This week we’re looking at the 2011 Hugo Nominees for Best Novel. You’ll be able to find all the posts in this ongoing series here.
Feed by Mira Grant (Hugo nominee for Best Novel 2011) can pretty much be summed up in three words: Politics, journalism, and zombies. In that order. The story revolves around sibling journalists Georgia and Shawn Mason who are leaders among the burgeoning bloggers-as-legitimate-reporters phenomenon that sprang up the wake of The Rising, aka the zombie apocalypse. They land a coveted position reporting on the campaign trail with Presidential hopeful Senator Ryman.
Lets talk about the good, or in this case the phenomenal. The worldbuilding along is worth the Hugo nomination. I was hoping for a complex and plausible zombie apocalypse and I got that and more. The details about the origin of the zombie virus known as Kellis-Amberlee, or the KA virus, are insane (like Michael Crichton insane). Half the time it felt like I was reading about a real event because the details were so precise and exhaustive. The science behind the virus is frighteningly realistic as are the motivations behind the scientist who originally set out to cure the common cold, the activist group who stole it and released it to the public, and the research organization who were curing cancer (turns out we can eradicate cancer and colds but with one tiny side effect: zombies).
In the twenty-five years that followed the zombie outbreak (in the Feed timeline, we’re not due for zombies until 2014), the world has been significantly altered. Safety protocols and laws have been enacted in every single level of society. Most people don’t bother to leave their homes, preferring instead to interact with the world online. Vegetarianism has been universally adopted since no steak is worth the risk of eating infected meat. People don’t argue so much about capital punishment anymore, instead other issues come to prominence, like whether or not all animals large enough (40 lbs and above) to become infected by the KA virus should be exterminated or not.
The change that has the biggest impact on the story is the rise of the blogger. When the dead first began to rise, traditional media outlets initially dismissed it as a hoax. Bloggers were the ones to first report on what was really happening and were the first to get life-saving information into the hands of the general public. Practically overnight, bloggers became not just legitimate and reputable, but heroes in their own right.
Here’s where we cross into the not so good, at least from my perspective. Feed, despite its fantastic post zombie apocalyptic setting isn’t really about zombies. It’s a backdrop mostly, a very cool, very detailed backdrop, but a backdrop nonetheless. The real story is the presidential campaign. I personally don’t enjoy watching CNN for kicks, but if you do, than you’ll probably love this book. And I say CNN as opposed to the FOX News Channel because the politics in Feed are most definitely of the left wing persuasion. There are several lengthy passages that conservatives will likely find insulting, and that doesn’t even include the cartoonishly evil General Tate.
Slight spoiler ahead. When we first meet the villain, I immediately dismissed him as a potential “bad guy” because he was a walking, talking cliché. He’s depicted as a right wing nutcase, a religious fanatic, and a gun enthusiast. I kept expecting to walk in on him clubbing gay baby seals to death with Rush Limbaugh mugs. Seriously, this is the villain? Come on. Since when is painfully predictable ever fun? I was really hoping for a twist that would reveal the villain to be someone we never expected, but no. End of spoiler.
At over 600 pages, it gets a bit boring being on the ol’ campaign trail after the first 200. George and Shawn are interesting enough characters and their relationship is one of the highlights of Feed, and of course the zombie Rising and the world it created are amazing, but frankly the setting deserved more than the ho-hum political thriller plot that occurs.
So why the Hugo nomination for Best Novel? The post zombie apocalypse world in Feed is superb. The details, history, and reprucussions are real enough to give you chills—both the good kind and the bad. And beyond that, the story and the future it imagines is unique with a capital U. I could read a hundred zombie books and not find one that blends this level of realism, humor, and perspective half so well. But for me, that’s what makes the book—with its bait and switch shifted focus, an unimaginative villain, and a plot that staggered for most of the Feed—so much harder to swallow.
I’m just getting into Grant’s other series (written under the name Seanan McGuire), the October Daye series, which, if the first book is any indication, is a gritty and glorious true urban fantasy series. But I’m going to pass on the future books in the Newsflesh Trilogy and get my zombie fix elsewhere. I’ve had my fill of Feed.
Abigail Johnson manages the Tor.com Urban Fantasy Facebook and Twitter when she’s not busy stockpiling weapons, canned goods, and mapping out which of her neighbors houses to raid first when the zombie apocalypse begins.