The year is 2039 and bloggers have taken over the world. Twenty five years ago the Kellis-Amberlee virus went live. Infected humans and animals began reanimating after death–some underwent spontaneous change–to become walking feeding machines. With an appetite for the truth as insatiable as a zombie’s diet, Georgia–George–Mason and her brother, Shaun, have climbed the ranks of news bloggers around the world. Their ratings have everything to gain from their recent invitation to join a senator’s political campaign. Now they’re on the road providing coverage of what’s promising to be the campaign trail for the next President of the United States of America. There’s only one problem: wherever they go, KA begins breaking out, putting the team at risk. Will they survive to see their candidate win the Republican ticket?
Feed is Seanan McGuire’s third published book, but first under the pen name Mira Grant. Fans of her October Daye books will recognize some similarities between the two series. Mainly, these are minor–writers will invariably develop quirks that nuance their writing. Georgia is an independent, no-nonsense workaholic with a license that requires her to carry a gun and a disease that makes it impossible for her to cry. Clearly Grant likes writing strong female protagonists. They lean toward the flinty end of the spectrum and stop just short of growling when not amused.
It might appear at first that the inability to cry is going a bit overboard. It isn’t necessary to literally remove a reaction stereotypically associated with the female gender to show how tough she is, but Georgia makes it clear how frustrating Retinal KA really is. She wants access to that human reaction and is frequently reminded of the deprivation, however much reliant she is on it when the situation requires stoicism. Here is a character fighting against two polarities. Her tears were stolen and without the necessary moisture, she can’t even “tear up” about it. Add to this being adopted by parents making the gesture for the ratings and Georgia’s developed into a very sympathetic character. She’s had a difficult life–who wouldn’t, growing up in a world where fear of contagion has kept people indoors and glued to their computer screens? What makes her–and her fellow bloggers, Shawn and Buffy–different is knowing when to put fear and terror aside to keep living.
How they earn that living is very interesting. When established media proved untrustworthy reporting the first outbreak, the world turned to bloggers. Bloggers spoke for the common good–as much to inform themselves as the frightened public. They helped make sense of the unexplained chaos breaking out across the nation. Enter Shaun and Georgia, sponsors willing to fund their efforts, and After the End Times was born. Grant manages to build a convincing news body which isn’t too far from the truth. Some people already rely enormously on the internet and trust amateur bloggers for any number of needs. Grant’s astute observations integrate this relationship with her own universe to mesh into the working framework of her narrative.
Grant’s characters are solid; her universe well-established. It’s so established that readers may become as exasperated over the meticulous mention of blood testing kits and procedure as the characters were to get tested. Grant has thought of everything–not just the small details to consider when and how an outbreak could occur. Feed is politics-heavy, not just because George and Shaun are on the campaign trail. Kellis-Amberlee is cause to reconsider things like the death penalty (why kill someone when a dormant virus goes live at death, thus endangering the public at large), gun control laws, pet ownership, and public gatherings. Playing in the backyard now depends on the danger level your neighborhood has been zoned for. Presidential candidates are made or broken on a campaign trail riddled with archaic practices now seen as brave instead of expected.
I do have one, and only one, thing to nitpick about. George’s relationship with her brother Shaun was a bit too unrealistic for me. I say this only because I have a brother and we’re pretty inseparable, but would never share the same bed with each other, let alone the same room. I suppose it’s a bit immature of me, but I couldn’t relate to certain aspects of their relationship and so didn’t appreciate how close they were as much as I could have. Other readers (who have siblings) may feel otherwise–I can only hope they do. After all, this is a fault of my own. About as close to understanding as I came was realizing they also had a working relationship that functioned best under those circumstances. And in the end, they were a strong pair. I can’t complain too much.
With Feed, Mira Grant proves she’s an author to be reckoned with. The book may be lengthy (almost 600 pages), but we have to remember it’s the first in a self-contained trilogy. There’s such a large and complex story to tell–a lesser book would not be this involved. If readers haven’t already started paying attention to Seanan McGuire because of her October Daye books, Feed will do the trick. There may be similarities between it and her other books–mysterious murders, resilient and accident-prone female protagonist with ready access to pain medication and a constant need for good night’s rest, deranged bad guy, suspect good guys–but you also can’t let yourself miss a book where one of the main characters runs around in a chain-mail shirt for fun, can you? And, there’s a kitty. You can’t beat kitties.
I do not know when its sequel, Deadline, will be out, but I’m looking forward to it. I hear it has epileptic teacup bulldogs.
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Reviewed Format: Advance Reading Copy Provided by Orbit Books.