By Mira Grant
In a post zombie-rising world, civilization remains intact, thanks to rigorous security and blood testing procedures. The decline of traditional media, sped along by the public’s distrust after the underreporting of the rise of the zombies, has left the field open to independent news bloggers like brother and sister team Georgia and Shaun Mason. Georgia and Shaun are selected for a coveted position covering the campaign of a promising presidential candidate, but the backbiting, cutthroat nature of politics turns out a bit more literal than they’re expecting.
As Georgia notes early on, regarding her post-semi-apocalyptic journalism activities, “The zombies aren’t the story anymore.” The book as a whole could have benefited greatly from heeding her wisdom. A lot of time is spent recapping the generic, impersonal horrors of the initial rising of the dead, with a solemnity that tries and fails to conceal the popcorn action movie devices of suspense, particularly the scenes upon scenes of blood tests that give out results in the form of a red or green light, after cycling between the two like an arcade game.
The references to the existence of zombie fiction within the universe often come at the severe expense of the story at hand, especially in the naming of the characters. We’re told that the rise of zombies in an already zombie-savvy world has affected naming trends, and the casual presence of a Shaun, a Rick, and an Andrea among the cast fits that explanation, but we’re also told that Barbara and variants of George are now some of the most common names in the U.S thanks to -- you guessed it -- George Romero. So, in a world tragically ravaged by zombies, people are naming their children after the person who prophetically imagined them in advance? Why? He's not regarded as a hero of the zombie conflict or anything. And Barbara of all names? The useless catatonic from Night of the Living Dead? Wouldn’t the majority of parents naming their children with the zombie rising in mind choose names that offer some kind of hope against the zombies? No Selenas? No Maggies? Not even a Francine?
And that’s not even to mention Georgia and Shaun’s self-styled poet teammate who calls herself Buffy, because “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world full of zombies.” If she’d only said “a world full of the undead,” it might quell the suspicion that the reference is made without any knowledge of the source, but it wouldn’t overcome the handicap of saddling a character with a name deeply pre-embedded with an existing persona. The Buffy of Feed is a perfectly adequate character, but not near special enough to break away from that, a problem the other characters are mostly spared, only by the commonness of their referential names.
Names aside, characters clearly intended to be liked make liking them unnecessarily difficult. Georgia’s a hard boiled reporter, fine, but it’s hard to trust her confidence in her own supposedly great competence when she’s constantly calling her teammates idiots, in all seriousness, while either taking the exact same risks she berates them for, or routinely profiting off their willingness to take them for her. The team’s pet presidential candidate, right after being established as the smart, humble, honest, compassionate, non-posturing contrast to the typical politician, suddenly pulls that hackneyed and infuriating anti-intellectual move of snapping at a perfectly articulate technical specialist who’s trying to help him, to demand that he “say it in English!”
There’s also a strange level of anti-fiction sentiment for a novel, and a genre novel at that. It makes sense within Georgia’s internal monologue -- she is a nonfiction writer after all -- but the book as a whole backs her up on this, just as it does on her hypocrisy about her methods. Examples are given of Buffy’s laughably melodramatic work, and Georgia’s assertions are never disputed, about how much easier it is for a freelancing fiction writer to earn attention and a living without expending any real effort, compared with how it is for her as a journalist. There’s no hint of how the presence of zombies may have somehow changed the world to make this true.
When the story at hand does take the foreground, with zombies for flavor, it’s a pretty decent, immersive, moody political thriller. As a zombie story, the career focus as opposed to survival focus of the characters gives it a different angle from the norm, and once the zombies intrude on the lives of our main characters in real time, it’s merciless. There’s one death scene in particular, or rather, the post-death scene, that’s incredibly powerful in terms of both pure sentiment and graphic shock in perfect proportions. It’s the kind of moment that makes a whole ride worthwhile.
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