John Wiswell's Reviews > Feed

Feed by Mira Grant
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's review
May 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

Though it’s a zombie novel about journalists, Feed has more in common with The Pelican Brief than World War Z. It is fundamentally a page-turner, a political thriller with the undead shambling around the edges, and zombiefication just one more grim fate the bad guys can inflict. A great deal of the first half is devoted to world-building, but it’s largely about the machinations our blogger-heroes cover and make sweeping statements about. The kids are embedded with a presidential campaign suffering suspicious problems, sabotage and potential assassination. Mira Grant’s greatest trait in these pages is setting up 90’s-style micro-hooks; though most plot points will be resolved in the next paragraph or page (and are largely predictable just from experience of tropes), they are just provocative enough to want to read one more. In my case the effect was three straight days of realizing I was late for errands thanks to the book. It’s popcorn reading, and between the government conspiracies and fears of zombie infection, it’s darned well-popped.

Zombie fiction is a tough and crowded field. It’s both oversaturated in the market and unfashionable to many editors. It’s harder on prose, since the zombie belongs primarily to film, as opposed to the vampire or werewolf that has for centuries been at home in novels, so you compete against another medium’s standards. And worst of all, with Max Brooks’s World War Z and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, you have unfairly high standards to meet just to play in print.

Mira Grant’s Feed leverages social media for novelty in the zombie-space. It’s a shame the novel isn’t a series of blog posts – that would have even made a spectacular web serial. Rather, we follow a trio of young journalists in the post-apocalypse. A straight first-person past-tense perspective seems almost a funny compromise given how much of the first hundred pages are exposition on how the world works, and how much of the first two hundred pages are our protagonists setting up and conducting journalism that will become blog posts. There is no easing into the world: our narrator just tells us pretty much everything the public knows about life in zombie land, be it the cold remedy that turned into the virus, or how dangerous cattle have become, or the national religious trends.

For her world, Grant’s big grace is freedom with references to real world pop culture. One blonde is named “Buffy.” George Romero’s films are credited for getting people into the right mindset to survive. Everywhere, the archetypes of our real fiction informed how people actually reacted to the plague, from the defense to the scientific process of eliminating possible causes. If you’re like me, it’s what you expect many people would actually respond to a zombie apocalypse. It looks pretty silly when characters don’t recognize a monster that appears in our movies and videogames every year. You wouldn’t have characters play dumb with dragons, and Grant is simply calling a dragon “a dragon.”

Part of the gamble of Feed’s narrative is that zombies haven’t really changed the culture that much. It’s not much of an apocalypse if fruit punch and the internet survive. Even though most people have gone vegetarian out of fear of meat-borne infections and something like a third of the world’s population is dead, everyone more or less sounds and seems like the cast of normal contemporary fiction. Kids razz each other in the bathroom, parents are cutely protective, and there’s a civil presidential campaign going on with embedded reporters. We’re not hunting for canned food; we’re actively fighting for ratings and site-traffic. I forgave any sense of unrealism, but still wondered about exactly what sort of world Grant was writing about, since the presidential candidate’s gate guards having “sensors” capable of recognizing cameras in a teen’s earrings seemed more James Bond than George Romero.

Zack Handlen of AV Club claiming “Feed is The West Wing by way of George Romero, and the effect is a lot less ridiculous than it should be” is itself a little ridiculous and raises the wrong expectations. The novel possesses little political complexity, almost no no-win scenarios, ethics are seldom plumbed, and the opposing side is always dumb and violent. Sorkin’s scripts hemorrhaged theory and pluralism, dropping schools of thoughts in throwaway lines, and railroading its characters toward the perilous chaos of power over millions of lives. Feed is not even particularly reminiscent of contemporary political thrillers because its ideologies are so simple and unchallenged, and it sets up very few twists or red herrings. I kept thinking of 90’s John Grisham, with his obvious plots and bad guys the heroes would recognize sooner if they could simply read their own book.

I can’t imagine many people reading on for the politics, though. The novel follows the formula of the old political thriller, but it sells the characters and the zombie aesthetic. Do you like this hard-working sister and wise-cracking brother, grilling politicians and braving the front lines of the undead? Are you afraid they’ll suffer a breakout? Because if you care at fifty pages, you’ll care at five hundred. I cared enough that the sequel, Deadline, is already on my desk. I know what I’m doing this weekend.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Sarkies Thankyou for your thoughts on this book. You certainly give some good opinions on this. While it does sound interesting, it certainly does not make me want to run out and get my hands on it. Though I do wonder whether a book being written as a series of blog posts would work, especially since all we have to do is to go onto the internet to find one.

John Wiswell David wrote: "Thankyou for your thoughts on this book. You certainly give some good opinions on this. While it does sound interesting, it certainly does not make me want to run out and get my hands on it. Though..."

I wouldn't run out and buy this, but it's a fun read. Especially if you're craving a zombie novel, you can do much worse.

I've also been wondering about fiction entirely formed from blogposts. If web comics can take off, and Homestuck can be a phenomenon, and if epistolary could work for centuries, then why not that form of storytelling? You would just need to structure it more tightly and enticingly than more blogs, just as Frankenstein is more interesting than most series of letters. But we'll see if I can pull it off in my writing, or if someone else beats me to it.

message 3: by David (new)

David Sarkies Actually, I'm not craving a zombie novel. I just thought the cover looked cool and wanted to find out a bit more about it. However I do like the idea of creating a novel from blog posts, though as you suggested it is not necessarily new.

John Wiswell David wrote: "Actually, I'm not craving a zombie novel. I just thought the cover looked cool and wanted to find out a bit more about it. However I do like the idea of creating a novel from blog posts, though as ..."

I'd certainly give a second look to a novel that was all in that formula. This one just relies on blog posts from time to time, though Grant does them well.

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