Book Review: The Newsflesh Trilogy
I don’t like zombies. In terms of the traditional trifecta of transformative supernaturals, give me vampires or werewolves any day for an interesting story with plenty of potential for goosebumps. Zombies, on the other hand, aren't particularly scary. Primarily just gross. I mean, how truly frightening can it be to have somebody shambling after you, moaning quietly while leaving a trail of extraneous linbs? Creepy, yes. Hide-behind-your-pillows kind of scary? Not really. The only zombie movies I've ever watched and enjoyed are Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later. I tried watching The Walking Dead, that critically and popularly acclaimed series, but after two episodes decided that I had too many other options for entertainment that I might actually enjoy.
Which is to say that I don't exactly know how I ended up buying Feed, the first book in the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant, which is supposedly zombie novel, but nonetheless, there I was. Very shortly thereafter, I bought the second book (Deadline) and then I waited impatiently for the third. Having just finished reading Blackout, I feel compelled to share my impressions.
In the not-too-distant future - in fact, I think it was 2014 - researchers have found a cure for the common cold. There is also work in using a virus to combat cancer. After an unscrupulous journalists puts out a rather questionable story, a small group breaks into a lab and sets the virus free. And creates havoc. Because one virus hitches a ride on the other and before you know it, any mammal over the weight of about a four-year-old as a potential for zombification. Or rather, amplification, because that's what it's called when the virus – now called Kellis-Amberlee - gets triggered. Enter the post-apocalyptic world of the US in the year 2040, which is where the books take place. Blood test devices are everywhere, requiring people to test clean for Kellis-Amberlee before they can into their home, office buildings, hotels, hospitals and busses, as well as undergo random blood tests at intersections and gas stations. It's a very different world, one where no one has a pet much larger than a cat, people are living in abject fear and always on the lookout for zombies. Outbreaks happen all the time, requiring the CDC to swoop in to cleanse in the area (which involves bombs and subsequent massive use of bleach). Everyone's hair is streaked blonde because of frequent anti-contamination procedures (lots of bleach again) and the level of paranoia is quite high.
Shaun and Georgia Mason are the adopted children of the Masons, the first of a new breed of journalists reporting through their blogs. Shaun and Georgia run After The End Times, a news organization that has several departments: the Newsies (reporters), the Irwins (who poke dead things with sticks while recording themselves for the entertainment of the masses) and the Fictionals, who is a name suggests, write fiction and poetry. After The End Times gets the opportunity to be the official bloggers of the Ryman presidential campaign and this is when the story takes off. I'm not going to say any more about the specifics because that might ruin the story.
So, yes. There are zombies, but I wouldn't exactly call these books zombie novels. If, on the other hand, you are fascinated by virology, journalism, politics and enjoy a good conspiracy theory, these are the books for you. Are they perfect? Well… I would've suggested another edit - hearing them read aloud on an audio book makes it clear that the writing occasionally could have a lighter touch. But that's quibbling. The story is good. Really good. It moves along at breakneck speed, surprising you, moving you, infuriating you and often causing you to bite your nails while you wait for someone to test clear or get out of that situation with zombies. I had a blast reading this series.
On the one hand, it's perfect summertime reading because it's an action movie in print. On the other hand, it also makes you think. About politics, about what researchers are up to, about the potential for catastrophe in virology and about how far you would go for your ethics. That last one is important – it’s the overarching theme of the trilogy. Journalistic ethics, political ethics, scientific ethics and the circumstances that test your commitment to the beliefs by which you live and work. There is much food for thought in these books and a lot of fun, too.