Mira Grant is a pseudonym for writer Seanan McGuire, who made a splash with last year’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue, about a half-Fae detective. As Grant she writes about zombies instead of fairies, but calling her a horror writer wouldn’t be particularly accurate. Feed is more of a sociological science fiction novel, intelligently extrapolating the future trajectory of a world where the dead begin to rise and attempt to eat the living.
In Grant’s world, zombie-ism is the consequence of two man-made beneficial viruses – one designed to cure cancer, one to stop the common cold – that combined and mutated to form a virulent new disease called Kellis-Amberlee. Victims lose their personhood and become mindless disease vectors, existing only to spread the virus, which is best done via bodily fluids – so these zombies enjoy biting, spitting, and spewing infected blood. The resulting pandemic leads to the expected zombie apocalypse… but it’s not like everyone dies. Even when the world ends, life goes on for the survivors.
The novel takes place during 2039-40, some 25 years after the dead began rising. Human society was damaged and profoundly changed by the virus, but after decades of dealing with zombies, society has simply adopted new routines that involve frequent blood testing, high security, and watchful vigilance. While the world is not a safe place – Alaska has been wholly abandoned to the walking dead, and many cities and towns in the continental US have been ceded as well – people cope. Since the virus lays dormant in just about everyone, and any death can lead to a dangerous resurrection, most people spend as much time as possible isolated in their well-protected homes. That means the Internet is the chief means for human interaction, and bloggers can become major celebrities.
Main characters Georgia ‘‘George’’ Mason and her brother Shaun are the grown-up children of this new world. They’re both bloggers, though not incredibly famous ones, at least not as the novel begins. George is a ‘‘Newsie’’ who focuses on straight factual reporting, while Shaun is a daredevil ‘‘Irwin,’’ a breed of blogger that specializes in going into dangerous places and poking zombies with sticks while streaming video of the consequences. The novel is largely narrated by George, who combines cynicism, sarcasm, and sharp wit with an underlying belief in the sacredness of truth and the sort of unimpeachable journalistic moral center that seems in short supply these days. Her relationship with Shaun provides the novel’s emotional core, and Grant perfectly depicts the combination of love and exasperation that forms between close siblings.
George and Shaun – and their associate Buffy, who runs their tech and security – are chosen to follow Republican presidential hopeful Senator Peter Ryman on the campaign trail. Bloggers are still sneered at by traditional news outlets and politicians, but Ryman hopes to tap into the grassroots appeal of the Internet by allowing a few bloggers into his inner circle. This isn’t a world where people take road trips, but you can’t run for the nation’s highest office from the safety of a walled compound, so the campaign goes on the road. Though George is naturally suspicious of everything and everyone (as a good reporter should be), she comes to like the Senator and believes he’d be a good candidate… so it’s all the more disturbing when serious catastrophes begin to befall the campaign, complete with sabotage and assassination attempts. George uses her newshound’s instincts to sniff out the conspiracy at the root of it all, relentlessly pursuing the truth at profound personal cost.
While there’s plenty of zombie mayhem, political snark, and pointedly funny observations here, the heart of this book is about human relationships, which are still the most important thing in the world… even in a world where you might have to shoot the person you love most in the head, just to stop them from biting off your face. While Feed is the first volume of the Newsflesh trilogy, it stands alone perfectly well – but if you like smart zombie action with a heart, you’ll be eager for the sequel, Deadline.