Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Think Galactic: Feed

Last time at Think Galactic, we discussed Mira Grant's "Feed" (2010), a novel that has in it: zombies. Also journalism? It was a fun if somewhat aggravating read, and we had a good discussion.

"Feed" takes place a few decades in the future, and a bit after a zombie infection has taken a big chunk out of the world population, and remains an ongoing threat. Our protagonists are a team of bloggers--independent journalists/entertainers, really--who follow a contender for the presidential nomination as he begins the election trail. Along the way: zombies.

I took a ton of notes at this one--our criticism leans towards the madcap at a times. Which, befitting the ravenous unlife being resisted, I shall record with LOTS OF BULLETS. IN QUOTES are CLEVER THINGS that PEOPLE SAID. Almost certainly, there are spoilers below:
  • Horror! Talked a bit about that qua genre. It's something I'm increasingly interested in (how written horror works), and Think Galactic has some more spookers-type-books on the lineup. "Feed" is not particularly scary, though we did comment on some of the gory/bloody bits.
  • Of which the eventually most freaky was probably the CONSTANT needle-in-the-hands-test, checking if folks have zombified or not. At some point we all just kind of envisioned the hands being mostly needle tracks/scars, and, ick.
  • Lots of discussion of zombie movies--the book leans heavily on Romero's work. Also other zombie (& related) books/stories:
    • "World War Z" (Brooks, 2006) praised as definitely superior in terms of realism--actually follows through and thinks about consequences of a zombie plague, not dramatically but pragmatically.
    • Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" (1954) and film adaptions- "The Last Man" (1964), "The Omega Man" (1971), and "I Am Legend" (2007).
    • Alaya Dawn Johnson's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (2010)
    • Charlie Stross' short story "Bit Rot" (2010), set in the same universe as "Saturn's Children" (2008) and "Neptune's Brood" (2013), which he characterized as "hard SF about CANNIBAL ROBOT ZOMBIES IN SPAAAAAACE!"
    • Colson Whitehead's "Zone One" (2011)
    • Carrie Ryan's "Forest of Hands & Teeth" (2009)
    • M.R. Carey's"The Girl with All The Gifts" (2014)
    • Daryl Gregory's "Raising Stony Mayhall" (2011)
    • Kelly Links' short stories "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" and "The Hortlak" in her collection "Magic For Beginners" (2005).
    • "The Serpent & The Rainbow"- nonfiction by Davis (1985), horror film adaption by Wes Craven (1988). 
    • "I Walked with a Zombie" (1943 film by Jacques Tourneur).
    • The "epidemiology thriller" sub-genre, like Crichton's "Andromeda Strain" (1969) and Cook's "Contagion" (1996).
    • Also some shout-outs to proto-zombie or zombie-like survival/apocalypse stories, like Wyndham's "Day of the Triffids" (1951).
    • Which led to an epic air-guitar re-enactment of "Return of the Giant Hogweed" (1971). Well, close enough.
  • Mention of the Cordyceps fungus as a zombie mechanism led me to mention the WTF Evolution blog.
  • We had gripes with the style. Particularly the use of repetition of particular phrases, which sometimes seemed like it might have been a (poor) stylistic choice, and other times just kind of lazy and aggravating. "Poked with a stick" taking the crown here.
  • Also, many of the action sequences were poorly executed and/or just don't make sense. The "invisible sharpshooters" responsible for two of the most important sequences were the most face-palmy for me.
  • I had a hard time keeping my disbelief suspended--it tries hard to be realistic, but then can't hold up to scrutiny. "Retinal KA" being a prime example, and now I'm going to freak out for a while about what would actually happen if your eyes had no lubrication.
  • I think we all agreed that the blog-style pieces from George, Shaun, and Buffy were the best bits of the book.
  • We also dug the way Grant gave credit in her acknowledgements--making it clear that this was actually a group effort in parts.
  • So. Much. Foreshadowing.
  • Also it was interesting to hear how folks' perceptions of the book changed, from thinking it was noirish or a political thriller to...less so. It's pretty weak as a thriller.
    This is pretty much the only "Thriller" that the book brings to mind.
  • Disappointed that it largely ducked a lot of potential thematic richness and chances for real social critique.
  • "It's about characters and their problems, not about the systemic problems at work."
  • For instance, the way that safeguarding against zombies has created a strongly paternal government and a society that's basically helicopter parents turned up to 11, but it isn't really engaged with: "you have to draw the fear culture comparison yourself. She doesn't do any of it for you."
  • It really all boils down to a cartoonish, unbelievable, moustache-twirling villain, and good guys who are good through and through. Cardboard, in other words--while not looking at all the kinds of social problems that are alluded to.
  • "The twist is that there is no twist."
  • Particularly given my favorite reading of the Romero films--as critique of mindless consumer capitalism--I was frustrated by the constant use of readily available, disposable technology in "Feed"--it portrays a society that hasn't really changed its basic patterns despite the catastrophe, and also seems like crappy world-building: who's making these gadgets, shipping them, how is the consumer economy still functioning?
  • Really liked the brother/sister dynamic, rare to see that at all, much less centrally and well. Also that Grant clearly left the sexual tension route open (they're adoptees, not biologically related), and resolutely didn't go down it. Good job.
  • Bummer that both female characters had to die.
  • I don't know how much any of us were actually surprised by it by the time it happened, but killing a first person narrator, and then switching the narrative to someone else's (still-living) head is a pretty gutsy move, perhaps a bit of a trick, but still not something one often sees.
  • Apparently there is an alternate ending available. But not the one Grant stuck with for the sequels, so.
  • So many pop culture (& journalistic) references! So many. And that's cool; it's hard to say at what point it sort of bogs down in its own cleverness, though, and relies too heavily on recognition of highly specific and sometimes obscure references.
    Murrow's "Good night and good luck", Ash's "Hail to the King", Buffy, Steve Irwin "Pokes things with a stick."
  • But we did really appreciate that this takes place in a world where there were zombie stories before the outbreak, so people had those to use as a reference point--there's such a huge and frustrating tradition of zombie/vampire/etc. films where the world is just like ours EXCEPT that in this version no one has ever seen a movie about zombies/vampires/etc. and so don't know the basic ideas. Nice to see that actively subverted here.
  • Righteous truth-dealin' independent reporter-types put a few of us in mind of "Pump up the Volume" (Moyle, 1990). "Feed" alludes to Hunter S. Thompson-style reporting, and is clearly meant to be something like "Fear and Loathing and Zombies on the Campaign Trail", but it never really feels Thompsonian.
  • Must admit that the play on words (and image) in the title is kind of clever.
  • Had to be mentioned: the whole thing takes on a VERY Scooby Doo feel after a while. Pesky kids in a van uncovering the mean old man's plot. You know the drill.
  • It's not the zombies that get you, it's your own mistakes or those of your colleagues. "Sometimes work feels that way."
  • I'm out of bullets. 

1 comment:

  1. Out of bullets!? You never want to be out of bullets in a zombie world. You have to always save one for yourself!