In 2014 an unfortunate synergy between medical treatments creates a virus that turns people into zombies. But this novel is not about whether the human race survives the zombie apocalypse, but about what happens after it does.
By 2039, the undead are still out there but humanity has found ways to manage it. Normal people minimise contact with the zombies and extensive blood testing protects the population as much as possible. In some places, like Alaska, humanity has given up and allowed the zombies full reign.
In this world, new blogging sites have taken over from traditional news outlets as the most trusted way of getting the truth about the world. Georgia and Shaun Mason run one of these online news agencies and manage to get the prime job of being embedded journalists in presidential-hopeful Ryman’s campaign organisation. But after a bungled assassination attempt they gradually realise that someone wants to stop Ryman being elected at any cost.
I will admit that it took me a while – maybe 50 pages or so – to really get into Feed. The post-apocalyptic world Grant (a pseudonym of fantasy writer Seanan McGuire) envisages takes some catching up with and Georgia Mason, the narrator, is not easy to take to. Georgia is a ‘Newsie’, a news blogger who specialises in telling the straight truth as news with the minimum of interpretation and opinion. She is cold and abrupt, and bullish about getting her own way.
Once I got used to the tone, however, this became a very enjoyable and interesting read. Grant does very well at describing how this new world works, including the vectors for the virus. Essentially everyone has the virus lying dormant in their systems. An exchange of fluids with an active infected person (blood or saliva) will trigger the ‘acceleration’ of the virus, turning the person into a zombie. This will also happen upon death and sometimes even totally spontaneously. Animals over a certain body mass can also become an active infected and smaller animals, while not big enough to accelerate, can be carriers. The change this makes to the relationship between people and their domesticated animals is one of the subjects the book deals with.
In some ways Feed put me in mind of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother – being in part about how communicating the truth in a frightened and paranoid world – but to my eyes does it better. I always felt that Little Brother cheats in its resolution, removing personal consequence from the events. Feed, on the other hand, takes things through to a more realistic conclusion: you cannot interfere in the affairs of powerful people without consequences.
You also are never allowed to lose sight of how dangerous the world is and how precarious is individual safety. For example Shaun is an ‘Irwin’ – a reporter who takes great risks to get exciting footage – and it is quite clear that he risks his life every time he leaves protected areas.
Despite the dry tone of the narrative, this is not an unemotional book. In fact several points brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It is also has some – admittedly fairly dry – humour. For example George or Georgia have become popular names in tribute to George Romero after his movies turned out to be surprisingly accurate about how to deal with zombies.
There are flaws. The idea of using the infected as a weapon is a neat one, but the conspiracy behind it is a bit clichéd. I am also a little too old to buy into the ‘only the young care enough to fix the world’ attitude shown here (a fault that it shares with the afore-mentioned Little Brother).
But overall it is a highly recommended read. It is the first volume of a trilogy, but works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel in its own right. Having said that I am very much looking forward to what Grant does with the follow-up volumes.