Monday, November 15, 2010

Feed

Normally you're supposed to finish a book before you write a review of it. Well, I've just started to read Mira Grant's (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire) "Feed", and I'm only up to chapter 4. It's a zombie book. I hate zombie books. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. More like I try to avoid them.

As I said I avoid zombie novels. It's fairly trivial to do so; I spot books with dark colored covers combined with garishly drawn zombies and/or zombie killer illustrations, and just automatically steer clear of them. But "Feed" is different. "Feed"'s cover is a dirty white, with the RSS feed symbol at the top, drawn in blood (well, printed to look like it's drawn in blood). That's what caught my attention, and then kept it. It didn't come across as your typical zombie book. The front cover alone got me curious enough to pick up the book and start reading the back cover.

There wasn't much information there, and I would have put the book back and continued on down the isle, except I couldn't ignore that bloody RSS feed symbol on the front cover. So I opened up to the first chapter and started reading the first paragraph.
Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot - in this case, my brother Shaun - deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.
I actually know of a few people in real life who, if they came across an actual zombie, would do something that stupid. What could I do? I had find out what happened to idiot Shaun. So I bought the book and brought it home, and started to read more of it in little bits and pieces over the weekend.

So far the book is pretty decent. Yes, it's a zombie book, but with some interesting twists; it has a lot more science to balance the horror, and the science seems a lot more plausible, contributing to what many in the science fiction field refer to as a "willing suspension of disbelief". Mira Grant weaves references to a lot of earlier zombie literature into the story; for example, the lead character, Georgia Carolyn Mason, is called "George" for short, after George Romero. And so it goes.

The book is centered around the lives of twenty-somethings living in a post apocalyptic zombie world. And they're bloggers. You find out why they're bloggers and why blogging Is So Important by the end of chapter 3. And it's a pretty plausible reason. In fact, this book's tone, character development, and pacing remind me of Cory Doctorow's novel "Little Brother". And if you haven't read that bit of horror/science fiction, they you should stop right now and read it.

By the end of chapter 3 you get a lot of information about why things are the way they are. I'm going to quote a good chunk of that section of the chapter (and hope I don't run afoul of the copyright police).
My profession owes a lot to Dr. Alexander Kellis, inventor of the misnamed "Kellis flu," and Amanda Amberlee, the first individual successfully infected with the modified filovirus that researchers dubbed "Marburg Amberlee." Before them, blogging was something people thought should be done by bored teenagers talking about how depressed they were. Some folks used it to report on politics and the news, but that application was widely viewed as reserved for conspiracy nuts and people who opinions were too vitriolic for the mainstream. The blogosphere wasn't threatening the traditional news, not even as it started having a real place on the world stage. They thought of us as "quaint." Then the zombies came, and everything changed.

The "real" media was bound by rules and regulations, while the bloggers were bound by nothing more than the speed of their typing. We were the first to report that people who'd been pronounced dead were getting up noshing on their relatives. We were the ones who stood up and said "yes, there are zombies, and yes, they're killing people" while the rest of the world was still buzzing about the amazing act of ecoterrorism that released a half-tested "cure for the common cold" into the atmosphere. We were giving tips on self-defense when everybody else was barely beginning to admit that there might be a problem.

The early network reports are preserved online, over the protests of the media conglomerates. They sue form time to time and get the reports taken down, but someone puts them up again. We're never going to forget how badly we were betrayed. People died in the streets while news anchors made jokes about people taking their zombie movies too seriously and showed footage they claimed depicted teenagers "horsing around" in latex and bad stage makeup. According to the time stamps on those reports, the first one aired the day Dr. Matras from the CDC violated national security to post details on the infection on his eleven-year-old daughter's blog. Twenty-five years after the fact his words - simple, bleak, and unforgiving against the background of happy teddy bears - still send shivers down my spine. There was a war on, and the ones whose responsibility it was to inform us wouldn't even admit that we were fighting it.

But some people knew and screamed everything they understood across the Internet. Yes, the dead were rising, said the bloggers; yes, they were attacking people; yes, it was a virus; and yes, there was a chance we might lose because by the time we understood what was going on, the whole damn world was infected. The moment Dr. Kellis's cure hit the air, we had no choice but to fight...

Things were different when the dust cleared. Some people might find it petty to say "especially where the news is concerned," but if you aske me, that's where the real change happened. People didn't trust regulated news anymore. They were confused, and scared, and they turned to the bloggers, who might be unfiltered and full of shit, but were fast, prolific, and allowed you to triangulate on the truth. Get your news form six or nine sources and you can usually tell the bullshit from the reality. If that's too much work, you can find a blogger who does your triangulation for you. You don't have to worry about another zombie invasion going unreported because someone, somewhere, is putting it online...

We're the all-purpose opiate of the new millennium; We report the news, we make the news, and we give you a way to escape when the news becomes too much to handle.
It's kind of funny reading this. There's an interesting undertone of paranoia, mixed with today's fear of terrorism, and a different type of terrorism from DMCA-style hijinks's. And if you pay attention, you'll notice that the world hasn't gone totally to hell in a hand basket. There are zombie-free zones, and places where folks actually carry on with life.

I don't know why, but the style of writing reminds me a bit of "Zombieland". And maybe a little of "Shaun of the Dead." The only two zombie movies that are worth the time to watch.

Buy "Feed" and read it (but go read "Little Brother" first, because it's free as well as a damn good book). When I'm done I'll write a more complete review.

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