Fact One: I like zombies. I like considering the ramifications of a zombie outbreak as a mental exercise, and sometimes even use that as an excuse to buy pretty things. None of this is a surprise to anyone who knows me.
Fact Two: I like Mira Grant‘s new book Feed. Again, this should also come as no surprise to anyone who’s been around me for the past week or so; I can’t shut up about the damned thing. The query-pitch summary for the book might go something like this:
Somewhere around 2014, some genius came up with a viral cure for cancer. Some other genius came up with a viral cure for the common cold. Neither of those two things were bad on their own, but when they met one another in a human host – bam, zombies. The infection spread, leading to the psuedo-death of a massive chunk of the population of the planet. During the first year of “the rising”, bloggers came into their own, providing survival information while the news networks were still making jokes and pretending it was all a prank. As the book opens it’s 25 years later, humanity has survived (so far) and so have the infected. This new reality affects virtually every aspect of daily life (the repercussions woven in a wholly believable backdrop throughout the book). We get to experience this brave new world through the eyes of George and Shaun, a professional brother-and-sister blogging team who ride around in a well-equipped van with a blonde poetry-writing tech-nerd named Buffy. [*]
But I’ve mislead you.
I’ve let you think, based on Fact One and Fact Two, that I like this book because it’s a good zombie story, but that’s too simple: my enjoyment and admiration goes beyond an affection for the walking dead, and Feed is more than a (really, truly) well-done story about zombies.
It’s about fear.
The trouble with the news is simple: People, especially ones on the ends of the power spectrum, like it when you’re afraid. The people who have the power want you scared. They want you walking around paralyzed by the notion that you could die at any moment. There’s aways something to be afraid of.
What does that have to do with the news? This: The truth isn’t scary.
It might (I said might) surprise you if I said that one of my most frequently visited newsreader feeds are for sites like FreeRangeKids — sites that look at activities that should be perfectly normal and perfectly acceptable which are instead seen as horribly irresponsible simply because there’s a one-in-sixty-thousand chance that something might go amiss and a kid could skin their knee. It’s sites like those where you can hear about schools that won’t “risk” kids playing tag anymore… or allow kids on a jungle gym… or a seesaw; where you can read hysterical, screaming comments from people who want parents to spend time in jail for letting their kid ride a bike to school.
(I also make sure to stay aware of examples of politicians and other folks in power using fear to leverage their current or nascent control of the general population, but I don’t feel as though I need to link to a specific site for this — just stay abreast of current events and examples will readily present themselves.)
But… that’s just the world we live in, right? One more thing we can’t let our kids do that we did when we were little; one more activity that used to be okay and now gets you a drive-by visit from the local sheriff’s deputy; one more security checkpoint where we used to be able to walk through; one more (and one more, and one more, and one more) cctv camera on the drive into work. We can’t look at the situation entirely clearly anymore — we’re too close to it, and the background roar (“threat level has been raised to orange”) is so loud that the only way to examine it is to make it much bigger — to zoom in. To turn the dial to 11.
What sort of thing could do that?
Zombies could do that.
Zombies turn up the dial on parents overprotecting their kids to the point where they grow up hopelessly and helplessly phobic. Infection gives government agencies the ability to shoot anyone at the merest suggestion of a threat. The walking dead allow politicians to base their campaign on a platform that would get even the most fringe right-wingers laughed off the stage today.
Zombies let us look at an incredibly paranoid, over-careful, insular, suspicious, stranger-dangered, xenophobic world… and realize that it is not actually very far away from where we are today. Not very far at all. Not far enough.
Not by half.
Beware: you are looking at this through my eyes.
Far, far be it from me to say that this is specifically what the author intended; I’ve had too many people talk to me about theme-stuff in my stories that I’d swear I didn’t put in there — there’s no way I’d assume that what I see in Feed is what Mira Grant intended to package in the tin.
It could be that this is merely an excellent zombie story with compelling main characters, believable politics, well-envisioned technological advances, tight and suspense-filled pacing, masterful use of foreshadowing and misdirection, and an ending that left me not-so-subtly pining for an ARC of the next book in the trilogy. Merely.
There is only one way to tell.
You must read it.
You must read it.
“This is the truth: we are accustomed to being afraid. It’s an addiction. People crave fear. Fear justifies everything. Fear makes it okay to have surrendered freedom after freedom, until our every move is tracked and recorded in a dozen databases. Fear creates, defines, and shapes our world, and without it, most of us would have no idea what to do with ourselves.
“We took a world that was huge with possibility, and we made it as small as we could.”