FEED by Mira Grant

Milk & Cookies. Chocolate & Peanut Butter. Zombies & Bloggers. The best things in life come in pairs. Mira Grant’s Newsflash Trilogy takes her readers into a world where the people no longer trust the conventional news media, we’ve cured cancer and the common cold… and side effects include lots of moaning and attempting to eat your neighbors after you die.

Georgia (George) & Shaun Mason are brother & sister bloggers. The year is 2039 and they’ve just hit the big time. One of the lead presidential candidates has made an unprecedented decision – to include bloggers as part of his media team. Senator Peter Ryman is the first person to run for president who was under the age of 18 when “The Rising” occurred, and that means he remembers the suffering that occurred when the traditional news outlets lied and only the bloggers were left to tell the truth. He’s chosen the Mason siblings – and their friend Buffy – to report on his campaign.

FEED introduces the reader to a new blogger world order. George is a Newsie – she reports straight, un-doctored truth and her reputation is impeccable. Shaun is an Irwin – thrill seekers (think Steve “the Crocodile Hunter” Irwin and the guys from Jackass) who provide valuable survival tips spiked with a heavy dose of suspense. Buffy, a “Fictional” – author and poet, as well as a techie extraordinaire – rounds out the trio.

“…We’re the all-purpose opiate of the new millennium: We report the news, we make the news, and we give you a way to escape when the news becomes too much to handle.” – Georgia Mason

Grant has created a brave new world, and if she’d stopped there I’d still want to read FEED just to explore it. But of course she gives us more than that. The story really gets going when tragedy (and zombies) strike on the campaign trail. And then strike again. And again…

Mira Grant is a pen name of Seanan McGuire. If you read BookSexy you know I’m a huge fan of her October Daye novels.  This new series has all the same strengths and weaknesses. I’m an acolyte of the Robin McKinley school of world building – throw the reader into the deep end and let them learn to swim. McGuire’s…um, I mean Grant’s… technique is the exact opposite. She explains everything and she explains it more than once. It annoys the hell out of me – Because, really, who is George (the narrator for most of the book) explaining all this stuff to? In the October Daye books the explanations can be justified because Toby describes a world that theoretically exists parallel to our own but is hidden. But Georgia would logically assume that anyone she’s talking to is a contemporary and would already have a handle on the zombie situation. This inexplicable need to dumb down the narrative keeps a really good genre novel from becoming a great one.

But, even with its flaws, FEED is still fantastic – better than most zombie movies. The characters are people readers believe in and care about. You can’t help yourself. And, I’m warning you now, when McGuire’s holding the pen anything can happen and no one is safe. The story twists, turns and ties you up in emotional knots. I laughed. I cried. (Seriously, I really did cry). O.K., it’s not going to win a National Book Award… but who cares?

“Zombies are pretty harmless as long as you treat them with respect. Some people say you should pity the zombie, empathize with the zombie, but I think they are likely to become the zombie, if you get my meaning. Don’t feel sorry for the zombie. The zombie’s not going to feel sorry for you when he starts gnawing on your head…

If you want to deal with zombies, stay away from the teeth, don’t let them scratch you, keep your hair short, and don’t wear loose clothes. It’s that simple. Making it more complicated would be boring, and who wants that? We have what basically amounts to walking corpses, dude.

Don’t suck all the fun out of it”. – Shaun Mason

Publisher:  Orbit, New York (2010)
ISBN:  978 0 316 12246 7

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Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

P&P&Z (a.k.a. – Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austin) is more of a novelty item than a novel – like a rubber chicken or glasses with googly eyeballs.  Those who are expecting Monty Python’s (even Quentin Tarantino’s) version of Jane Austen will be disappointed.  The novel (i.e. – the text) is no longer funny.  The book, as an object, has become the joke.

Jane Austen’s original Pride & Prejudice is a very funny novel.  That sometimes gets lost in the endless “sequels” and Colin Firth fan clubs.  It’s filled with great lines, smart humor and manages to feel contemporary despite being the mother of all period costume pieces.  It’s not a book to get you a date, but it’s become a comfort book for a lot of women.

Yes, I said women.   Normally I’d fight gender stereotyping a novel, but….it is a truth universally acknowledged that the reading demographic for Jane Austen novels is scewed pretty heavily on the side of females.  (Sorry, it’s mandatory to misuse that quote ).  So, when Seth Grahame-Smith took Pride & Prejudice and added the “& Zombies” a lot of hopes were raised.  Finally the crossover book that Austen lovers had been waiting for.  It was an opportunity to convince skeptical partners to try Jane Austen with an open mind.  Zombie lovers – a seemingly growing demographic of which I am a part – would think they were reading about… well… zombies and before they knew it they’d be picking up copies of Persuasion at Barnes & Nobles. Jane Austen would infiltrate the hipster ranks.  Chaos would ensue.  People would actually watch that horrible Keira Knightly adaptation, waiting with bated breath for the hair dye to run down her face.

An added plus was that P&P&Z just looked funny.  Which I guess was the actual point.

Who, then, would have anticipated that the zombies, cleverly referred to as “Unmentionables” (the first and last clever thing I encountered in this book) could change the character dynamic of an entire novel?  Characters like Mary Bennet & Lady Catherine are given a purpose  – even worse employment! – fighting zombies and protecting the surrounding countryside.  The result is surprisingly boring.  The addition of a purpose makes reasonable all the puffed-up self importance, pride, and class prejudice that was funny in the original.  It renders characters all but unrecognizable.  Look specifically at what has happened to Mary Bennet, a complete bore as imagined by Austen, by comparing this passage to the original.

They were not the only objects of Mr. Collins’s admiration… The dinner too was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cooking was owing.

Briefly forgetting her manners, Mary grabbed her fork and leapt from her chair onto the table.  Lydia, who was seated nearest her, grabbed her ankle before she could dive at Mr. Collins, and, presumably, stab him about the head and neck for such an insult.  Jane and Elizabeth turned away so Mr. Collins would not see them laughing. (pg. 52)

If Mary met Sarah Connor in a dark alley, my money would be on Mary.  Which leads me to ask, what is the point of her character in this new version?  When later on  Elizabeth & Jane find Mary “as usual, deep in the study of human nature”  (pg 49)  I rolled my eyes.  Jane Austen’s Mary was ridiculous… for Mr. Grahame-Smith she is intense.

Pride & Prejudice was not meant to be intense.  One would think P&P&Z even less.  Literary critics have  commented on the lack of historical events and context in Jane Austen’s novels.   For example:  Pride & Prejudice, like most of her books, is set during the Napoleonic War.  The only hints of this are references to the comings and goings of the regiment stationed in Meryton.  This was most likely on purpose, as I think Mr. Grahame-Smith’s version inadvertently demonstrates.  His zombies, like the war would have, somehow add gravity to a novel not intended to be grave.  Pride & Prejudice is at its heart a romantic comedy.  In Mr. Grahame-Smith’s book that is lost.  His Elizabeth Bennet is no longer bright and light heart-ed.  She, like the rest of the characters, has become preachy, sermonizing and in danger of taking herself waaay too seriously (much like the original Mary Bennet).  Take this enchanting little speech by Elizabeth to Mr. Collins after encountering zombies on their walk to Meryton.

…Elizabeth took the pipe from Mr. Collins’ mouth, blew on the glowing tobacco, and threw it over the side.

“That was a gift from her ladyship!” he cried, loud enough to draw the attention of the zombies below.  They looked up and let loose their terrible roars, which were cut short by a violent, fiery explosion as pipe and oil met.  Suddenly engulfed, the zombies staggered about, flailing wildly and screaming as they cooked.  Jane raised her Brown Bess, but Elizabeth pushed the barrel aside.

“Let them burn,” she said.  “Let them have a taste of eternity.”

Turning to her cousin, who had averted his eyes, she added, “You see, Mr. Collins…God has no mercy.  And neither must we.”

Though angered by her blasphemy, he thought better of saying anything on the matter, for he saw in Elizabeth’s eyes a kind of darkness, a kind of absence – as if her soul had taken leave, so that compassion and warmth could not interfere. (pg. 58)

So much for her fine eyes.

If the characters in a romantic comedy are not light & ridiculous then what’s the point?  I suppose there are the zombies and ninjas.

Um… about that…

Mr. Grahame-Smith never quite pulls it off.  His zombies and the Austen world never mesh.  They lack authenticity.   The book degenerates into a kind of Mad Libs where instead of random words “Unmentionable”, “ninja” and “the deadly arts” are inserted into the blanks.  Ultimately he isn’t in love with the material.  As a result he continuously misses the point, as well as the humor, and goes for the easy joke of introducing zombies and ninjas directly into the original prose.  But it’s only one joke.  One joke that gets old quickly when it’s stretched for 320 pages.

What to Do with Your Copy (instead of reading it):  Mix it in with some books on the guestroom nightstand.  Use it on your coffee table as a coaster.  Display it like the conversation piece which it is.

What to Read Instead:  I think I prefer my zombies in films and video games.

Feeling too sexy for your organic unbleached cotton WWF (that’s World Wildlife Fund) tee? Do I have the book for you!

Green is the new black. At least, that’s what the marketing machine is telling us. Global warming, hybrid cars, organic products, shopping locally, thinking globally, recycling, composting, low VOC, bamboo…has anyone else noticed that you can make absolutely ANYTHING out of bamboo?! It’s all a little overwhelming and a lot scary. But BookSexy is not about sticking your head in the ground just because the view is unpleasant. So, I’ve been searching for a book on the environment that won’t send me crashing into a bleak, black pit of despair. (Good luck with that).

And then I realized that what I needed was to shift my thinking. Going green is about the planet – not about us. So maybe it is time to take “us” out of the equation.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is a fascinating and surprisingly hopeful little book (thinner than its 336 pages would suggest). The premise is simple – what if every single human being disappeared from the planet Earth? The author wisely avoids the question of why or how – it’s not really relevant to this conversation.The important thing is that we are left with a planet, sans humans, and a question…what would happen to the stuff we left behind?

And we would be leaving behind A LOT! (Next blog entry – Organize It!: How to Unclutter Every Nook & Cranny In and Outside Your Home by Mervyn Kaufman). There’s the obvious landscape of buildings, roads and subways – which are much more fragile than you probably realize. What happens to them is pretty interesting. But it’s the small things we never notice, think about, or really even need that may have the biggest impact on the planet.

Plastics aren’t necessarily forever – but they might as well be. And they are EVERYWHERE! For example, remember that great scrubbing body wash you bought that smells nice and leaves your skin smooth and silky? Well, more than likely those little beads loofah-ing away the dead skin are made of teeny tiny pieces of plastic which end up in the oceans. Once there they are eaten by plankton, which in turn is eaten by whales and fish, which in turn… I think you get the point. Plastic q-tips (and plastic tampon “applicators” – ewww!) don’t bio-degrade. It seems that a large amount of these end up floating in the oceans and up onto the shore. Speaking of floating in the oceans… there are huge land masses of plastic being formed as we speak, and plate tectonics have NOTHING to do with it.

Here’s another surprise… what’s taking the most room in our landfills? You were going to guess plastic, weren’t you? Or Kevin Federline CD’s? Well, it might just be paper. Can you imagine?! One of the easiest things to recycle… and its filling up our landfills!

And the list goes on.

So… I mentioned hope. Well, it seems, if humans disappeared tomorrow….

(Segue: My personal theory is Zombies… everything becomes more interesting when you add zombies. A zombie virus strikes. The human race becomes an army of the undead and eventually disappears as the food supply of un-infected brains dwindles…)

Ahem!

….If humans disappeared tomorrow… the good news is that the planet would go on without us. Animals would adjust. Apparently, just like us, some wouldn’t make it. Some would. Many endangered species could make a rebound. A lot of the animals we’ve domesticated wouldn’t stand a chance on their own. Much of the land would revert to what it was like before we got here. Deciduous forests (the non-evergreen ones) would make a comeback. In many ways, the Earth would reclaim and rebuild itself.

The good news is that much the same could happen with us still here. Because, while much of what we’ve done is not reversible, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world either (no pun intended). Something as simple as recycling is a great step in the right direction – a more important one than I think most people credit. And there are so many other things, on an individual level very little things, that could make a huge difference. The message here is that we could still rebuild – like the bionic man we could make it better. Unless, of course, the zombies show up…

Suggested reading locations:   Coffee shops, internet cafes, Green Peace rallies, hiking through Montana or sitting by the fire at a historic lodge in the middle of a National Park. Any New England or Northwestern State. Parks. What’s nice about this book is that the idea of a world without humans gives a slight science fiction vibe – keeping things light. At the same time, its still an environmental book that just might get the attention of that granola girl at the local Hava Java sipping her organic, free trade Kenyan coffee latte. Good luck!