Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hugos 2011: Feed, by Mira Grant

So. Zombies.

Look, I love a good zombie movie. But honestly, they interest me in novels and short stories just about as much as vampires do. Which is to say generally not much, although I'm willing to make the occasional exception. Usually those exceptions are reserved for authors I already like, or a premise that seems genuinely different.

Mira Grant's* Feed definitely falls into the latter category. For a start, it isn't your standard zombie apocalypse novel -- it takes place decades after the Kellis-Amberlee virus caused the first zombie outbreak. And it didn't lead to the end of the world; American society goes on, albeit locked behind layers of security and in a perpetual state of fear.

And the main characters are bloggers. The first bloggers ever to officially follow a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. It's kind of like The West Wing with zombies. And a Republican instead of a Democrat, and bloggers instead of the President's staff, and… yeah, really nothing like The West Wing.  But American politics is kind of fascinating to me, and so it's a great hook to drag me into the story. Grant's premise is good.

And so is her execution (heh). The book is very, very readable. Grant writes well. I don't mean that I revelled in the beautiful way she rubbed words against each other. Rather, I think this book is an excellent example of invisible prose -- the words fly by as if you're hardly reading them, leaving you to race along with the plot (and with the entertainingly caustic narrator, the 'Newsie' Georgia Mason).

The plot itself is, I suppose, a fairly conventional conspiracy thriller. I find that sort of thing very readable, in much the same way as I find procedural cop shows on television very watchable. I didn't think it was a particularly surprising conspiracy -- it was fairly obvious who the bad guys were -- but that's okay when the execution is so good. I may not have been surprised, but I will say that I cared when bad things happened to the bloggers (and bad things certainly did happen to them).

The zombies, and the world that the survivors live in, are a fairly obvious metaphor for the War on Terror and modern-day, fear-ridden America. I'm not going to say much about that -- it's there, it's not unexpected, it's not particularly ground-breaking, but it also isn't hammered to the point of irritation.

I do think the book is too long. The edition that I'm reading is 570 pages. It didn't ever lose me, but the thriller-shaped plot seems much better suited to something about half the length. The book is paced to keep you flipping the pages, and fortunately I had enough free time to consume it quite quickly. If I'd been forced to read it slower, it might have suffered. The danger of a reduced length, though, is that it might have come at the expense of the world building, and that's what initially drew me in.

As is often the case when I sit down to attempt a review, I feel like I'm focussing on the negatives at the expense of the positives. I would never have picked this book up were it not for the Hugo nomination, but I'm glad that I did. It was an enjoyable read from start to finish, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I cared about the characters when it all reached crisis point. Would I recommend it to everyone I met? Nope. But I would recommend it to anyone who liked zombies and at least one of politics, political journalism, or thrillers.

There's a sequel -- Deadline -- due out in the UK in a few weeks. I honestly can't tell you if I'll ever read it, but if somebody handed it to me I probably wouldn't have any objections.

* Mira Grant is a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, winner of last year's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer**. It feels weird talking about Grant like she is a real person.

** Not a Hugo.

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