Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
So here we are again, almost one year later. Another Newsflesh novel nominated for a Hugo. I’ve decided that everything I want to discuss about this book takes me into hella spoilers territory. So that spoiler flag I put on here? Don’t ignore that if you were thinking I was kidding. I wasn’t. From here on out, we will be knee deep in zombie guts and spoilers. If you want a non-spoilery review, check out Kemper’s well-articulated reasons for this book’s mediocrity. I particularly agree about the lack of actual zombie combat. What’s up with that?
I don’t remember exactly how I felt about Feed after reading it, but I think I liked it but did not see it as a remarkable, Hugo-winning book. It had an interesting take on zombies and bloggers but was hobbled by less-than-stellar plot. Deadline, in my opinion, improves upon the pacing and structure of Feed quite a bit. However, its plot and characterization fall into the same old traps—and this time, the zombie honeymoon is over. And I’m coming for braaaaaains.
I’ll hand it to Mira Grant: Deadline is definitely action-packed and fast-paced, though for every “action-packed” scene, I suppose there is an accompanying scene of painfully slow dialogue and exposition as everyone stuffs more wads of cotton into their ears. The plot is convoluted owing in no small part to the fact that everyone in this book sucks at communicating. It seems like every time someone has something important, perhaps even life-saving, to say, they decide it would be better to sleep, or eat, or do something else and defer the conversation for the morning. Because that always ends up so well. And then when they do have a discussion, it seldom advances the plot or provides much new knowledge. Instead, the team has to go to some kind of nefarious research facility to hear the same thing, only this time from someone in a lab coat.
So Deadline is fast-paced, but a lot of those pages are boring and somewhat unnecessary.
Speaking of unnecessary, let’s talk about Shaun for a moment. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t pretend to understand how people react to death of loved ones and deal with grief. But I do think that the reaction of other people to Shaun’s reaction to Georgia’s death is unrealistic (at best). Setting aside the fact that Shaun hears Georgia’s voice in his head and admits he is probably crazy, we’re supposed to believe he has spent the past year moping around and doing nothing and no one has told him to snap out of it? I understand that the might not snap out of it, but the level of accommodating that his colleagues are being is unbelievable. In ordinary times, maybe I would buy it, but this is a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested wasteland. You want everyone on your party functioning optimally. Shaun “I hear dead people” Mason is not functioning optimally, and he should not be in charge.
I suspect my experience with Shaun as a narrator is likely what other people feel when they cringe at Harry Dresden as a narrator. I love Harry; I love his smartass observations and dry, sometimes self-deprecating humour. To me, his voice is something that makes the Dresden Files books come alive. But I know some people can’t stand him, and thanks to Grant, now I can empathize. Shaun is not a very good narrator. His repetitive reminders of the prevalence of blood tests, the genesis of Kellis–Amberlee, the adoptive nature of him and his sibling all become so much noise. And meanwhile, I am asking, “Shaun, why are you wasting time visiting various CDC facilities when you could just post the information to the Internet?”
That’s the problem with not going full cyberpunk. Feed was innovative in the sense that it really tried to portray what a zombie apocalypse might be like in the post-Information Age. The combination of geographical upheaval and increased physical isolation to reduce the risk of transmission definitely increases the potential role of the Internet in everyone’s life. But it behoves authors to consider how this affects everything and not just certain plot points that might benefit from it.
Conspiracy thriller wisdom in the Internet age is pretty clear: when in doubt, leak it online. Shaun et al have contingencies in place to leave encrypted backups with friends and frenemies alike, ready to distribute the keys in case they don’t safely return. That’s prudent and great. And I understand the need to keep this information quiet and seek out second opinions personally in order to avoid alerting the conspirators that you’re on to them. However, once your cover has been blown and they know that you know, why not release it all online? Post it everywhere, and make everyone party to the secret. It worked for another science-fiction conspiracy (TVTropes).
Instead, Shaun and friends plan some kind of midnight ride on the CDC facility in Memphis. And Shaun decides to do it on a motorcycle. Yes, he wears Kevlar, but that’s beside the point. It is not acceptable to go riding into a potentially zombie-heavy situation on a motorcycle. Does Shaun potentially have a death wish? Sure, maybe—hence why I said above that he shouldn’t be in charge. But all his friends, instead of stepping up and standing up to him for his own good, step aside as if everything is normal, and let him ride his motorcycle to his death.
Well, kind of. He gets better. So does Georgia, at the very end. Yay for cloning and memory transfer! I’m not actually all that bothered by this twist, or by Shaun’s own miraculous survival. In order for this series to succeed, the Kellis–Amberlee mythology needs to evolve; the potential for a cure is the next logical progression. I don’t begrudge Grant making her main characters an integral part of that.
Lastly, I guess I should talk about the incest. It makes sense, if one considers the family situation in which George and Shaun grew up. Their parents were attention-hounds, constantly seeking validation from the media and audiences in the form of ratings. This led them to treat George and Shaun as a means to an end, a commodity and resource rather than actual, you know, flesh-and-blood beings. With such distant affection from their adoptive parents, it makes sense that George and Shaun would look to each other for intimacy. Combined with the fact that I imagine it’s harder to be intimate, physically or emotionally, in this world, and I can see how the potential existed for that relationship to ignite into something more than just sibling love. That being said, I have to agree with those reviewers who found it dubious that Georgia wouldn’t mention it in her own narration. There’s unreliability in one’s narrator, and then there is just gaping omission.
Deadline was easy to read, and that’s something. I’ve focused almost exclusively on what didn’t work for me with this book, but the truth is that I could see it working for other people—many of these objections are quite subjective. I’m not convinced of Shaun’s mettle as a narrator, and I’m sceptical that Grant can deliver a resolution to this conspiracy that will satisfy me (conspiracy thrillers rarely do). And, as I said before, the honeymoon is over. The best things about Deadline were also the best things about Feed, and I need my novels to evolve as a series goes along, not stay the same. If it were up to me, I might not bother picking up Blackout—but I suspect it will be on the nominations list for next year’s Hugo awards, in which case we’ll be doing this all over again.
See you next year!