Monday, March 07, 2011

Ex Libris: Mira Grant's Feed

"When zombies and bloggers meet."

There are zombie stories and there are zombie stories. And there is Mira Grant's Feed (Orbit).

Personally, I've never been much a reader of YA books. Call it a failure on my part, my blind spot of that part of literature that doesn't hold too much of my attention. I've read some YA books and loved them, like Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, Scott Westerfield's Leviathan and Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. The rest I've passed over-- except this one, whose glowing recommendations made me reconsider.

Unlike most zombie stories, Grant's novel is different in that it tells of a story after the zombie uprising. In a future that's nearer to our present, a couple of scientific discoveries has managed to cure cancer and the common cold; unfortunately, the resulting inadvertant combination of the medical breakthroughs-- called the Kellis-Amberlee virus-- had also caused the recently dead to rise and attack the living. The good news is that the world survived. The bad news is that it's a world where fear is a omnipresent state of mind. (Shades of today's world vis-a-vis terrorism?)

Georgia and Shaun Mason are two siblings who live in this post-zombie uprising world. Instead of enjoying life as young adults who go to parties and enjoy the company of the other sex, they are bloggers for After the End Times reporting on the latest news of zombie outbreaks. Here, the Internet is even more prevalent with multimedia microtechnologies as well as free WiFi enabling the Mason siblings to compete with both their online competitors as well as mainstream media in getting the breaking news to the public as hot and fast as possible. This sometimes means getting up close to the zombies to poke them with a stick.

When US Senator Peter Ryman selects the siblings to embed themselves on his campaign for the US presidency, the latter duo see this as an opportunity to raise their stock as worldwide media bloggers. However, they soon learn that despite ever-present danger of zombies, there are still human monsters who live in this world and who are willing to use any means to get what they want. For Georgia, Shaun and their companions, they'll learn the price they'll have to pay for finding out the truth. And for some of them, it's going to be a high cost indeed.

Grant has managed to craft an interesting world in Feed in that she has managed to combine the zombie-littered landscape with a world envisioned by net guru Cory Doctorow, i.e. a world so inter-connected by the Net. In fact, Grant posits that this inter-connection is what had saved the world from the zombie uprising by spreading the truth as fast as verifiably possible.

Moreover, Grant creates a fascinating sub-universe of sorts with the blogging culture that had come together in the wake of the zombies. For example, there are the newsies, who seek the truth as possible and the Irwins, who risk their lives so much in coming up with news that half the time, they are the news (a possible reference to the late Australian scientist who liked poking things with a stick, Steve Irwin).

With the other aspects of Feed, Grant keeps the narrative and pacing of the story at an even keel despite the huge amount of info-dumping that occurs here, which is unfortunately needed. However, she manages to keep the interest from waning because her extrapolation of this post-zombie uprising world is plausible enough to keep the reader in the story. The characterizations of Georgia, Shaun and the rest are fine though some flaws-- like the story villain's too-inherent evilness and one of the supporting character's action seems out of the blue-- can be passed over.

But more than the inter-connectedness and the blogging universe, Grant manages to create a mindset for all of her characters that the reader soon inhabits: that the things we take for granted in human-to-human contact becomes a danger in this world, that public gatherings are like ticking time bombs that may or may not explode, and that the worse thing that may happen to a person is not becoming a zombie, but killing a loved one who has become one of the undead.

I think that it is this aspect that the best of the new zombie stories we have now like The Walking Dead that have raised the bar for this horror sub-genre: that it's not about the shambling corpses walking among us that scare us, it's surviving with the ghosts they leave-- and the life we used to lead-- behind. (Rating: 4 paws out of 4.)

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