Monday, July 18, 2011

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised

Post-Apocalyptic fiction comes with a few guilty pleasures. We get to see the greedy and powerful reduced to beggars, we see often despised institutions reduced to rubble, and, most importantly, we often get to see the marginalized and powerless get their chance to be the heroes. Just about anyone who has ever toiled away at an unrewarding job or unpopular hobby has secretly wished for the day when their special skill set would be just what was needed to save the day.

When the cities flood, the dead rise or the aliens invade, the current social order is overturned, or so the PA novel would have us believe, and the meek don't just inherit, bur step up to kick some ass.

In the case of Mira Grant's zombie-apocalypse novel, Feed, the particular underdog heroes are bloggers, who in her not-too-distant future setting were the first to spread the word about the sudden outbreak of undead (as is becoming the typical nowadays, zombies are the result of a genetically engineered, highly contagious virus). The government and traditional media outlets let everyone down, and people were only saved by the power of social networking.

and by the power of the  Department of Highway Safety

The scenario took a bit of Suspension of Disbelief on my part, for a couple reasons. First off, I tend to see Facebook updates notifying me of the Zombie Apocalypse about six times a week, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't actually take one seriously until one of my former in-laws was trying to gnaw my arm off. Secondly, while I am fairly sure that there are high levels of incompetence and stupidity spread throughout many of our government institutions, groups like the US Military and the Centers for Disease Control to tend to employ many very competent people.
via Cracked
I was quickly able to put my left-brain objections side and get on with enjoying the book though. As in many zombie stories, the zombies themselves were more of a background element. The horror of seeing a former loved one converted into a bloodthirsty monster is always disturbing (as anyone who has ever gone through a divorce can attest to) but enough repetition can rob even the most gruesome villains of their ability to shock. Instead, the  new and dangerous world provides our stalwart newsies with the chance to be both political muckrackers and hardened war correspondents.

It's a tough thing to combine Post-Apocalyptic action with an exploration of the value of journalistic integrity, and Feed suffers from some awkward plot jumps and flat characters, but it's still a lot of fun, and I found myself sucked in and genuinely caring about the leads. Grant also manages to be very effective in evoking not just how scary contagious zombification would be, but also how sad. She especially uses the time between infection and conversion to wring the pathos out of the situation of someone who knows they're about to die.

All in all, if you're a fan of zombie fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, or the idea of the plucky reporter proving that sunlight really is the best disinfectant (well, and bullets, lots and lots of bullets), you'll probably enjoy Feed as a fun summer read.

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