Disclaimer: The author (her real name is Seanan McGuire and she doesn't make a secret of it) isn't a personal friend, but she's a friend of a friend by a dozen different paths. The book has what looks like allusions to some familiar names. She also beat me for a Pegasus Award in 2010 (I voted for her song). Draw whatever conclusions you like about my biases in writing this. Perhaps more seriously, I dislike stories about zombies. But this isn't just a "story about zombies." It's a very gripping story about plague conditions, politics, and conspiracies. As the main character, Georgia Mason, declares in her blog, "The zombies are here, and they're not going away, but they're not the story."
The book tells you that right on the front cover, informing the careful reader that the title is a red herring. "Feed" might seem to refer to what zombies do, and the blurb claims outright that it does, but that symbol with a dot and two curves is the universal symbol for an RSS newsfeed on the Internet.
But there is indeed a worldwide zombie plague. A quarter of a century before the story begins, not very far in our own future, two engineered viruses combined and found their way into everyone. It's normally dormant, but when any human or other large mammal dies, unless burned up or shot in the head, he rises to eat the living and spread the active form of the virus.
Georgia and her brother Shaun are professional bloggers. What really makes the story is Georgia's dedication to finding and reporting the truth. They get a rare opportunity to be part of the press corps of a Presidential candidate, and soon find themselves involved in something much more deadly than the usual scandals and smears of politics. What follows had me blurting out expletives while reading it on the train, when I wasn't laughing or crying.
Some of the best bits are the quotes from Georgia's blog. There are some clear allusions to the War on Terror, such as this: "People, especially ones on the ends of the power spectrum, like it when you're afraid. They want you walking around paralyzed 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."
Portraying a world so greatly changed from ours is difficult, and Feed leaves a lot of questions unanswered by focusing so tightly on the two leading characters. People are in constant danger for their lives, and any large gathering is inherently unsafe. This should have caused serious adverse economic consequences, or at least major changes in how people do business. This isn't really touched on. We don't learn much about just how "After the End Times" operates as a business. It might be a sign of economic collapse that computer technology has stagnated. In the year 2040 we still have MP3, FTP, and—talk about the living dead!—Windows.
Freedom of the press no longer exists. You need a license just to have a blog. Yet the other shoe never drops. Everyone acts as if press freedom still exists, and the villains, though they have powerful connections, never even try to pull Georgia's license.
The motivation of the villains is unconvincing. A small, tight organization may be motivated by power and loot alone. A wide-reaching conspiracy needs something to believe in, but all they have to offer is some clichés. There are two more volumes to follow; maybe we'll learn more about the conspiracy's real aim there.
Details and nitpicks aside, this is a fantastic book, and I recommend it highly. But it's not for everyone. Even if it isn't Dawn of the Dead, there's stuff in it which is hard to take. Major characters get killed. There's stuff like hidden hypodermic needles of zombie virus. The climate of fear never lets up, even in the lighter moments. But if you can deal with that and you love a story with characters who'll risk anything for what's right, then you should devour Feed.
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