The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

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This zombie story is unusual for its genre for a few reasons. Its child heroine is a zombie herself, but a thinking, feeling one–the full explanation would be a spoiler. A main character is a single-minded scientist studying the zombie pathogen and hoping to cure it. In this case the pathogen is a fungus similar to one that afflicts ants in the Amazon, driving them to climb trees and hurl themselves from them. The particular details of how this fungus works make the story unique among zombie stories. After the research facility where they live is overrun by zombies, the girl, her teacher, the scientist, an army captain and a private escape together and try to make it to another settlement. It’s an engrossing read, with lots of action, an eerie setting, and a scientific mystery that creates moral questions. The ending was very unexpected for me, bleak and twisted. I wonder if the movie adaptation will change it or not.

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Dearly, Departed

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

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This is a YA paranormal romance in the Twilight vein, complete with hot undead guy, overdramatic heroine, a precipitously fast fall into love, angsty declarations, and dangers that seem formulated mostly for the sake of testing the couple’s bravery and selflessness. The characters often seemed caricatured, the humor often coming from exaggerating the surface-level traits that are supposed to them feel like people but instead make them feel like paper dolls in a fan fic. This take on the zombie is fairly interesting–not all zombies lose their minds and humanity, and some of them become soldiers in the army who fight other zombies. The descriptions of the science behind this new(ish) kind of zombification was about as believable as these things can be. Also, the action sequences, which comprised a large part of the book, were fairly well done.

The setting might be the element that I had the most trouble with. It’s a couple centuries into the future, after environmental catastrophes have driven people towards tropical areas. During this migration, Victorian fashions, etiquette, and social norms came back into vogue.

Honestly, I can’t understand how that could ever happen. I know it’s silly to talk about realism in a book about zombies, but just seems so politically naïve to imagine that any group of people would ever voluntarily adopt the lifestyles of the Victorian era after 3 centuries of enjoying more liberal customs. The expense and physical constraint of the women’s clothes are enough reason for this regression to be impossible. If the purpose is to combine Victorian aesthetics with modern medicine and tech, an alternative history, like those in Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk YA novels, would have been a much more believable background story. Maybe this thought makes me cynical, but the only way I can imagine a large group of people living like Victorians in the future is if elites force them to, because no one but rich, titled, first-born, land-owning white men benefitted under that system. It would have to be a conspiracy to take rights and power away from women and the poor on a massive scale. On the other hand, I understand that Victorian dress is super cool, and Victorian etiquette and social conventions create lots of fun narrative possibilities. So it seems there are two possibilities here. Either the book has romanticized the Victorian era for entirely superficial reasons–the cool clothes and the marriage market plot–or the series will eventually prove that the New Victorian society is a purposely engineered dystopia as the allegiance of the characters switches to the Punks. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll stick around to see if that happens though. The contrived cliffhanger ending didn’t sell me on the sequel.

Deadline

Deadline by Mira Grant

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Deadline is second in the Newsflesh trilogy, which is about intrepid bloggers uncovering the conspiracy behind the zombie apocalypse. The previous book, Feed, has a sad and shocking ending, which leads to the narrator, Shaun, behaving erratically and suffering from delusions in this novel. The action is nonstop, as Shaun and his crew travel from Oakland to Portland to Memphis and back to Portland, dodging zombies and tornadoes and security forces. Things get bad and then worse, as the Second Rising rages and the information the team exposes endangers them all. A bit of romance is introduced in this sequel. There’s a great twist ending too. I recommend these books for anyone who likes zombies and suspense tinged with humor.

Feed

Feed by Mira Grant

Feed is the first of the Newsflesh trilogy, which is about zombies. I like reading horror much more than I like watching it in movies or TV, but David has gotten me hooked on zombies, thanks to Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead. This series is a unique entry in the genre, one that uses well-established tropes but provides a slightly new take on many of them.

This series is set in 2040, years after the first outbreaks. The first outbreaks were caused by scientists trying to cure cancer and the common cold. They succeeded, but the viruses they were using as vaccines interacted with each other, creating a supervirus that caused the dead to reanimate. All the living are carriers of a dormant form of the virus and convert immediately upon death, even if they weren’t bitten. This seems a logical and rational way to explain something totally crazy, right? The science behind these explanations seemed plausible enough, and all of this world-building seemed necessary to make the later action make sense.

Feed isn’t about zombies just shambling around pointlessly: as in all good science fiction, the zombies are just a means of creating more dramatic situations and choices for characters to be faced with. The characters in this case are Georgia and Shaun, a brother/sister blogger team that becomes attached to a political campaign. There are a series of outbreaks on the campaign trail that are revealed to have been caused by sabotage and betrayal. The journalists have a mystery to solve, and though it is fairly obvious that the outbreaks are not accidents and who is responsible for them, it holds attention and does a good job of driving the plot.

The best thing about this book is its portrayal of a passionate journalist devoted to the truth. It shows the election process as something full of intrigue, drama, and even hope. Obviously, the zombie-free nature of real life politics makes it much less interesting, but the book doesn’t glamorize zombies at all. But showing the political process as something that incredibly cool young characters are immersed in, showing policy as consequential and fraught with moral dilemnas, can only be a good thing. I think the book could even inspire young readers to get interested in politics, as well as science.

The relationship between Georgia and Shaun is the book’s core. It’s rare to see such devoted, even passionate brother/sister relationships in fiction. The tragedy that befalls them at the end is moving, and feels both surprising and inevitable.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Deadline!