Passion, truth, and complications

I was up way too late last night reading. That’s okay: I planned for it. You see, Amazon brought me Mira Grant’s latest, Deadline, and I’d set aside time to read it.

I’ve been asked a number of times in interviews about what my favorite book is, or what I like to read. I have a hard time listing a favorite. I have lots of favorites, the books I’m nostalgic about, the books I come back to reread year after year, and the books that grab me, and make me keep thinking, long after I put them down.

But one of the things I often talk about is why I read science fiction and fantasy: in brief, it’s because I love exploring the possibility of “what if”. By their very nature, books set in a different place, a different time, let us ask different questions, or see the answers from a different perspective. And books that do that especially well, give us a way to bring back those ideas, those understandings, those steps towards answers, back into our own lives.

Back to this series.

Mira Grant is the name used by Seanan McGuire for this series, and some other related work – basically, things that fall more in the horror genre than in fantasy or science fiction. And Seanan McGuire is very good at what she does: she’s the winner of 2010 John M. Campbell Award for Best New Author, and Feed was selected as one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2010.

She’s also a prolific writer and creator: there are four books currently out in her October Daye series (also awesome), another one coming out in September, she’s released three CDs, and has a couple of other projects I’m avidly awaiting. In between that (and a day job!), she writes a fair amount of short fiction, much of which she shares for free on her journal and website.

For example, as a run-up to the release of Deadline, she did a series of almost 30 short fiction snippets about the world. (They take place about 20 years before the first novel opens, so they won’t spoil any of the actual plot if you read them before you read Feed, and they’re a great way to get a sense of the world and her writing style.) I think this is an awesome way to share a sense of the books, without spoiling the actual content.

I’d been aware of her Tobe Daye series for a bit, but what got me hooked on trying Feed was a post in John Scalzi’s (another SF authors) blog series called The Big Idea, where authors talk about the ideas that got them writing a particular book. This has turned into one of my favorite sources of books, and even more interestingly, the books I find out about here have tended to be widely successful when I’ve suggested them to library patrons. (In part, I think, because the posts give me as a librarian a great way to talk about the book and why someone might find it interesting that goes beyond the cover blurb.)

Anyway, I recommend the Big Idea posts for both Feed and Deadline to get a sense of the series. I’m not usually a huge horror reader (there are times my imagination doesn’t need a lot of help, y’know?) but the Big Idea about Feed immediately made it clear to me that there was a lot more going on there that I’d find fascinating.

And so it is. The book has zombies, yes, and there’s a certain amount of death and blood and misery. But it’s really more about living in a world we don’t understand, and that we don’t always have as much control over as we think we do. It’s about speaking truth, and making connections, and trying to leave the world a little better than we found it – but it’s also about the question of “who decides what’s better?”. It’s about friendship, and love, and collaboration, and it’s about how we decide who to believe. And it’s about how fear changes the world we live in, and whether we ought to let our fears win over our truths and hopes.

And those are all things I find totally awesome in books.

It’s also about something near and dear my heart: the power of writing and technology to bring people together, share information, and create community (because, after all, in a world full of zombies, many people don’t go out much.)

One of the things I love about both books is how the narrative is interspersed with excerpts from blog posts (the main characters are professional bloggers in a world where that’s one of the major news sources.) I love how the reason there are zombies has a reasonable scientific background. (These are science zombies, not magic zombies, in other words.) As something of an epidemiological geek myself (though not to the extent Seanan is), that’s awesome.

Okay. Back to why you should read this book. (Actually, why you should read Feed and then read this book, because you’ll care a lot more about this book if you do.)

I agree with the comments on the Big Idea article that the author makes – Feed is a political thriller, while Deadline is much more psychological. Put another way, Feed is more heavily plot driven (with some awesome characters), while Deadline is much more about the characters (and the inside of their heads), with a good helping of action and plot. (Zombie fights! Daring escapes! Intrigue and espionage! Plenty of action.)

Deadline is also an amazingly strong second book – often the weakness of trilogies. There are some places that’s obvious (especially the end), but the beginning does a great job of easing you back into the world and reminding you how things work before the story accelerates (which it does quite rapidly.) And then there’s a solid plot that both serves this book, but is clearly laying down foundation for a powerful conclusion. Waiting a year for the last book in the series is going to be hard.

What I loved was seeing a wider range of interactions. It was particularly awesome to see more about how After The End Times (the blog/news service that the major characters run or are involved with) staff interact. Learning more about Maggie, and about Mahir was lots of fun, too. They don’t always agree, either,  in a way that’s messy and complicated the way people can be, even when they’re mostly wanting the same basic goal.

But I also loved the way that we got more depth into things going on. What the Rising did in other parts of the world. What that changes. How things we mostly take for granted (grocery shopping, flying, driving) are a whole lot different. And I loved how, in this book, the damage from the first book – the hurts, the pains, the misery – isn’t wiped away. These are human beings, who don’t bounce back from that sort of thing all the time, not idealised symbols.

This is not a book to read if you want to be cheered up. It is not an easy book in places: hard things happen, miserable things, things that will probably make you want to scream at the book. People make choices that may have you doing the equivalent of yelling at the TV screen.This is not the best book to read somewhere if people are going to look at you funny if you start laughing, crying, or talking back to the pages.

But amazing things happen, too. And it’s a book that will almost certainly make you think differently about your world, and what matters, and what to trust, than you did before.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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