Monday, July 11, 2011

"Feed" by Mira Grant

One of the things I love about zombie stories is that there are so many different angles from which to discuss humanity's reaction to the undead.  Grant's Feed capitalizes on this; Feed discusses the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, but the novel takes place long enough after the initial outbreak (about twenty-five years) that human society is no longer solely in the midst of a crisis.  In this world, the zombies are not eradicated (and never will be), but the people are largely protected.  Life has irrevocably changed since the outbreak, but life also continues with normal routines--like an upcoming presidential election.

Specifically, Feed focuses on three bloggers: siblings Georgia (who covers the news) and Shaun (an "Erwin" who chases thrills) and a girl named Buffy, writer of fiction stories and resident tech-guru.  These three are chosen by Senator Ryman, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, to join his press corp and follow him on the campaign trail.  As young people who grew up in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, Georgia and Shaun especially feel suspicious of traditional news sources and view Ryman's choice in selecting them as his recognition of the power of new media.

Georgia, the novel's primary narrator, has two main priorities in life: the news (the Truth) and her brother Shaun.  Georgia and Shaun are not blood-related, but were both adopted after the zombie outbreak by their blogger parents.  Georgia clearly indicates that their parents adopted them only as a publicity tool, which she resents, but the issue is never explored much.  Georgia and Shaun have an unusually close relationship themselves and a complete absence of any romantic relationships, which seems a little odd as well.  Although it's clear Georgia and Shaun are completely devoted to one another, their interactions are often overshadowed by groan-worthy "repartee" and sarcastic remarks about Shaun being "suicidal."

Perhaps what's most surprising about the book is that so little of it is focused on zombies, or at least current zombie attacks.  Much of the novel is focused on politics and the mundanity of the campaign trail.  This is both a positive and a negative.  On the positive, there's a lot of fascinating questions that come from a world whose norm includes zombies.  In Grant's version of the zombie apocalypse, new zombies are created not just by being bitten by the infected, but also through death of any sort (there's a great scientific/medical explanation that I won't go in to).  Infection can be carried by any animal over forty pounds. What implication does this have on the health system? On capital punishment? On the keeping of large pets? Livestock?  These issues are addressed largely peripherally, and I would have liked to hear more. Grant also does a great job of creating a world built around protection from zombies, such as the ubiquitous blood testing and the severe restrictions on travel. 

In focusing very little on actual zombies, Grant has lots of room for description.  Lengthy and repetitive description, which can drain the story.  While the intricacies and frequency of blood testing is interesting, way too much of the novel is focused on describing each and every test the characters take.  Even ordinary events are subject to over-exposition.  A handshake reads (I'm making this up, but something similar does occur): "I raised my hand and took his hand in mine.  We shook and I returned my hand to my side."  Couldn't you just say "We shook hands"?

Furthermore, Feed also suffers from an obvious and cartoonish villain and a Scooby-Doo like confession (complete with the "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you darn kids!").

Grant's worked in some fascinating observations about humanity's reaction to catastrophe, and in the end, what Grant seems to suggest is that regardless of the crises that plague humankind, humans' greatest enemy will always be one another.  Though Feed suffers from trite dialogue, slow pacing, and occasional over-earnestness, I'd still consider it a worthwhile addition to the genre.  Plus, the audiobook version kept my husband and I entertained through 16 hours of driving!

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