Book 62: Feed by Mira Grant, isbn 9780316081054, 599 pages, Orbit, $9.99
I have to admit up front that I only picked up FEED because it was the October entry in the online book club run by calico_reaction and I always read as much horror as I can in the month of October anyway. I also have to admit that really, I'm not a zombie fiction fan. For me, zombies work great on the screen (I love the original Romero trilogy as well as 28 Days/Weeks Later) but don't seem to have the same hold over me in print. So I was skeptical that I'd really get anything out of this book other than a chance to say "I told you so" and an addition to my year's total page-count.
Thankfully, I can say my skepticism was wrong. While I don't think FEED is anywhere near a perfect book, I can say that overall it worked for me: the characters clicked and a couple of the action sequences got my heart racing a bit.
In 2014, super-cures for cancer and the common cold are released to the air, and combine to create Kellis-Amberlee, the virus that brings the recently dead back to life with an insatiable hunger. Twenty years later, people live in rigidly-defined hazard zones based on the likelihood of encounter with Infected (humans or other mammals). Society hangs in there under a constant cloud of fear, and faith in traditional news media is low. Twenty years after the Uprising, more people trust Bloggers in the world of FEED, and two of the most well-regarded bloggers are "Newsie" (hard-news reporter) Georgia Mason and "Irwin" (adventure-based reporter) Shaun Mason, a brother-and-sister team aided by their technical support and fiction-writing third partner "Buffy" Messionier. The team is tapped by Senator Peter Ryman to accompany his Presidential Campaign, from before the party primaries all the way up to Election Day if they go that far. Georgia, Shaun, Buffy and new team member Rick discover they are on to the biggest story of their careers, and it's bigger than just following a candidate around.
The book starts off a bit rocky, in my opinion, with a lot of the world-building info repeated almost ad nauseum not just from chapter to chapter but occasionally from page to page. Most of the first section of the book (which is divided up into five distinct sections) feels like an info-dump. While it establishes the characters of Georgia, Shaun and Buffy very clearly, it also repeats so much information over and over again that you begin to wonder if Georgia, who narrates, is the reporter she's built up to be. But if you can get past the first hundred pages, the narrative kicks in and the characters spend a lot less time repeating themselves. The baseline information about the world they live in has been driven home through repetition and the story can begin to move. The book gets good when it stops re-explaining how people get infected and what's been done to protect the populace and starts getting into what the book is really about: political machinations and the use of fear as a means of controlling the populace. Georgia and the team get an up-close-and-personal look at the political side of terrorism as well. The action sequences also get stronger, more pulse-racing, as the book goes along; it's almost like Grant knowingly saves her best action-prose for the end, although the fight in Eakly occurs relatively early in the book and contains at least one very tense moment.
To say too much more about the twists the book takes would be to spoil it for anyone who has not read it yet. I can say a few things. The encounters between Team Mason and the zombies start out almost mundane (see how silly we are, poking zombies with sticks to get higher ratings for our blog) and grow deadly serious (a multi-car-wreck has lasting effects on the team) right up to the very last pages. I was pretty sure I had tagged who was behind the terrorism early on, and I'm sure most astute readers will manage to figure it out too. But sometimes, knowing who the "big bad" is and knowing how events will reveal that "big bad" to the characters are two very different things, and the direction the reveal took very definitely surprised me. Each chapter ends, and each of the five sections begins, with quotes from the blogs of Georgia, Shaun, Buffy and Rick; flipping back through the book after I'd reached the end, I was not surprised to find that most of them gained a "you should have seen that coming, gentle reader" tone in hind-sight. If I have any complaint about those quoted passages, it is that they don't seem to have unique voices. For all the characters talk about how Newsies, Irwins and Fictionals approach the news with distinct voices, there wasn't anything particularly individual about the posts of Georgia, Shaun and Rick (Buffy is set apart because she's writing poetry about the events around them, not non-fiction reportage).
I can also say (and I doubt anyone would be surprised) that FEED is the first of a trilogy. I'm not sure how quickly I'll rush out to pick up book two, DEADLINE. I think FEED stands well enough on its own that I don't necessarily feel the need to see the story continued; I guess my decision will rest solely on how much I miss the surviving members of Team Mason by the time the new book hits the stands.