Book Review: “Feed” by Mira Grant

Feed by Mira Grant If there are two things I love, they’re blogging and zombies.  And although I thought that my life would be nearly incomplete without the combination of these two relatively unrelated things, I am pleased to announce that because of reading Mira Grant’s Feed, I can die a happy man.

Okay, well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration (in truth I am a sad, lonely, bitter cynic whose life will be just as empty even with this combination).

In all seriousness, though, I am quite pleased with Feed, a novel I read about initially in John Scalzi’s The Big Idea.  Mira Grant (a pseudonym author Seanan McGuire uses to write horror) manages to find that sweet spot that many horror writers miss: she manages to make it relevant without making it preachy.

The Social Media Revolution

At its heart, Feed is a work of speculative fiction, rather than horror.  Grant takes an idea we’ve seen a thousand times (a post-apocalyptic world after a zombie outbreak) and combines it with a technology that is just now becoming mainstream (blogging and social media).  In her future—2040 to be exact—a cure for the common cold has unleashed a never-ending supply of zombies for the world to deal with.  Because of the inherent slowness of typical media outlets as they vet information and release it to the public, millions of people died.  Because of the nature of the Internet, bloggers and other social media users were able to help save lives by actually providing information that people needed.

As the holocaust passed and zombies (“the infected”) became a way of life, traditional news media was taken over by licensed journalists who worked solely online and provided information through blogs.

Now, to me, this is a natural—aside from the zombie part—evolution of how things look to be going.  Newspapers are losing popularity and money daily as more and more people get their news.  The Daily Show and The Colbert Report provide Americans with commentary unmarred by politically lobbied pundits.  In another 30 years, where will vetted journalism’s place be?

I have a feeling there will be a higher value placed on bloggers and their reputations to “tell it like it is” that has been lost in mainstream media.  We don’t have any Cronkites these days; political biases extend too far.  But bloggers…well, we are the elite few who are limited only by the number of people we have read our text and governed only by whatever we build our reputations to be.

In 30 years, there will be no more Web2.0 nonsense.  The Internet will stop being some wicked cool fad the kids are into and older people don’t understand.  The Facebook privacy controversy will be laughed at as growing pains for a new dominant media, and the landscape of both opinion and news will be unlike anything we can possibly imagine.

Well, most of us anyway.  Mira Grant paints a pretty good speculative picture of the pains that come with a mostly online world feeding information to the masses, and like any real piece of literature, Feed ties it to things that matter now.  Stephen King said that good horror presses on “cultural pressure points” in order to be frightening or effective. With the current fear of making the Internet a completely social place where everyone’s privacy is supposedly in danger, Feed does a great job of showing how blogging and other “dirty words” in respectable journalism can be legitimized as the culture changes.

In my mind, zombies aside, Feed presents a very viable avenue along which blogging and social media can evolve.  Today, tell someone you’re a blogger.  They will probably smile and ask questions as though what you do is quaint and that all you do is post pictures of your cat, as though what you do cannot be considered real writing.  In 30 years, ask that question, and I’d bet a hundred dollars right here and now that Mira Grant gets it right in Feed.

Voice and Narrative Style

feed_wallpaper5_1024 In my mind, a first-person narrative can spell doom for an author.  Unless properly talented, an author who chooses to let all the narration come from the perspective of a single character may be taking on more than he or she can chew.  (Twilight is an excellent example of this phenomenon).  On the flipside, a first-person perspective in some novels is imperative to the series’ overall feel (The Dresden Files, for instance).  In Feed’s case, I don’t see how the novel could have been written without being inside George’s head.

The chapters are broken up with epistolary excerpts from the main characters’ blogs, but are predominantly told from Georgia “George” Mason’s perspective.  A few chapters sneak inside her brother Shaun’s, too, but those are the exception and not the rule.

From the get-go, I think that I got Grant’s character all wrong in my head.  Two reasons: one, her name is George, and two, I’m a huge fan of Dead Like Me.  The main character in DLM is named George, and she share’s Feed’s protagonist’s cynical worldview.  It was far too easy for me to fall into hearing Ellen Muth’s voice narrating the events of the novel.  That’s not a bad thing, though I feel the similarities in the characters almost cheated me out of having a “new” literary character for Georgia Mason.  Instead, she was a rehash of one of my TV favorites.

As for the structure, I thoroughly enjoyed having the excerpts from the characters’ blogs at the end of every chapter.  They never felt tacked on and always elucidated some theme that had been present in the previous chapter.  Given the novel’s premise is based on the importance of blogging and how it conveys what the populace needs in terms of news and commentary, I was glad to see that each character had a specific voice.  I was glad to be able to read these characters’ specific voices.  Overall, the blogs never seemed to be reaching just to fulfill a theme; they were integral to the characters’ development, if not the plot, and were a necessary inclusion in the work.

I Want the Sequel.  Now.

But I have to wait until 2011 to get it.  Blackout has been scheduled for release next year, and I’ll add it to my Kindle wishlist the moment I can. (Reading a series about the future of social media on anything but an eReader is just wrong—wrong I tell you!)

In the meantime, I have tentatively added Feed to my Modern Horror class’ syllabus for when I get to teach that in the indeterminate future. Despite its newness and recent publication, its inclusion seems to round out the course, alongside Night of the Living Dead (the original), Cell by Stephen King, and World War Z by Max Brooks.  All present a unique way of tackling the topic of the rising dead, covering different aspects of just why the zombie apocalypse has taken such a hold in the popular consciousness for the past fifty or so years.

Mira Grant’s Feed does something with a topic that many seen worn out and trite that few authors can do.  It creates a world that is based solidly in our own and tries to answer a few fundamental questions.  Not about zombies or about how we would survive (Romero already taught us that, anyway), but about where we, as a people, act and react in the face of a truly unthinkable catastrophe, and just what  part will this newfangled piece of technology we call the Internet play in it?

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