Another year, another nominee with zombies.
I’m beginning to think that every year of nominees is going to produce a novel that’s completely unexpected (by me, at least). Palimpsest was unknown to me before its nomination, and it was a very pleasant surprise. Feed also came out of the blue for me, but this time it seems to fit more into the Boneshaker slot of pleasant-but-not-spectacular books that seem to work too hard to cash in on current sf fads. It’s even the same damn fad…and I was tired of zombies before I even realized they were a fad.
In 2014 genetically engineered viruses to cure cancer and the common cold are released, and they recombine to create a syndrome called Kellis-Amberlee. When the viruses build up in someone’s system enough, usually through further infection (like a bite), or when the death halts the immune system, the victim will become a mindless animated corpse. It’s as good a sciency explanation for the walking dead that I’ve seen, and Grant (the secret identity of writer Seanan McGuire) deserves credit for it. She also deserves credit for writing a very readable, fast-paced book with some thrilling scenes.
The rest of the world, however, I found somewhat unconvincing. The central characters are action blogger twins Georgia and Shaun Mason, and their goth poet partner Buffy. After the “Rising,” blogs became the dominant form of media. The book takes place over twenty years after zombies began their rampage and George and Shaun are young enough that that’s the only world they’ve known. So, they go out into zombie danger zones, and then write/post video about zombie taunting and maybe some news. Near the novel’s beginning, they’re tapped to cover the presidential campaign of a Senator Ryman (R-WI), who is hip like that. There are various zombie-aided assassination attempts on the campaign trail, and while the Masons like Ryman, they do see hints of a vaster political conspiracy in their coverage.
I guess the idea that a bunch of punk bloggers are going to dominate the news media in a generation is plausible, but I had a lot of problems with how it was presented here. Their content certainly didn’t read as mature or particularly thoughtful for a start. The bigger issue is why Grant posits that bloggers would dominate in this apocalyptic society. The central theme seems to be about the truth, and we learn that the traditional media falls because it’s too skeptical. That’s right, the media questions reports of zombie attacks, while crazy conspiracy blogs do not – when they turn out to be right, people abandon the traditional media.
I’d be the first to argue that there are a lot of problems with the media, but their incredulity is certainly not one of them. I tend to think that we need a media that does more journalistic digging on iffy stories (*cough*WMD in Iraq*cough*) AND more dismissing of crazy internet theories (*cough*birthers*cough*). And yet, Grant (through Georgia) is quite sanctimonious about the idea that traditional journalism’s commitment to skepticism is a major failing.
The rest of the story felt somewhat generic. There is a surprising twist near the end, and some of the details of the blog world are well though-out, even if I did find them ultimately unconvincing, but the rest of the story felt very by the numbers. I won’t spoil the bad guy for you, but I will hint that it’s the really obvious character, who is also a giant walking cliché (his villainy was so obvious, I assumed it was a red-herring for most of the book). There are also a lot of pop culture references that took me out of the book – the four most important characters are named George, Shaun, Rick, and Buffy. Any modern zombie fan should be able to get those references immediately, and the book even explains two of them.
All of these issues just left me with the sense that, like Boneshaker, there just wasn’t a lot of serious sf content here. I might recommend it to people looking for a fun zombie book, but I don’t think it’s Hugo-worthy. And then, my personal blah feelings about zombies probably knock the grade down another notch.