tests to almost universal vegetarianism (after all, large animals can spread the disease too), and the ways that very rich people can still circumvent those restrictions and lead a semi-privileged life… it all makes sense, and it’s all presented in a plausible way without resorting to too many infodumps. As odd as it may be to call a futuristic zombie novel realistic, I’d say that Mira Grant did a great job in creating a near future that’s scarily believable.
Did I have any complaints about the novel? Well, yes, one or two. First of all, the origins of the zombie virus are a bit hokey. Sure, we needed zombies for the novel to work, but the explanation of how we ended up with them just feels silly. I would almost have been happier with a magical cause or an alien virus or something. My other main problem was the sheer predictability of one plot element. I saw it coming from miles away, and it was so painfully obvious that I kept hoping the author was setting things up for a clever reversal — “ha, look what I made you think was going to happen!” — only to have my initial fears confirmed because, yes, it ended up being that predictable after all.
Still, Feed is easily one of the most entertaining and captivating novels I’ve read in years. It’s one of those books that grabs you by the throat early on and doesn’t let go until you turn the final page. I know for a fact that there are many people out there who have no interest in reading zombie novels. If you think you’re one of those people, I’m here to tell you: please give Feed a chance. It’s more than worth it.