You Can’t Kill the Truth: Re-Reading Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Series, Part 1: Feed

I think most of us can agree that reading is awesome. But what about rereading? Why spend your precious minutes reading something that you’ve read before when there are SO MANY new things to read? In this particular case, rereading is happening because new material is coming! The BEST REASON for rereading, don’t you think?

Welcome to the first in a three-part series highlighting Mira Grant’s excellent political thriller/zombie series, Newsflesh! First on the list is Feed. If you want to catch up and join in for the next discussion, I’ll be covering each book at the beginning of the month, concluding in October, which will see the release of Feedback.

I originally read the main trilogy several years ago. Since the publication of the final book, Blackout, a great deal of short fiction has been published to keep us in contact with the characters and world that Grant so skillfully brought to life. However, the aforementioned brand new novel, Feedback, is coming out later this year. It introduces an entire new cast and follows the other side of the political race detailed in Feed.

Are you lost? I hope not. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, get thee to a bookseller or library and obtain a copy of Feed. Tired of zombies, are you? I can assure you that this novel is not like any other zombie story that you’ve read. It’s a science fiction / horror / political thriller that happens to include zombies.

Let’s just dive right in, shall we?

51OXCIqV26L._SX277_BO1,204,203,200_Feed (2010)
Written by: Mira Grant
Genre: Science fiction
Pages: 608 (Mass Market Paperback/Kindle)
Series: Book One of Newsflesh
Publisher: Orbit

Why I Chose It: The new novel, Feedback will be released later this fall. I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the universe and the circumstances that this novel will be set in.

The premise:

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat 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, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

Feed is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own—a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. REPEAT, SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.


Discussion

I will be the first person to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about this series. By the time I figured out that Mira Grant was a pen name for urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire, book 3 had hit the shelves. I wasn’t a huge fan of zombie stories. I was, however, becoming a big fan of McGuire’s fiction and decided that I’d see what she had to say about zombies. Not as much as you might think, actually. I was pleasantly surprised at how little the actual zombie part of the premise came into play throughout the novel. The story focuses more on political conspiracy, family, and the lengths that one might go to to protect or work towards a particular goal.

Just to help you recall, this novel follows Georgia and Shaun Mason, and their friend and co-blogger Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier as they accompany Senator Peter Ryman on the campaign trail. Ryman is hoping to represent the Republican party in an upcoming presidential election. The Mason siblings and Buffy are part of Ryman’s press pool, hired to follow and report on the campaign in the best way that they know how. Georgia reports the news, Shaun pokes zombies with a stick, and Buffy keeps the team’s extensive technical side in order while writing poetry and fiction. I’m not going to relate the plot. If you’re reading past the spoiler warning, I’m going to assume that you’ve read the novel and are interested to see how the book fares when one is revisiting the material.

It fares wonderfully.

Politics

Here’s a direct quote from the novel that is eerily pertinent to today’s political atmosphere, especially if you consider that this novel was published six years ago:

This is the truth: We are a nation accustomed to being afraid. If I’m being honest, not just with you but with myself, it’s not just the nation, and it’s not just something we’ve grown used to. It’s the world, and 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 the average man will never have access to. Fear creates, defines, and shapes our world, and without it, most of us would have no idea what to do with ourselves. Our ancestors dreamed of a world without boundaries, while we dream new boundaries to put around our homes, our children, and ourselves. We limit our potential day after day in the name of a safety that we refuse to ever achieve. We took a world that was huge with possibility, and we made it as small as we could (pg 427-428).

Scary and accurate, wouldn’t you say? I am not going to discuss today’s politics in this forum, so please refrain from political discourse in the comments. That said, is this not very nearly the atmosphere that we find ourselves in at this very moment? We, too, are frightened and there are individuals in power or who are coming into power who are also extremely interested in making our world small and closed down. Take away the zombies and you have 2016. I even made a comment to Spouse the other day that was something like “[2016 CANDIDATE] is Governor Tate and [OTHER 2016 CANDIDATE] is Senator Ryman. Only, I don’t think that a pissed off blogger is going to shoot [2016 CANDIDATE] in the face for indirectly murdering his friend and sister anytime soon.”

Grant first starts to play with the idea that the government is, in fact, the enemy in this volume. She doesn’t start to fully chase that idea down the rabbit hole until book 2, so I won’t go there right now, either. The corruption that starts to come to light here is frightening and all-too possible. Tell me that the bloodthirsty individuals vying for Commander in Chief right now wouldn’t stoop to the same levels that you see Tate and his unknown partners being very comfortable on. You can’t. Elections are ugly. We are only just now seeing just how ugly they can get. Let us hope that they never become as ugly as Grant writes them here.

Buffy’s Betrayal

The first time that one reads this novel, it is easy to simply ride the wave of horror and heartbreak over the terrible things that happen (and there are many). When you’ve already read the story, and you already know that somebody’s pulling the strings to make these terrible things happen, the horror and heartbreak are even more intense. I expected to feel resentment or even anger towards Buffy, knowing that she was betraying the group from within, but I didn’t. I felt an intense amount of sadness and even sympathy for this girl who had her own beliefs and prejudices used against her.

Let’s unpack this a bit. Our Heroes, who are following a presidential hopeful around the country and reporting on his campaign, are subjected to a zombie outbreak at one of the senator’s early campaign stops. I knew that Buffy was part of the reason that the outbreak happened the way that it did. I couldn’t feel betrayed. I knew that Buffy thought she was doing the right thing. All I felt was an aching, tremendous sorrow for a young woman who has been convinced to do terrible things in the name of her religious beliefs and ideals. I felt worse for Buffy than I did for any of the victims of her machinations. There was some anger, but it wasn’t for poor, misled Buffy. I was steamed at the people using her. I felt a similar reaction after a horrifying outbreak occurs at the Ryman family horse ranch. This outbreak left the Ryman’s oldest daughter and her grandparents dead, among many others, we are told. Again, nothing but tremendous, terrible sorrow that such a thing had been perpetrated by someone who we were supposed to have been able to trust. But I still can’t blame her. At the novel’s climax, as Shaun faces down the terrifying Governor Tate (the man who appears to have been involved in leading Buffy astray), he is told that Buffy was “a realist and a patriot who understood the trials facing [the] country” and that “[she] was proud to have the opportunity to serve” (Page 555). Shaun shoots back that “[Buffy] was a twenty-four-year-old journalist who wrote poetry for a living,” and that she was “killed because she wasn’t useful anymore” (Page 555).

Yes. That. Buffy dies shortly after the events at the ranch due to an assassination attempt against the entire blogging team. In what is one of the most heart-wrenching death scenes that I’ve ever read, Buffy, who has been bitten by her former boyfriend-turned-zombie, tells Georgia and Shaun where to look for all of the information that she had. Amplification happens quickly; Buffy is tiny. Georgia shoots Buffy before she loses herself entirely to the virus. Place yourself right there for a moment. Someone you trusted implicitly confessed to deliberate sabotage and leaking information to individuals who, in turn, used that information to kill a lot of innocent people in a terrible way. Furthermore, you now have the obligation to kill that person before she has a chance to fully develop into a zombie. You do the humane thing. You put that person out of their misery before they become dangerous to anybody else.

Imagine doing it to someone you REALLY love.

 

TIME FOR THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. AND MORE SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THE SERIES. Consider this your SECOND warning. If you have only read book 1, TURN BACK!!!

 

Georgia

Knowing what I know about the true nature of Shaun and Georgia’s relationship gave the book an entirely different tone. Quick background, in case you have decided to spoil yourself: Georgia and Shaun were adopted. Their parents adopted them in a PR move after they lose their first child, Philip, after he amplifies due to a dog bite. Their parents, famed bloggers from the Rising era, have raised Georgia and Shaun in what is essentially a reality show that the world hangs on to. Ratings are all that matter to Stacy and Michael Mason. Georgia and Shaun, having been raised in a seemingly toxic, loveless environment, turned to each other for comfort. After confirming that they weren’t biologically related, they allowed their love for each other to grow into something that seems incredibly uncomfortable until you realize that neither of them give a damn what you think.

That said, knowing that they were in love? Gave an entirely new layer of emotion to so many moments in the novel. It’s almost an Easter egg for the re-reader to stumble upon the tiny, beautiful moments where Georgia and Shaun allow their love for each other to show. There is such tenderness between them and again, so very much pain for these two people who never really had a chance to love anybody but each other. I almost wonder how I never really caught on the first time that I read the novel. It’s so obvious when you aren’t framing their relationship as strictly “siblings.” It takes an exceedingly skilled hand to manage the sort of finesse that Grant uses when writing their relationship. She successfully writes it on two entirely different levels and it is wonderfully handled.

Georgia’s death, the first time around, was shocking. I can’t recall reading another novel that kills off the narrator and switches to a new one in this fashion. As I approached the section of the book that sees this scene, I surprised myself by reading steadily on. Usually, when I know that something terrible is coming, I subconsciously avoid it as long as I can. This time, due to the events that occur in book 3, I was able to keep going. I wasn’t nearly as upset over Georgia’s death as I was over Buffy’s. This is because I know that Georgia returns, in a fashion. Still, her final blog was terrible to read. Again, knowing the extent of her relationship with Shaun, when she begins to succumb to Kellis-Amberlee and types that she loves Shaun there at the end, I cried a bit.

In Conclusion

What a fantastic experience it was to revisit this work and find it just as enjoyable as it was the first time (if one can call a novel as full of tragedy and terrible things as this one is “enjoyable” — I think you can). It was not enjoyable in the same way; I am pleased to report that it was great on an entirely new level.

13 Comments

  • Shara White August 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    So I’m still bitter that this book lost the Hugo for Best Novel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Connie Willis, but I never felt good about the two books being put on the list as a series (everything I’ve researched tells me that’s not what that rule was created for anyway), and I never felt like those two books were as good as Doomsday and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Too much bloat in Blackout & All Clear, whereas Feed did something REALLY different and REALLY memorable.

    I’ll just go sulk in the corner now and cuddle my copy of Feed

    Reply
    • Casey August 2, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      There, there. Now, let’s not bend the cover too much. 😉

      I agree with you. Unfortunately, it is what it is. Preliminary plan: campaign to get FEEDBACK on the ballot for next year!

      Reply
      • Shara White August 3, 2016 at 9:20 pm

        Ha! I knew you had ulterior motives with the re-read! 😉

        Reply
        • Casey August 3, 2016 at 9:47 pm

          WHAT NO NEVER WHY WOULD YOU SUGGEST THAT.

          Reply
        • Casey August 3, 2016 at 9:47 pm

          😉

          Reply
  • Venessa.G August 2, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    I haven’t read this book (and it wasn’t even on my radar!). So I stopped at the spoiler warning and will return (probably in two months, judging from my TBR pile!) after I’ve read it. But just reading a little bit into the blog post really made me want to pick it up. I don’t read a lot of zombie fiction because a lot of it is regurgitated and pretty unoriginal. So I like the idea that the zombie part is simply a support structure for the main plot. That appeals to me. 🙂 Thanks so much for turning me on to this!

    Reply
    • Shara White August 2, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      This book was such a page-turner for me. It thoroughly deserved to win that Hugo, and I say this as someone who wasn’t a loyal fangirl at the time I read it.

      Reply
      • Casey August 2, 2016 at 4:22 pm

        Agreed! It’s a very unique novel!

        Reply
    • Casey August 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      Yay! I’m so very happy to spread the good word that is Newsflesh 🙂 seriously, I hope you enjoy it when you read it. Spouse read my post this morning (he’s read it) and said with a mock sigh that he had better just go ahead and read it again.

      Reply
  • BreeRamsey (@genomorph) August 3, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I too discovered feed after reading Seanan’s urban fantasy, and being a huge zombie fan I couldn’t wait to read it. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the novel, the entire series for that matter, including all the short fiction. As you say, zombies are really a small part of Feed, and yet, at the same time, they are a huge part of it because they shape the world the characters live in.

    I totally missed the true depth of Georgia an Shaun’s relationship the first time around, and on re-reading the novel so many things suddenly had new meaning. One in particular came early on, when Georgia is shooing Shaun out of her room. “There’s about to be nudity, and you’ll just complicate things.” she says. The first time around that seemed like cute sibling banter, but the second time I had to smile, because I now understood exactly how complicated it might get.

    To me, Georgia’s death hit like a physical blow. I had to stop reading for a good while just to get myself under control. She had become like a dear friend to me, and losing her felt so real. It was almost as intense the second time for me. Yes, I knew we would get Georgia back, and that made me happy, but the courageous young woman I fell in love with was still gone, and nothing would ever bring her back.

    If you haven’t read any of the Newsflesh short fiction, I highly recommend it. It is all available in one volume now, Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection. These stories add a tremendous amount of depth to the core novels. One in particular, The Day The Dead Came To Show And Tell, compelled me to stop reading several times and find the tissues.

    Reply
    • Casey Price August 3, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      There are SO MANY clues about Shaun and George if you know how to spot them! But they nearly always work on both levels and it’s brilliant. It’s tough to work that kind of subtleness in right under the reader’snose without it feeling like a trick, but I’d say it’s done very well here.

      The short fiction is fantastic! I had the same problem with that story. I once seriously considered a career in education and that story gutted me.

      Reply
  • Kelly McCarty August 22, 2016 at 12:30 am

    I have heard good things about this book before but I decided to read it because of this review. If someone had told me, “It’s a political thriller with zombies,” I would have said, “That sounds terrible.” I was surprised by how much of a page turner this book was for me. I enjoyed it enough to put the next book in the series on hold at the library. I loaned Feed to my mother and she couldn’t get into it, so I guess it’s not for everyone. I expected a tragic death but I did not expect it to be Georgia.

    Reply
    • Casey August 22, 2016 at 1:25 am

      I’m so glad you read it and will be continuing the series! “Political thriller with zombies”‘does sound odd but it fits. I, too, was skeptical at first but it’s one of my favorite books. Again, so happy you read and liked it!

      Reply

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