I don’t cry, not usually. Not for fictional characters. I can count on one hand the characters I might have cried over, half of them I can’t remember either way. I definitely shed a tear at the end of Odd Thomas–still do, for that matter, every time I read it. Back in early High School I remember crying at the end of A Walk To Remember, not for the girl, but for the guy who has to live on without her.* I may have cried for Anakin Solo when he died at the end of Star By Star, but I don’t remember. I usually cite him as one of my favorite dead characters, so it’s not impossible. Likewise when Mara Jade Skywalker fell. Again, I don’t remember. Last night, however, as I finished the last hundred pages of Feed, tears definitely flowed. I also don’t typically binge on a series, trying to spread them out with other books between. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so tempted to chuck my no-binging policy and find the next book….If the library was open on Sundays I might have succumbed. Alas, it is not, and my record is safe. In these reviews, I usually tell you, the reader, that I enjoyed this particular book and why. I usually leave any imperative to follow in my footsteps unstated. Not this time. This time, I’m telling you to put down the computer and head to your local library and check out this book. They don’t have it? Request it! Their selection will be improved by its addition.
In the world Ms. Grant creates in Feed, the zombies arose in 2014, the product of a well-tested cure for cancer and a not-so-tested cure for the common cold joining forces. Unlike most apocalyptic visions of the future, humanity survived with our society intact, if weathered. The world we see in 2040 is very much ours, with believable differences. Ms. Grant also manages to make the plague sustainable–the virus is in everyone in a passive state, just waiting to be activated by a zombie bite or the subject’s death. That’s right: in this world, you die, you rise. It’s that simple. There are bloodtests everywhere making sure nobody with an active infection can access your house, and the CDC is now a military force in their own right. Bloggers are now the main source of news for most people, a side effect of being the only people to report the truth when the dead started walking. Much of the nation has returned to their Christian faith in desperation, and we have sacrificed every freedom that was asked of us in the name of protection from the walking dead. You find this world less than believable? Go look at how we reacted after 9/11. I sadly find it all too believable.
Georgia and Shaun Mason are brother and sister, two of the three headliners for the blog team After The End Times. Georgia heads up the Newsies, the serious news side of the site. Shaun is in charge of the Irwins, those crazy folks who go out and court danger for your education and entertainment. The third part of their triple-threat is Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier, (“I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world full of zombies. What do you think I should call myself?”) tech wizard and head of the Fictionals who offer you your escape from cold, hard, zombie-infested reality now and then. The Masons and Buffy have just been given the chance of a lifetime–they have been selected from hundreds of other applicants to be the personal press corps for Presidential hopeful Peter Ryman. They will join his campaign and follow it from day one all the way to the steps of the White House, assuming he makes it that far. This is the make-or-break moment for all of their careers, but it is also far more important than that. Someone is determined to make sure Senator Ryman never reaches the White House, and they are willing to kill to make sure their ends are met. Whoever this is has no scruples, stooping to using the zombie virus itself in their campaign of destruction–an act of terrorism viewed with the same horror we reserve for attempting to fly an airliner into a building full of innocents. There is a conspiracy here, dedicated to hiding the truth. And the one thing that matters to Georgia Mason as much as her brother does is the truth….
My personal opinion? This was the best book I’ve read in quite a while. This book would at first glance appear to be just another zombie novel, a genre that is populated with too much dross and too few gems. On a second look, it’s a political thriller with a unique twist, i.e. being set after the Rising. Inventive, but still only of interest to folks with an interest in those genres. I’m here to tell you that you should read it anyway. It really is that good. It took second place for the Hugo Award in 2011, and I honestly am a little disappointed as I sit here that it didn’t win. The book that beat it out had to be pretty special….I should look into that.
Some reviewers have criticized Ms. Grant for having “stock” characters. With a couple of caveats, I can’t particularly argue. First, I would clarify that there is a difference between “stock” and “cardboard” or “one-dimensional.” Stock characters are recognizable archetypes you find throughout countless works, and they’re stock characters for a reason. Do a lot of them have twists to differentiate them from every other (to choose Rick Cousins as an example) “reporter with a tragedy in his past who is running from it and trying to bury himself in his work?” Not really, but that’s not the point. I don’t believe it detracts from the quality of the work. Secondly, I would also say that I didn’t find the main characters (Shaun, Georgia, maybe Buffy) to be stock characters at all. I thought they were well-rounded and original, and I empathized with them fully. Even when I realized [CHARACTER NAME(S) DELETED] was/were doomed well before his/her/their death, it didn’t decrease the impact of the blow. Especially experiencing the event through the eyes of the survivors and seeing their pain. As I mentioned, I cried for [CHARACTER NAME DELETED.] I’m not particularly ashamed of that, either. It takes a d*** good writer to get me to empathize that much with a character, and I think Ms. Grant deserves credit for her expert manipulation of my emotions.
As with nearly any novel that touches on political or religious issues and comes from a mainline press, the author and I don’t see eye to eye. I’m a Christian, and I have to say that Christians don’t come off well in this story. On the other hand, Ms. Grant’s premise here–that the Rising would prompt a fear-based resurgence in religious fervor–is probably accurate, and those conditions are not conducive to positive depictions. Revival based on fear isn’t sustainable, and faith based on fear isn’t healing. The fact is that anyone can claim to be a Christian, but a number of the characters herein that represent that group don’t do so very well. Are there idiots out there like Governor Tate? Yes. Yes there are. But I would argue that they are poor specimens of Christianity. Politically, Ms. Grant’s views would seem to fall moderate-liberal, while mine are firmly conservative, but I am pleased to say that Ms. Grant isn’t a jerk about it. Always a pleasure to “meet” a member of the opposition with whom you can be friendly.
CONTENT: R-rated profanity, present but not gratuitous. Zombie violence, sometimes very gory, and sometimes involving characters you’ve grown very close to. Mild sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit.
*What? They held a gradebook to my head. Plus, I’m a hopeless romantic under this gruff exterior. Get over it.