Change The World, Then Cookies: Re-Reading Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Series, Part 3: Blackout

“Great,” Shaun said, clapping his hands together.  “Let’s go through decon, get in there, and change the world.  And then?  Cookies” (p 620).

What a wonderful time of year it is. The weather grows crisp. Halloween is just around the corner, and just in time for more scary fiction. I hope that you’re caught up on your Newsflesh reading, ladies and gentlemen, because today we’re examining book 3 of the original trilogy, Blackout! Blackout brings the story of our beloved After the End Times founder, Shaun, to what was once considered an end. If you choose not to continue the series with Grant’s short fiction, you could certainly draw the curtain on Shaun and company with this novel and have a perfectly fine ending. If you choose to chase me further down the rabbit hole, however, you’ll see why I can’t really say that the story ended here. I won’t say too much because this is before the spoiler zone.

Speaking of the spoiler zone, let me take a moment to say something about the experience of re-reading these three novels over the last few months. Anybody who’s read the books knows that the chapters and sections frequently end/begin with snippets from our heroes’ blogs. Shaun speaks rather poignantly about going home in Blackout. He says:

You really can’t go home again.
Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Sometimes, when you try, you find out that home isn’t there anymore. . . but that it wasn’t only in your head before. Home actually existed. Home wasn’t just a dream.
Sometimes that’s the best thing of all (p 255).

It’s somewhat fitting to the experience that I’ve had going back through these stories again. The characters and the setting felt like old friends and familiar neighborhoods. Knowing the plot (for the most part as I was fuzzy on some of the plot points in books two and three) allowed me to savor everything else. Naturally it wasn’t as exciting the second time around. Shaun was wrong on one point, however. When you have a home in fiction, you can go back as many times as you want or need to.

Thank you to all of you who’ve followed along this blog series thus far. I hope that you’ll stick with me when we head into new territory starting next month.  Now that I’ve waxed sentimental, on we go.

blackout-by-mira-grantBlackout (2012)
Written by: Mira Grant
Genre: Science fiction
Pages: 672 (Mass Market Paperback/Kindle)
Series: Book Three of Newsflesh
Publisher: Orbit

Why I Chose It: The new novel, Feedback has just been released! I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the universe and the circumstances that this novel is set in.
The premise:

The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.

The year was 2039. The world didn’t end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. The uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.

Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there’s one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it’s this:

Things can always get worse.

Here be spoilers, pass ye not beyond the line if ye wish to remain spoiler-free!


Hail to the King

When we last left our heroes, at the end of Deadline, we learned two very important things: Shaun is immune to Kellis-Amberlee and previously dead Georgia appears to have woken up in an empty white room. There’s a lot going on there. Book three picks it right back up again and takes off running.

Shaun being immune to Kellis-Amberlee is huge! Reading through Blackout tells us that Shaun is the only known individual to have this immunity. Grant dances around the issue a bit on how Shaun achieved this immunity until later in the book. The condition is explained with a bit of vague handwaving about being around George for his entire life (remember that Georgia had a reservoir condition in her eyes; live-state Kellis-Amberlee lived in and was confined to her eyes, waiting to be released). Dr. Abbey, the resident mad scientist of the piece, doesn’t really care too much about how he got this particular advantage. She just wants to stick Shaun with needles, draw blood, and let him get bitten. For science!

Later, after we learn precisely how Shaun was regularly exposed to Kellis-Amberlee, it all begins to make a weird sort of sense. Grant’s science is on point once again. An example from history kind of backs up what’s going on with Shaun. In 1796, amidst the terror of the smallpox threat, a scientist noted that milkmaids appeared to be immune to smallpox. Why? Milkmaids were exposed to a related virus, cowpox.  Regular exposure to the less deadly virus allowed their immune systems to gain strength against smallpox. Back to Grant’s scenario, Shaun was regularly exposed to the some form of the virus through his intimacy with George. We know that George’s blood didn’t register as problematic until the end of Feed. We learned in Deadline that the reservoir conditions are the body’s way of learning to deal with the virus and that there was a possibility that George might have recovered once her amplification began. Either Shaun’s immune system developed antibodies due to the regular exposure he got from George, or George’s body developed antibodies which she then transferred to Shaun during sex.

Living Dead Girl

Georgia wakes up? Georgia’s alive? What in the actual hell? Has the CDC somehow managed to figure out how to repair a human body that’s been shot in the back of the head?

Nope. Turns out that this Georgia is not our original girl. She’s damn close. The CDC decided to clone Georgia, using DNA samples from when they held her body in custody before returning her ashes to Shaun. This version of George has a ninety-seven percent accuracy rating and is the closest that science is able to come in bringing somebody back from the dead. Well then. She takes the news with the sort of evenness that one might expect having become acquainted with George 1.0. In her own words:

Somehow, knowing that I wasn’t really who I thought I was — knowing that Georgia Mason was dead and gone and never coming back — made dealing with Dr. Thomas easier. I don’t like lying. I’ve never liked lying. And when I was myself, I wasn’t any good at it. Now that I was someone else who just thought she was me, it seemed like a skill worth developing. I wasn’t compromising my values. I was creating my values, and compromising the values of a dead woman (p 191).

Well-adjusted, isn’t she? I’m not sure that *I* (or my clone, in this case) would be that level-headed about the idea of being a clone. Here’s where it gets super disturbing, though. George 2.0? Is actually George 7c.  Our new George is part of the seventh series attempting to clone the original Georgia Mason. Think about that for a moment. The CDC has been working on cloning George ever since her death, presumably. This Georgia is supposed to be for the CDC’s showroom, to prove just how successful their cloning abilities have become. This is why she has such a high accuracy rating. In a clandestine visit to another part of the CDC facility where she begins the novel, George 2.0 discovers that there is a series of clones after her own. Subject 8b, which is a slightly less accurate version of George 1.0, has been removed from her tank and is resting nicely in bed. Her purpose? Draw out Shaun, who has become quite the thorn in everyone’s side.

This, friends, is why I’ve been saying all along that the government is the Big Bad here. But you knew that already, if you’re reading this review. Nasty backroom deals involving cloning, deliberate infection of large portions of the population (which I’ll get to in a moment), carpet-bombing a city just to get rid of problematic people (RIP Oakland)…all things perpetrated by the people in charge. It’s nasty, nasty business.

Fortunately, George has a mostly unseen ally. Remember Rick Cousins from Feed? Remember also that Ryman chose Rick to be his new vice president after Governor Tate’s death? Rick has seen the nasty underbelly. He lives and works in the belly of the beast. Rick, in his own way, was doing what he could to fix things by assisting and facilitating George’s coming back to life.  To make a long story short, George 2.0 was whisked away from her captors at the CDC by members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) and given multiple operations to remove trackers, an identification chip, and time bombs made from the venom of sea wasps.  Rick manages to slip away from the White House during George’s convalescence.  While she’s still somewhat under anesthesia, Rick speaks to George, urging her to get out there and bust the entire conspiracy wide open.

I dare you to read this book and not come away from it with even a small opinion that you cannot trust the government. Any thinking person knows that they cannot be trusted 100% of the time, but reading this and other books like it certainly make one pause to think about all of the things that are going on without our knowledge.

“Will she come back? You came back. Will she?”

Alrighty.  Confession time:  I didn’t love this book. I felt it was weaker than the previous two volumes. I had one huge problem that threw me completely out of the story and made it a little difficult for me to pick it back up again. It slowed me down the first time that I was reading the novel and it threw me again this time. In a novel full of mad scientists, enormous political conspiracies, and zombies, there was one incident where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief:

Georgia 2.0 just so happens to be escaping from the Seattle CDC at the same time that Shaun and company are breaking in?  Seriously?

I just couldn’t buy the coincidence. It was too much of a deus ex machina. I could buy that she was breaking out while they in Seattle but at the exact same time that her people were in the same building? I couldn’t buy it. I couldn’t get over it. It threw me completely out of the story and honestly irritated me a bit.

My biggest gripe: Becks’ death. I get the cold calculations of the thing. I just feel like she deserved a better ending than this. Remember when I was telling you all of the reasons why you should read this series? And I spent some time talking about Grant’s women being fantastic representations of bravery and equality, and how they kicked just as much if not more ass than the men? Becks didn’t deserve to die in that airlock like that. I get that she was making the heroic sacrifice there, but she had a grenade. Toss the damned grenade and at least try to run for it. I feel like she could have made it. I know that I may not be right, but it’s a huge problem for me that the second best woman in the series meets her end like that.

The good news is that Grant in a “weak” novel is still heads and shoulders above writers handling similar amounts of work. Make no mistake, this is a big story and there’s a lot of moving parts. Grant is a skilled writer who has grown by leaps and bounds with every new offering. So perhaps this work would have been better had the publisher allowed it to run for four volumes instead of three? Parts of the novel that felt a little rushed could have been fleshed out a little. I wanted to know more about the settlement of people living off the grid that Becks and Shaun encounter on their trip to Berkeley. Also, Becks and Shaun killed a zombie bear! I get that it wasn’t a big plot point, but that would have been a fantastic sequence to get to “see” in the text! Another scene I wish we could have witnessed? Even a small vignette of Shaun and Georgia’s parents on their way to Florida or even IN Florida, saving Alaric’s sister. I know that, stylistically, it wouldn’t have worked, but it was such a big moment for the elder Masons that I really hate that it happened entirely off-screen.

Otherwise? Great novel, and as I said before the cut, a satisfying end to the trilogy. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, the story doesn’t end here. We have a novella collection (Rise) to tackle and of course, Feedback! I’ll be back in a few weeks’ time blathering on about Feedback and in December we’ll hit up Rise (especially the collection-exclusive pieces).

4 Comments

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier October 11, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    “I didn’t love this book. I felt it was weaker than the previous two volumes.”

    Same. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it, but the first two were just so damn amazing. Maybe she raised the bar too high?

    Also, I just couldn’t jump on the Shaun/George ship. I liked them much better as siblings/friends then as couple.

    Reply
  • Kelly McCarty October 13, 2016 at 1:22 am

    In my opinion, Feed was the best book and Blackout the weakest. I did enjoy the trilogy (and I picked it up solely because of your original post). I expected President Ryman would play a bigger role in the conclusion but he just sort of faded away after the first book. Shaun and George being adopted siblings and secret lovers was weird for me. I thought that George coming back to life as a clone was cheating and diminished the impact of the gut-wrenching death scene in Feed. I felt like Becks got killed off in such a horrible way because bringing George back from the dead was a rip-off. Does anyone know why this author writes under two different names? I don’t why that bugs me but it does.

    Reply
    • Casey October 18, 2016 at 10:52 am

      I don’t know why in this particular case. Sometimes writers have second, open, pen names due to the content that they’re creating. It’s a sort of signal that, for example, when Princess McPrincessface publishes a novel under the name Doctor Detectiveface that it will be something different. Different names for different projects and styles seem common enough.

      Reply
    • Shara White October 19, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      McGuire actually answered that question at ConNooga, and it has to do with when FEED and ROSEMARY & RUE were bought/released. Stores stock an author based off previous sales, but at the time, they didn’t have McGuire’s figures yet for R&R but those WOULD be available when FEED was getting ordered. It was a risk: if they left McGuire’s name in the cover and R&R wasn’t selling well, then stores like B&N wouldn’t order as many copies of FEED. And since R&R was urban fantasy, and this wasn’t, she decided that launching a different brand was worth the risk. Worked too: while there’s no way of knowing for sure, I don’t think FEED would’ve made the Hugo ballot with McGuire’s name on the cover, because there’s enough SF/F/H fans out there that would have dismissed her book because she also writes UF. Not fair, true, but separating the brands ended up being the right thing to do.

      Reply

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