Book Review: Feedback (Newsflesh, #4) by Mira Grant


There are two sides to every story…

We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the facts while competing against the brother-and-sister blog superstars, the Masons.

Surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows, they must hit the presidential campaign trail and uncover dangerous truths. Or die trying.

Feedback is a full-length Newsflesh novel that overlaps the events of the acclaimed first novel in the series, Feed, and offers a new entry point to this thrilling and treacherous world.

Okay, first things first: DO NOT pick up Feedback thinking that you can start the Newsflesh books at this point. I would absolutely not consider Feedback “a new entry point”, as the blurb says. Instead, it’s a story set within the world of Newsflesh, telling a story that parallels the story of Feed (book #1 in the series). A knowledge of the world of Newsflesh is required in order to enjoy Feedback… and Feedback will absolutely spoil the original trilogy for you. So there — we’ve gotten the warnings and disclaimers taken care of right from the start!

So basically, the deal is this: Feedback starts at about the same point in time as Feed, 20 years after the Rising, just as the presidential campaign is kicking off. The Masons — stars of the original Newsflesh trilogy — are the stars of the blogging world, and have just gotten the sweet gig of following the Republican candidate expected to grab the nomination, and maybe even the White House. Meanwhile, in Feedback, we meet Ash North, an Irish expatriate who’s an “Irwin” — a daredevil blogger who goes out in the field and pokes zombies — along with her team. Ash and company would love to be anything close to as successful as the Masons, but they remain in the crowded field of lesser bloggers until they get chosen to accompany one of the Democratic candidates, Governor Susan Kilburn.

Ash is a sassy redhead, married platonically to her partner Ben and in love with her other partner Audrey. Along with their techie/makeup guru Mat, they hit the road with the campaign, and immediately find themselves in all sorts of horrifying and life-threatening disaster situations. With lots of zombies. And death. And zombies. And carnage. And, you know, zombies.

I was a little nervous about starting Feedback after reading some fairly negative reviews… but you know what? I liked it! While Feedback includes enough context to explain the origins of the zombie Rising and what’s happened since, it doesn’t feel like a repeat. It’s pretty cool getting another take on the events of the presidential campaign, as seen from the more limited viewpoint of Ash and friends. Ash, Ben, and Audrey stumble pretty quickly across similar clues to those unearthed by Georgia and Shaun in the first three books, but they don’t get as deeply involved in the ghastly conspiracies at play behind the scenes of the US political system.

The plot moves along quickly, and it was interesting to note the parallel events here, and to line those up with the events we know about from Feed and the later books. I liked Ash well enough to enjoy her company, and thought her relationships with Ben and Audrey were unusual enough to keep things fresh and different.

As a fan of The Walking Dead, I will mention that there was a section toward the end of the book that felt a bit too Negan-ish and Savior-y for me… but I suppose the idea of a strong, well-armed man taking over and setting up his own society, with himself at the center, isn’t that unusual for a post-apocalypse tale.

As always, Mira Grant’s writing is sparkly and shiny, alternating between describing scenes of incredibly disturbing zombie attacks (and yes, there are a few truly gruesome, terrible attacks in this book) and applying humor even to tense situations, so I never had to go too long without a laugh (or a snort or a chuckle)… in between wincing in horror, cringing at the gore, and being struck by the devastation to the characters’ souls.

Some light and not-so-light snippets:

“Hello, and welcome to the Huntsville Convention Center,” said the attendant. “We’re so very sorry that you’ve been exposed to a biohazard. Please, pick your preferred scent profile and drop the tabe into your shower as you enter. Your shampoo and body wash selections will be set to match.”

The all-terrain vehicle trundled through the woods like an armored bear: fast enough to be better than walking, bulky enough to make driving a continuous adventure, and sturdy enough to give no fucks when I overcompensated for the slopes and side-swiped a tree…

(what I pictured while reading those lines… )

I hoped [he] and the others had had a moment — just a moment, because sometimes a moment was everything in the world — to call their loved ones and say they were sorry, that they’d always known it would end like this, but that they’d been hoping it wouldn’t end quite so soon. There were always things left unsaid, undone, and I wanted, desperately, for them to have had the time to say at least a few of them.

Our part in this tale was done, and we were getting the hell out. Leave the lies to the living and the truth to the dead. Nothing ever stays buried for long.

 

I’m really glad that I read Feedback, and recommend it — but only if you’ve already read the other Newsflesh books. I love the world that Mira Grant has created, and reading Feedback allowed me to stay in it just a little bit longer.

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The details:

Title: Feedback
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant

Rise is a collection of eight novellas and short stories that are set within the world of the Newsflesh trilogy. (See my wrap-up post about Newsflesh here. Short version: Amazing.)

So what’s inside Rise? And should you read it? Read on for mini-reviews of each story… and as for whether you should read it, my answer is an unqualified YES… but only after you read the complete trilogy, or at least, enough to appreciate the context of these stories.

Onward…

The first few stories in the Rise collection are set at the very beginning of the Rising – and this is something we never see in the main books of the Newsflesh trilogy. Newsflesh is set decades after the onset of the initial Kellis-Amberlee outbreak, and while we learn through the characters’ conversations and memories what happened at that time, it’s something quite different to read the author’s stories set during the Rising. These stories are awful in their inevitability – we know what’s coming, and we know that nothing will stop it.

Countdown

It began nowhere. It began everywhere. It began without warning; it began with all the warning in the world. It could have been prevented a thousand times over. There was nothing that anyone could have done.

A chilling timeline of the end of the world, showing the last of the pre-Rising days and how the disaster came on step by step. In the Newsflesh novels, the events of 2014 are almost 30 years in the past. Here, in Countdown, we see first-hand what actually happened that awful summer, from the optimism of a potential cancer cure to an irreversible act of ecoterrorism, all leading to the mutation and spread of a pandemic that changed the world forever. We meet some familiar characters, and also see the people who are basically the founding fathers of the Kellis-Amberlee virus – the creators of the Kellis cure, meant to cure the common cold, and Marburg Amberlee, an engineered virus that can defeat even the most dire of terminal cancer cases. Countdown is scary and dramatic and gave me the biggest case of dread. We know what’s going to happen, but watching it unfold and knowing there’s no chance that it won’t end the way that it does is still somehow crazily fascinating and terrible.

Everglades 

The shortest piece in the collection, Everglades is a view of campus life in the first days after the reality of the zombie apocalypse has hit home, as seen through the eyes of a young grad student who recognizes the cruelty of the natural world. It’s a short, sad, and even beautiful story.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats

As Mira Grant points out in her introduction to this story, San Diego Comic Con is almost a perfect place to stage an outbreak. You have thousands of people crammed into a confined space, many costumed or so heavily made-up that it’s impossible to gauge their actual condition. There’s little to no cell reception inside the convention hall, so once disaster strikes, communication between those trapped and the outside world effectively ceases. And as we know from countless zombie TV shows and movies, all it takes is one infected person locked inside with everyone else to start a chain reaction. This story shows how the very last Comic Con turned from geeky delight to bloody mayhem, and the bravery of the assorted fanboys and fangirls who made a last stand.

The stories from this point forward take place after the events in the Newsflesh trilogy, or at least, close enough to them that a knowledge of those events is needed – and people who haven’t read the trilogy will end up with massive spoilers. That said, the next batch of stories are:

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea

Before the Rising, guns were verboten on airplanes, carried only by government agents and representatives of local law enforcement. Now most passengers flew armed, and the flight attendants carried more weapons than your average Irwin. It’s funny how the world can change when no one’s looking.

In which our beloved head Newsie Mahir heads off to Australia to get a first-hand view of how that country and continent made it through the Rising. Australia is still Australia, meaning that it’s a country full of people who are used to living alongside deadly wildlife, and their approach to security in the post-Rising world is vastly different from the paranoid, fear-based approach adopted everywhere else.

“Why would someone who didn’t like the law live out here?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to move into the city, where there’s less risk of surprise zombie kangaroos?”

The story is entertaining and presents a view of a very different mentality, in a land where animal conservation still matters, even when those animals may amplify, turn into zombies, and eat you. A story that includes zombie kangaroos and wombats can’t help being a blast to read.

The Day the Dead Came To Show and Tell

It was a small, claustrophobic space. The shelves were packed with basic school supplies: paper, crayons, extra ammunition, formalin, bleach.

This story was the hardest to read in the collection. It just hits way too close to home right now. This story is about an outbreak in an elementary school, and unfolds moment by moment as the infection spreads, the school goes into lockdown, and one first-grade teacher faces the unthinkable as she tries to save her children. It’s awful. Fascinating and so well written, but awful just the same. With the seemingly never-ending wave of school shootings in this country, reading this story is just heart-breaking and way too relevant.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus

Dr. Shannon Abbey is one of the many great side characters in the Newsflesh trilogy, and in this story, we get to spend a little more time with her in her secret mad scientist lair. Dr. Abbey is smart, a little crazy, and lots of fun, and her story here collides with another character seen in an earlier piece in Rise. Plus, we get to see Joe the massive mastiff and Barney the octopus – two big plusses.

“I’m a mad scientist, aren’t I? We all have master plans. Without them, we’d just be faintly disgruntled scientists who think we really ought to form a committee to discuss our grievances.”

The next two (and final two) stories in Rise are new to this collection, the only two not to have been previously published either in anthologies or stand-alone versions.

All the Pretty Little Horses

All the Pretty Little Horses takes us back once again to the early days of the Rising. The year is 2018, and we’re back with Michael and Stacy Mason, who’ve become famous for their radio broadcasts giving survival tips and offering encouragement during the really bad years. Now that the world is starting to find a new normal, Stacy is plunged into depression, desperately mourning the young son lost  in the early days of the Rising. This story shows how the Masons became the people we meet in the Newsflesh trilogy, hardened stars of the blogosphere who’ll do anything for ratings. And while this story didn’t truly make me like them, at least it shows a bit more of the desperation that turned them into the people they became.

 

And finally…

Coming To You Live

This is it. The story we’ve all been waiting for. It’s about Shaun and Georgia, and… well, I’m just not going to say a word about it. No matter what I say, it’ll be spoilery. Let’s just say that it was a perfect end piece for the collection, and it left me just as in love with the characters and the overarching world of Newsflesh as before, or may just a smidge more.

And that’s all, folks!

Rise is essential reading for fans of Newsflesh – and if you’ve made it this far in my lengthy post, I’m assuming you’re a fan too! I’m a little bit heartbroken to have reached the end. Yes, I know there’s still the 2016 novel Feedback to read, but it’s not about the characters I know and love, and I’m just not ready to go there yet. I’ll read it eventually (or maybe even later this week), but for now I just want to bask in the glory of all things Newsflesh, and the amazing stories in Rise, just a little bit longer.

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The details:

Title: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 21, 2016
Length: 816 pages (mass market paperback)
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased

Thursday Quotables (on a Friday): Rise: A Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines will be, and you’re invited to join in!

After a lengthy radio silence, I’m returning to Thursday Quotables! Although I’m not doing TQ posts on a weekly basis, I’ll still be popping in and out when I have some great lines that I’m dying to share.

Onward with this week’s Thursday Quotables:
Rise: A Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant
(published 2016)

After finishing the Newsflesh trilogy earlier in the week, I really hated the idea of leaving it all behind. Luckily, there’s Rise, a collection of short fiction set in the Newsflesh world. I’m only about 100 pages into this 600+ page paperback… but I’m loving it, of course. I hadn’t actually planned to do another TQ post this week, but then I came across the passage below, and knew that I had to share it.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m that high school geek who actually loved A Tale of Two Cities and memorized the opening lines (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…) just for fun. And yes, I can still recite most of it, all these years later.

With that as background, here’s a passage from Rise that jumped out at me:

It began nowhere. It began everywhere. It began without warning; it began with all the warning in the world. It could have been prevented a thousand times over. There was nothing that anyone could have done.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Series wrap-up: The Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant

Wow.

I just finished binge-reading Mira Grant’s amazing trilogy, Newsflesh (consisting of Feed, Deadline, and Blackout), and all I can say is — what the hell took me so long? I’d been hearing for years that these books are must-reads. What in the bloody hell was my problem?

Sigh. Better late than never, right?

The fact is, for whatever reason, I must have head my head under a rock in 2010, 2011, and 2012… but here it is, the opening months of 2018, and I’m soooooo darned happy that I finally devoured these books.

For the uninitiated: What’s it all about?

As the blurb for Feed says:

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop.

Short version: A zombie uprising. When the viruses meant to cure cancer and the cold accidentally mingle upon release into the world, they combine into something deadly, known as Kellis-Amberlee, a virus that causes the dead to rise and eat people. But somehow, humanity survives — a smaller, more frightened, vastly security conscious slice of humanity, but still, the rising has been overcome, and life goes on, although the world is permanently changed.

In the world of Newsflesh, the most reliable source of news in a dangerous and secretive world is the blogging community. After all, they were the first to tell the truth when mainstream media outlets called the initial reports of zombies merely Internet hoaxes. If not for the bloggers, the realization of what was really happening, and what it would take to stay alive, might have come too late. Now, 20+ years after the rising, bloggers are the stars of the media and the most trusted source of news, and our main characters, brother and sister Shaun and Georgia Mason, are the cream of the crop.

Shaun and Georgia live for the truth and the truth alone. Their lives become infinitely more complicated when they’re chosen to be embedded with a candidate on the presidential campaign trail. Shaun and Georgia see this as a huge ratings boost, a way to finally reach the top tier and go independent. They don’t expect to be drawn into a shadow world of conspiracies and danger, risking everything they stand for as well as each other and their teams of trusted colleagues.

I really don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t go into detail about the series as a whole or where the plot goes. Suffice it to say that the plot twists always caught me off guard, and for a book about the zombie apocalypse, there were way more laughs and tears than I would have imagined. I came to love the characters, not just Shaun and Georgia, but also their friends and allies who fight by their side and share their commitment to the truth, no matter what. Okay, I loved Shaun and Georgia 10x more than anyone else, but that’s just because they’re so completely awesome.

I’ll admit that the scientific/medical/virological jargon and discussions often warped my brain, as I had to super-concentrate to decipher what the hell these people were trying to say. The effort is worth it. Mira Grant has put together a scary, crazy, complicated world, where viruses are deadly, but so is ignorance and inattention.

I’ve read complaints about the repetition of certain details throughout the books, particularly how the characters constantly have to undergo blood tests every time they enter or exit just about any place. I, for one, think this is fabulous. It’s the very repetition of the constant blood tests, and how the characters treat them as a normal fact of life, that shows us just how very different this world is. Safety is never taken for granted. Knowing one’s status as uninfected only lasts until the next test — you never know when you might become infected, or when the virus living inside you might spontaneously amplify (meaning you go full zombie with no apparent triggering event). The blood tests are just one small element in these masterfully constructed books that show us what a world might be like after the unthinkable becomes a reality.

Let’s also stop to appreciate the snappy dialogue and funny bits throughout the books. Shaun and Georgia and the rest of their team have the kind of closeness that means they know each other to the core, and that’s conveyed through their banter and ability to finish one another’s thoughts and read the fear and worries underneath the jokes and quips. And plus, there are just some things that are so awful that they’re funny. Okay, like a zombie bear. Or being afraid of zombie raccoons. I mean, that’s funny stuff!

I tore through these books, and just could not stop. I really and truly loved them, start to finish, and I’m thrilled to learn that there are more stories in the Newsflesh world! First, there’s a collection of various stories originally released as separate e-novellas (Rise, published 2016). Also in 2016, Grant published the novel Feedback, which is apparently set during the same period as Feed, but focusing on different characters. I’m less excited for that one (did I mention my love for Shaun and Georgia yet?), but I’ll read it anyway, because right this very minute, having just finished Blackout, I’m absolutely not ready to leave this world behind.

For anyone, like me, who didn’t have the brains (zombie joke!) to jump on board when Feed was first released… well, it’s never too late. I loved this trilogy, and I hope you will too!

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Book details:

Feed – 599 pages, published 2010
Deadline – 584 pages, published 2011
Blackout – 512 pages, published 2012

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Thursday Quotables: Deadline (Newsflesh trilogy, #2)

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines will be, and you’re invited to join in!

After a lengthy radio silence, I’m returning to Thursday Quotables! Although I’m not doing TQ posts on a weekly basis, I’ll still be popping in and out when I have some great lines that I’m dying to share. And this week’s Quotables are pretty terrific!

Onward with this week’s Thursday Quotables:
Deadline by Mira Grant
(published 2011)

I’m loving the Newsflesh trilogy! I’m on the 2nd book, and it’s amazing. The plot is startling and surprisingly moving — and, you know, filled with zombies. I love the writing, which manages to be funny even in the most horrific of situations. Here are a few choice selections:

Road trips must have been pretty boring before the zombies came.

There’s nothing funnier than seeing somebody who thinks of the infected as somebody else’s problem realize that they, too, could join the mindless zombie hordes.

About zombies on the roof of a building that they couldn’t have accessed without intervention:

“Meaning what?” I asked, picking myself up and resuming the trek toward the third floor.

Meaning this “outbreak” is somebody’s idea of cleaning house.

“Somebody had to put them there,” said Dave, unknowingly supporting George’s statement. “There’s no way our building is generating spontaneous zombies.”

I just find it interesting that kids apparently used to cry when Bambi’s mother died. George and I both held our breaths, and then cheered when she didn’t reanimate and try to eat her son.

At least no one was screaming; that meant we’d all probably managed to live through the night. Survival is always a nice thing to wake up to.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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