Welcome! Usually, this is where you would find my monthly write-up of my experience rereading Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series. Perhaps some of you, having read this series, have been reading along and either nodding or shaking your respective heads at what I’ve written. Some of you, I’m sure, have been skipping the pieces because you haven’t read the series. Well. This week, we are hitting a pause button on the review series, because today is a SPECIAL DAY. Today is the day that the new entry in the series, Feedback, is released upon the world-at-large. Fantastic! It is practically needless to say that I am super thrilled to see this book and can’t wait to dive right in. However, that will wait for a bit. Sit down, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or crack open a cold can of Coke), and let me talk to those of you who haven’t read these books already. This? Is my attempt to sway you to read the Newsflesh series. I truly love these books and I want to share that love with everyone that I can. I will now take questions from the audience.
Casey, I don’t like zombies. In fact, I hate zombies. Zombies are the worst, and I am tired of them because popular culture is utterly saturated with them. Why should I read a zombie book when I HATE ZOMBIES?
Short answer: the zombies aren’t that big of a deal.Long answer: if you look at the majority of zombie fiction, most stories featuring zombies are about the survivors. This series takes it beyond “what are the survivors doing and how are they surviving?” The series takes on the idea that the Rising (which is when the dead started to get up and munch on people in Grant’s world) happened, the world dealt with it, and this is what has happened after the fact. Society did not, in fact, collapse. Nor did it sink into a dictatorship with a crazy warlord in charge. No, society simply moved on and learned to navigate these new, zombie-infested waters. There aren’t that many gratuitous zombie scenes. Do they show up on a fairly regular basis? Yes and no. The threat always lurks at the back of many scenes.
When the zombies DO show up it’s never pointless or gratuitous. There’s always some reason behind their appearance. Plenty of the zombie-filled horror shows (especially in Feed) take place in an off-screen capacity. When the dead walk in the Newsflesh series, it’s with a purpose that drives the plot forward and the characters into new and even more trying circumstances.
And if you’re easily grossed out…you can always skim through the gory parts. I promise that it’ll be worth it.
I’m sick of politics. I can’t stand the word ‘politics’ these days. Why are you encouraging me to read a political thriller? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
Right now, if you aren’t a little tired of talking about politics, you are likely in the minority. Happily, we aren’t talking about standard politics too much throughout the novels and stories. Our heroes begin the long, strange trip by signing on to join the press pool of a potential Republican candidate in an upcoming presidential race. One memorable rally is written about with loving detail. The After the End Times crew visits the Republican National Convention. Otherwise? There aren’t “politics” in this story in the way that you might be concerned with. Most of the politicians, like the zombies, tend to lurk in the shadows until it’s time to devour someone’s brain, however figuratively it might be in their own case. Yes, I have been known to describe these stories as “political thriller with zombies” on more than one occasion. I…can’t say too much without spoilers.
Right then. So you mentioned gory parts?
Sure, there are a few gory bits here and there. They aren’t gratuitous but when they happen on screen, Grant holds no punches. She, like George, values truth. If somebody’s dead and a zombie’s munching on their face, Grant’s not going to sugar coat it. She doesn’t zoom in and tell you just precisely what the zombie happens to be dining on when, but she also won’t tell you that the zombie shambled happily off into the woods to start a new life with its zombie spouse and tiny zombie children.
Okay, but I really hate when horror movies and books reduce women to victims. I find it personally insulting that the big, strong-jawed hero saves the day more times than not. It’s not one of THOSE stories, is it?It is not, and you are in for a treat.
Simply put, Grant’s women are badasses here.
Each and every female that you encounter within the pages of her stories is, in her own way, fascinating and bold. Some of them, such as Emily Ryman and Magdalene Garcia, choose to be bold and independent in how they decide to pursue their passions while figuratively offering a raised middle finger in the face of conventional practices. Emily, for example, was raised in a horse-loving family. Horses, unfortunately, are way above the threshold for amplification. What this means in Newsflesh-speak is that horses can become zombies if they get bit. It’s not illegal to raise horses and other large mammals, strictly, but it’s also not exactly looked upon favorably. Emily doesn’t care. She loves those palominos and she refuses to give up her passion just because it’s frowned upon.
Magdalene (known as Maggie) is in a slightly different position. She is the only child of a wealthy, powerful family and (with her family’s blessing) has decided to live in a rambling farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. She writes, raises miniature bulldogs, and throws huge house parties. Sounds great, right? It is, for today’s standards and practices. For the future outlined in Newsflesh, this is borderline insane. You don’t want to be too far from civilization — herds of wandering zombies (animal and human) become a threat. Throwing house parties that last for days? Silly idea because if one person falls victim to what is called “spontaneous amplification” (meaning that the person amplifies and becomes a zombie for no apparent reason) or dies silently due to an unknown health issue, suddenly you’re in the middle of nowhere with a hungry zombie. Maggie’s parents have taken great precautions with their only child. She has an extensive security system, including a smart house that will take measures into its own hands if somebody amplifies, but it’s still dangerous. Maggie does not care one bit.
One of our main protagonists, Georgia, is strong in the more conventional sense. She’s smart, basically fearless, pursuing a journalism career, and never, ever afraid to tell you exactly what she thinks about any given topic at any given time. She’s good with a gun. She doesn’t hesitate to do what needs to be done when confronted with a horror-movie monster come to life. She is a fine example of what it means to kick ass and take names.
I could go on for a lot longer. Looking at it objectively, I would suggest that the female characters outnumber the males. This doesn’t mean that the men are somehow lesser. Every character in this series is well-realized in its own individual way.
Ah ha, I have one for you. Is this ridiculous science fiction, with wildly improbable scenarios and made up nonsense?
From Grant’s own FAQ:
Q: How long do you spend on average on research, writing, revising, etc. until you are happy (or it gets sold, whichever comes first)?
A: This is hugely dependent on what I’m doing. A Mason book requires a lot of research, since they each deal with a different slice of the zombie apocalypse, and take quite some time to prepare for, much less write.
Furthermore, see also this article: Grant, speaking as her alter-ego, Seanan McGuire, speaks at great length on the importance of doing one’s research. It shows in her work, and it is terrifying. Why? Because the scenarios are so plausible. If you start doing your own research, then you will come across articles like this one. There is a certain species of fungus that infects ants and turns them into ant zombies. The marvelous, terrifying part of nature that we don’t generally enjoy talking about? THINGS EVOLVE. So what happens if this particular fungus starts to evolve and mutate? What if it ended up adapting to take over human brains? It’s definitely a possibility.
I obviously cannot say too much without spoilers. But I assure you that the science is very well handled, and Grant speaks from a place of thorough knowledge.
I will say this: the premise of this series is so plausible to me that shortly after finishing the original trilogy, I found myself unable to enjoy a lot zombie-related fiction. The idea that it could actually happen was never far from my mind. Unless there was a healthy dose of something else in the story (humor, as in Zombieland or even romance (of sorts) in Warm Bodies), I found myself cringing away from the screen or page. The Walking Dead has become agonizing for me to watch, for example.
I LIKE BLOGS.
Okay, not precisely a question, per se, but still relevant! This series is, in a roundabout way, a love letter to long form blogging. Did you have a LiveJournal? Did you use DiaryLand? Do you miss the sense of community that accompanied those sites? I do too. LiveJournal is where I first became acquainted with our esteemed Editor-in-Chic and is a large reason why Speculative Chic exists today. Without that community, many of the excellent contributors that you see here daily wouldn’t have known each other at all.
This is relevant to the conversation because, as I’ve said, the series shows a lot of love for the art of long form blogging. Micro blogging has become the way that a chunk of the population spends its Internet minutes. In the Newsflesh series, bloggers kind of saved the day. Mainstream media wasn’t the source of information during the Rising. Blogging was. Mainstream media was ignoring what was happening while the bloggers wrote and shared everything that they knew. Consider modern day uses of social media. Frequently social media is the source of up-to-the-minute information on topics as heartbreaking as mass shootings and as controversial as the Congressional sit-in that occurred earlier this year. Social media was used to spread an unfiltered sort of view at things happening on the ground before the information was cycled through the news. Our heroes in Newsflesh are bloggers. They aren’t traditional journalists. Traditional journalism appears to have fallen largely by the wayside in this series, and I love it.
You have convinced me! Where do I start? What order do I read them in?
Start with Feed. If you like what you’ve read, move on to the second book, Deadline. From there, the third novel is Blackout. Grant has also published quite a bit of short fiction in this universe. You absolutely must not read Fed unless you have read the first novel (it’s an alternate ending). You could read, but probably wouldn’t fully appreciate, Countdown prior to reading Feed, but I doubt you would feel the impact as strongly. Likewise with San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats. Once you move past these three, there are three more novellas that take place after the events in the original trilogy. These are, in order, How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea, The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell, and Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus. If you do decide to read the short fiction, and and you want to read every single story, do yourself a favor and just pick up the collection, Rise. It’s cheaper than purchasing all of the stories on their own, plus it contains two novellas that you cannot read anywhere else: All the Pretty Little Horses, and Coming to You Live. Stick to the reading order. Everything will pack the best emotional punch if you do.
And with that, friends, I end my plea. I hope that I’ve swayed some of you. If you decide to read the novels, come back and visit the reviews I’ve posted already (Feed and Deadline). Very soon you will find me back here again, discussing my thoughts on revisiting Blackout. In November I’ll discuss Feedback, and in December, we’ll take a romp through the short fiction (including the Rise exclusive novellas). I hope that you’ll join me!