The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.
We're going to be doing a little math, today. I'm warning you now.
And just the other day I was struggling to remember how long division worked. Divide this by that, sure... carry the remainder from this column to the next one along, alright... then I remembered: a-ha! I have an app for that now! Really, it's just as well our purposes require only a single, deceptively simple equation.
Bloggers + zombies + corruption on the campaign trail for the Presidency of post-catastrophe America = what, exactly?
Well, I'd have imagined a desperately self-referential speculative mess. Hell, I'll admit it: that's what I did imagine, hence the year it's taken me to finally square Feed away. But no, not so.
In fact my interest in Feed was only of late renewed, because to my sheer surprise, and indeed to certain others', the first volume of the Newsflesh trilogy was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award, and then a Hugo too, as if one of the genre's most prestigious accolades was mere icing on the cake. It wasn't nominated for Best Debut or any other such second-string category, either - and that's as well given Mira Grant is, as Seanan McGuire, the mind behind something like ten other novels - but for the grand prize of both ceremonies: Feed is once, twice, two times a contender for Best Novel of 2010.
And that makes me glad.
Which isn't to say I think it stands a chance of taking either trophy home. Feed is first and foremost a thriller, after all; albeit a riveting one, with excellent characterisation and a clear and present power in its narrative thrust - not to mention value added zombies and bloggers for protagonists. But wait, there's more! Far more to Feed than that, in fact, for it is too a dissection - if a slight one - of the role of a media not very far removed far from our own:
"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 paralysed by the notion that you could die at any moment. There's always something to be afraid of. It used to be terrorists. Now it's zombies." (p.346)
Furthermore, it is a poignant and persuasive rebuttal of the exponential erosion of family values and the value of family, for there is no-one more important to our idealistic Newsie heroine George than her brother Shaun - named, in case you were wondering, respectively in honour of undead Nostradamus George A. Romero and Shaun of the Dead, to which Feed tips its harrowing hat. "Maybe it's geeky for a girl my age to admit she still loves her brother," George argues. "I don't care. I loved him, and one day I'll bury him, and until then, I'm going to be grateful." (p.285)
Yet however diverse and accomplished it is, however relevant and culturally engaged, Feed is through and through a thriller, and thrillers are not often the sort of stories poised to bring home the critical bacon, however much we might wish it were otherwise. That Mira Grant is even in the running for the aforementioned awards feels to this reader a significant - and significantly positive - development. That it will likely be remembered as runner-up rather than runaway winner should be no knock on Feed at all. If you want to get your Summer of speculative fiction off to a cracking start, or curl up with something reassuring and resolutely well-written when the rain's come to wash the spider out, this is absolutely the book for you.