Rating 4/5 stars
I have a weakness for dystopian YA fiction,and have since I read Pretties by Scott Westerfeld. I have a new fondness for zombies thanks to The Walking Dead. Dystopian YA Fiction WITH Zombies? YES PLEASE!
Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot–in this case, my brother Shaun–deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens. As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked. This isn’t a surprise. It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to be technical, it wasn’t a surprise then.
When the infected first appeared–heralded by screams that the dead were rising and judgment day was at hand–they behaved just like the horror movies had been telling us for decades that they would behave. The only surprise was that this time it was really happening.
There was no warning before the outbreaks began. One day, things were normal; the next, people who were supposedly dead were getting up and attacking anything that came into range. This was upsetting for everyone involved, except for the infected, who were past being upset about that sort of thing. The initial shock was followed by running and screaming, which eventually devolved into more infection and attacking , that being the way of things. So what do we have now, in this enlightened age twenty-six years after the Rising? We have idiots prodding zombies with sticks, which brings us full circle to my brother and why he probably won’t live a long and fulfilling life.
This has to be one of the better openings to a book I’ve run into recently. I knew I probably wasn’t going to put my phone down until I was done with the book, if it lived up to those first few paragraphs. It did, and I cheerfully spent the next week or so devouring all 3 “Newsflesh” novels and the 3 Newsflesh Novellas.
George (Georgia) Mason is our main narrator. She’s a newsie (non fiction news and op/ed piece blogger). Along with her brother Shaun Mason, an Irwin (named after the croc hunter Steve Irwin)-a blogger who takes risks for blog hits and ratings, and their friend Buffy (Fiction and all things Tech), they run the website After the End Times. Buffy is actually Georgette (all derivations on George became the most popular names post zombies, in honor of George Romero, whose zombie movies were suddenly like instruction manuals) but in her own words “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world of zombies. What do you think I should call myself?” She’s a Joss Whedon fangirl, and sighs that no one seems to get it. (Side note, one of the Newsflesh novellas takes place at Comicon 2014 and features a booth of browncoats–referencing the fans of Whedon’s Firefly–Grant is obviously a fellow Whedonite.)
The zombie apocalypse began in 2014 (yay, something to look forward to this year!). Two viruses (the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer) combine and infect the world with what becomes known as Kellis-Amberlee. No one gets cancer, no one gets a cold, but everyone turns into a zombie after death. While the trope of “we were trying to cure cancer and made monsters” is an old one, Newsflesh does it well. I like the competing viruses setup, and over time we learn more and more about them and how we got from cures to zombies. Grant is a student of virology and her knowledge shows in the material…and her spin on the trope comes off as plausible.
Zombies, however, aren’t the only danger in a post-Rising world. The US (where the book is set) has reacted with what feels like a very realistic set of “safety measures.”
Some of the ways the US has given itself over to fear include…..
- Lots of places have blood tests at the entryway. All blood tests are rigged to send an automatic signal to the CDC if they come up positive, so that you can be rounded up/shot before you finish amplifying and go on a little terror spree.
- Public schools require 3 blood tests per day.
- The government has declared certain towns and the state of Alaska lost. They are impossible to secure, so you don’t go there (or need permits to go there and understand you’re not likely to make it out alive).
- There is a law-The Biological Mass Pet Ownership Restrictions–currently under debate to outlaw animals over 40 pounds (the minimum before you can be turned into a zombie–so horses, cows, moose, etc can become zombies, but the average housecat or chicken can’t).
- Lots of houses have voice prints. The Mason’s also requires that you read a non sequitor sentence on a pad to prove you still have higher cognitive function. If you fail, the house’s system will incinerate you.
- Clothes are washed in industrial grade bleach. People are also hosed off with bleach. George is contrary in that rather than accept the inevitable blonde hair due to the bleach, she keeps dyeing it brown.
- The country is divided into biohazard zones. Rules are different in each of thezones.
- Apple has branched out into blood tests, and makes the most expensive/high end ones–because of course they have.
George and Shaun are the adopted children of the Masons–originally a Berkley professor and his wife–who lost their child in the early days of the outbreak. They were some of the earliest blog star to come out of the Rising. Everything they’ve done since then, including adopting George and Shaun has been done with an eye toward ratings.
Numbers slipping? Go for a field trip to a zoo. That’ll get you right back to the top.
After the End Times is chosen to join with the Ryman Presidential Campaign as bloggers. They’ll be trailblazing as bloggers haven’t ever been invited to be part of the process before.. Although bloggers have become the more reliable media post-rising, official things like campaigns have used the traditional print and video mediums. Ryman (who comes off in the spirit of all young presidential hopefuls–the JFK/Obama/Clintons) has decided to invite them along as sponsored media.
Since the blogs and website are such an important part of the book, we see Grant talking about things like blog comments, traffic, editing in a way that feels authentic to the characters and part of the narrative, rather than expository blather. This is a refreshing change from authors who info dump in the most boring way possible.
Peter Ryman comes off as smooth.
Shaun settled with his back to the wall, affording him the best view of the room. He may seem like an idiot, but in some ways, he’s the most careful of us all. You can’t be an Irwin and not learn somet things about keeping your exits open. If the zombies ever mob en masse again, he’ll be ready. And filming.
Buffy took the seat nearest the light, where the cameras studded through her jewelry would get the best pickup shots. her portables work on the principles defined during the big pre-Rising wireless boom; they transmit data to the server on a constant basis, allowing her to come back and later and edit at her leisure. I once tried to figure out how many transmitter she actually had on her ,but wound up giving up and wandering to do something more productive like answering Shaun’s fan mail.
–His tone easy and assured “I’m not going to beat around the bush. I read your public reports, you op-ed pieces, everything before I agreed to your application. I know you’re smart and won’t forgive bullshit. That doesn’t,” he held up a finger, “mean I’m going to be one hundred percent straight with you, because there are some things no reporter ever gets to be privy to. Mostly having to do with my home life and my family, but still, there are no-go zones.”
The first major campaign covered is an event in a civic center, where Georgia notes that the press outnumber the public two to one because the public doesn’t really like things like political rallies with a bunch of strangers anymore. Or being anywhere with a large group of people. We see some of the various segments of the population like the woman who asks him about the Rapture–the zombie outbreak has inspired some to religious fanaticism. Another asks about the death penalty (especially given that that death penalty is a little different post zombies). Another brings up public health-because again, this is a different level of priority post-zombies. And so forth.
However, we see exactly why the public is scared of this sort of event when a zombie outbreak happens post meeting. None of the alarm systems function correctly, and George is almost taken out among others. It’s the first in a series of sketchy events that eventually mean our intrepid reporters have a conspiracy to report upon….
If you like your books smart, skeptical of the government, and full of zombies, you’ll enjoy Feed and the rest of the Newflesh books….