I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.
So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it doesn’t look good on the bookshelf next to the standard trade and mass market paperbacks. Then Feed turned up on the list of Hugo nominees; and at about the same time, I learned that Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire (who has become one of my favorite writers for her October Daye urban fantasy series) are the same person. Okay, I thought, one more zombie novel. If I don’t like it, I won’t have to read the others in the series.
The first chapter was not encouraging. Georgia, the first-person narrator more commonly known as “George,” is watching from a safe distance as her brother Shaun pokes a zombie with a stick. George isn’t pleased, and becomes less so when a pack of zombies descends on the two of them. They manage a hair-raising escape, seeming to promise that this book will be a tale of insane risk-taking followed by action-packed escape sequences. It would take almost nothing to turn that chapter into the opening scene of a screenplay for a bad movie. I nearly quit reading then and there.
I’m glad I didn’t, because Feed swiftly ascends from this unpromising opening into an excellent tale of life in a post-apocalyptic United States. There is a scientific explanation for zombies, clearly thought out and explained, and integral to the plot. Georgia and Shaun are reporters in this new world, one in which traditional newspapers and news magazines have been largely supplanted by blogs like theirs. These blogs have all of the advantages of the old print media, with reporters spread throughout the world. The technology enables a staff to be close-knit yet widely separated geographically, so Georgia and Shaun have one critical member in India, for instance — someone with whom they communicate daily, and who is essentially second in command to Georgia, but whom neither of them has met in person.
Georgia and Shaun see an opportunity for their blog to rise to the top of the heap when a Republican candidate for president chooses them to follow his campaign. The candidate they are shadowing is the first to include bloggers among his entourage, and all of them are feeling their way into this relationship. But events conspire to bring them closer than reporter and candidate normally are; and yet Georgia and Shaun are so imbued with journalistic ethics that they retain their political skepticism even while losing their emotional distance. That their first loyalty is to the truth becomes highly critical as time goes on.
There is so much wonderful detail about life with zombies: frequent blood tests, for instance, to make sure that an individual is not infected with the virus that converts one to a zombie before one is allowed to enter a public, or even a private, space; the arming of the nation out of dire necessity; the status of large animals in a world where the zombie virus can infect them, too; the uneasiness of people meeting in large groups. Grant does some first-rate worldbuilding. The amount of research that has to have gone into this book is amazing: politics, journalism, medicine, weapons, computer technology, epidemiology, all the way down to railroad trestles, this book is loaded with information. Yet Grant never makes the reader feel that she is dumping all the information she has on a subject just because she did the research; everything she writes is necessary to her plot, and it all fits together like the most intricate and exacting of puzzles.
Where Grant really shines, though, is in her characters. George becomes a very real person to the reader: a friend; a confidant; a strong woman who knows her own mind, who has risen to the top of her profession through lots of hard work and difficult honesty; a woman faithful to her brother, her friends and her coworkers, but willing and able to shoot them dead should they become infected with the virus. She refuses to be a victim of the world as she finds it, but confronts it head on. She is the kind of woman anyone would like to have at her back in bad times. She is not without her faults, her inability to connect deeply with anyone except her brother chief among them. She is a complete person, and one with whom the reader can easily and happily spend 500 pages.
Feed is compulsively readable and emotionally compelling. I became so involved in the book that at one point I was forced to set it down while I cried at the events George narrates. I want to meet these characters, and I want more than just about anything right now to know what happens next.