Sunday, September 9, 2012

Feed by Mira Grant

Our MythSoc book discussion group tackled this novel, which I had on my Nook because it was part of Reno's Hugo nominee package last year. (In some ways the most valuable thing I got out of my Worldcon membership.) It isn't mythopoeic fantasy, but a fairly hard SF novel. I was impressed with the SFness of it; the bio-medical lingo explaining a future world full of zombies rang credibly. Others found it less so, and were bored by the expository lumps, the dull blog entries, etc. I at least found the book captivating enough to be readable; others didn't even give it that much.

The setting is interestingly one in which the zombies are already there and everyone is used to them; the plot exists in that setting and the author conveys this concept clearly. The problem is that, while the characters are used to having the zombies around, the reader isn't, and the question of how practically to live in a society in which zombies are constantly roaming around, ready to eat your brain and/or infect you, was too concerning to leave any room to worry about the political thriller aspect of the plot, even though it was accomplished via zombie.

And while the bio-medical lingo worked, the cultural context had problems. The characters are simultaneously terrified of the zombies and completely blasé about them, an unexplained combination. The terrorist attack-by-zombie is specified to be shockingly unusual, but here's how we're told that criminals don't otherwise utilize zombies: it's considered a heinous crime punishable by execution. Oh, well, that will eliminate it, no problem; even more so in a society where everyone's expecting to die by zombification at any moment. And major presidential campaigns employ teenage bloggers for news coverage, and let them attend top-secret strategy sessions because (the candidate actually says this) if they're kept out they might write unkindly in their blogs. It's obvious as early as chapter one, in which the heroes dart through a zombie-occupied city (if zombies have short half-lives, where did these all come from, and if they're drawn to victims, why are they hanging around where there aren't any?): this is a Cory Doctorow wet dream story, the teenage blogger as hero.

One other thing bothers me. In the 1950s, SF was full of cautionary tales of post-apocalyptic nuclear-bombed landscapes, and totalitarian dystopias. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, these were joined by environmental catastrophes. But today, I find it hard to work up interest in the threat of imaginary zombies when we face crises like climate change and peak oil (and other lesser-known problems like peak phosphorus), which are actually happening, right now, like a WW3 nuclear holocaust in slow motion. Where is the SF about what we're facing today? Am I just missing it, or does it not exist, or insufficiently so?

No comments:

Post a Comment