Best and Worst: Finding (a Red Tree at) the End of the World

Reading is an experience. I have fond memories of re-reading James Joyce’s Ulysses while sitting in St Stephen’s Green and the delightful coincidence of being introduced to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged while travelling the USA by train. Name a book I’ve read, and I can tell you about the when and where. Choosing the best and worst reads came down to choosing the best and worst reading experience, which is why I’m going to do it backwards. My Worst Read Ever is seriously depressing, so let’s get that out of the way first:

Feed by M. T. Anderson

In 2011, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction for my studies in Children’s Literature. Spending a year reading books about various ways the world ends and how we’ll be left rotting in a dystopian landscape definitely does something to a person. It was Feed that left me crying for weeks whenever I saw anything that even remotely reminded me of the characters and world constructed in the novel.

Feed is set in an eerie imagined future in which corporations run everything (including SchoolTM), advertising is everywhere – including in your head – and language is coming to… you know… that thing…

Told from the first-person perspective, it tells the story of adolescents in an apathetic world driven by consumerism. If you’re not a consumer, then what use are you to society? Titus, the main character, reflects that the power of the corporations isn’t ideal “because who knows what evil shit they’re up to? Everyone feels bad about that. But they’re the only way to get all this stuff, and it’s no good getting pissy about it, because they’re still going to control everything whether you like it or not”.

Which begs the question: at what point do we stand up and say “hang on, I don’t need this, and you can’t keep doing what you’re doing?”

As the world of Feed deteriorates, so do the people. Physically, their bodies decay – the severity of which is concealed through excellent media campaigns making it “cool” to have lesions. Emotionally, they struggle to express themselves as society gradually loses the ability to construct meaning through language.

Scared yet? Then you should probably get your hands on the book I’ve chosen as my Best Read Ever, instead. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Love, hate and zombies

Meg’s Review: Deadline by Mira Grant

(Newsflesh Series, Book 2)

Reader Advisory: This review will contain major spoilers for Feed.

I’m beginning to think that the Newsflesh series was put on this Earth to push my buttons. If you recall, the first book had me so flustered that I couldn’t even give it a proper rating. The same almost happened with its sequel, Deadline. I hate the protagonists; I hate the pseudoscience that’s passed off as the real deal; and dearlordalmighty, I hate the constant idolizing and pedestalizing of journalism and its maligned search for the capital-t Truth.

And yet, I am absolutely engrossed by the story. Mira Grant has a knack of drawing out the reveal of pivotal information to almost intolerable limits. There were points when I was mentally screaming at the audiobook of Deadline to just get on with the story, to tell me what was really going on in this whacko conspiracy/zombie thriller. But it was a good sort of yelling, the kind that is both eager and afraid to discover the next level of hell the overarching plot is about to deliever. I could not stop listening to the audiobook (read wonderfully Nell Geislinger and Chris Patton) and was more than a little frustrated with its cliffhanger ending.

And yet (again), when I talk about the book to people, I always start with the negatives. I can’t get away from them. A positively wonderful story is there, but it’s so bogged down by narrative slop that it is, at times, difficult to get at.

Deadline begins nearly one year after the conclusion of Feed. Georgia Mason is long dead–at least in the real world. But in the mind of our new first-person narrator Shaun Mason–her adoptive brother, her maybe lover, and the one who killed her right before she went full-blown zombie–she is alive and well. Having the dead character fully interactive in Shaun’s mind is a great idea; we still have Georgia’s astute observations to go along with Shaun’s glib ones, and Shaun came off as so batshit crazy for constantly talking to the dead sister that lives in his head that it adds in a nice dose of levity to the dark proceedings of the book. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] A Zombie Walks into a Presidental Election…

Meg’s Review: Feed by Mira Grant

When an author decides to throw literary mechanics out the window, one of two things happen:

1. They sprout wings and carry the narrative over the rainbow-of-awesome-new-literary-skills.

or

2. They go splat.

So there I was, reading Feed, and along came the absolute climaxthat very moment when I should have been gasping/crying.

And I laughed.

Mind, the moment was heart-breaking—it truly was a masterfully-planned twist—but the author made such a bizarre narrative choice that I was utterly thrown. I wasn’t winded by the blast of emotional angst. Instead, I choked on it. Author, what did you just do?

And this still colors my feelings towards the rest of the book.

But let us start at the beginning.

Feed follows adoptive siblings Shaun and Georgia Mason and their friend Buffy as they blog about the campaign trail of presidential hopeful, Senator Peter Ryman with whom they’re traveling. Sounds benign enough until you realize the entire world is now overrun by zombies.

I expected a straight-forward zombie-shooting adventure, but Feed actually leans more towards political thriller with the added complication of the walking-dead running around. And that pleased me greatly: I love me some political thrillers, and there is nothing that scares me more* than zombies. A wicked conspiracy is rumbling just below the surface of the entire narrative, even as the main characters have to survive to untangle it.

The story itself is told 90% through the eyes of Georgia Mason and 10% through the characters’ blogs. The tactic is a clever spin on a first-person narrative, like a modern call-back to the epistle writing that was so popular in the 19th century. Indeed, I suspect I’d have enjoyed the book all the more if Grant had gone the whole way and presented the story entirely in blog form: Georgia Mason narrative voice rubbed me wrong as it meandered between valley-girl-aloofness and downright snarky, righteous bitch. On the other hand, I was quite fond of Rick and Shaun and would have liked to have more of their voices present in the story.

"Every person on the planet is infected."

The blogs also served another purpose—back-story. Georgia’s narrative focuses almost exclusively on her attempts to uncover what was causing the zombie attacks to occur with scary regularity in Ryman’s camp. But the blogs told the story of how the zombies came to be (a nifty bit of science that was just vague enough to work) as well as how the world dealt with the aftermath. I was enthralled with the world Grant created, especially with the mechanics of the zombie infestation; one does not have to be bitten by a zombie in order to become one. Every person on the planet is infected; once you die, you are immediately reborn as a brain-nomming monster. (This has to be an excellent world to be a hitman in, I thought while reading. Every person has to be killed twice, which means double the assassination fees.)

So after all this praise, why the confused canary?

Well, I can’t tell you. It would completely ruin the end of the book. Instead, let me make an analogy:

Just like Feed, I read Twilight at a breakneck pace. I had to know (HAD TO KNOW!) if Bella and Edward ended up together. Immediately after finishing Twilight, I rushed out and bought New Moon—but, actually ended up reading a book in between (the first Dresden Files book, for the curious). And when I went back to read New Moon, I was picking it up when a voice in my head said, “Wait…Twilight wasn’t even a good book. At all.” I dropped the book and never looked back.

And the same thing happened with Feed. I read it in a couple days, quickly bought the sequel, Deadline, and then had a family dinner that effectively derailed my inertia-driven enthusiasm. When I finally did sit down to read, that same voice said, “Are you really going to engage the sequel after the first one did THAT with the narrative?”

"Grant broke a cardinal rule of writing, and I can't decide whether she pulled it off."

I still haven’t decided if the voice in my head is just a book snob who needs to get over herself, or whether she has a point. I mean, Feed is about 800-million times better than Twilight, but I think Grant broke a cardinal rule of writing, and I can’t decide whether she pulled it off. And I’m too flustered with the indecision to commit to Deadline.

That said, I would definitely recommend Feed to anyone who enjoys zombie fiction, political intrigue, or has a less persnickety internal voice than mine. It’s a fast, multi-layered novel that even kept me reading through my zombie nightmares.

* Except sharks, but that’s a phobia to be dealt with in a review of Jaws.