When I finish a book, I usually like to let it sit for a few days before I start crafting my review. I like to let it marinate, as it were, and bounce around unencumbered in the empty bell tower of my subconscious. Not so with “Deadline”. I just finished it seven minutes ago and felt compelled to grab the laptop, head out to the back porch, and start writing. Why the rush? Quite simply, I was blown away by the story and I have to share it with you.
“Deadline” is the second book in the Newsflesh trilogy from author Mira Grant. The first book in the series, “Feed”, came out last year and landed the fifth spot on my “Top 11 of 2010” list. As I said about it at the time –
“Mira Grant constructs a world filled with characters and zombies that allow us to see not only what the zombie apocalypse might look like, but also forces us to ask the question – in a world full of danger, loss, and fear; how important is the truth?”
With “Deadline”, Grant dives headlong back into the world of “Feed” and shows us that some truths are more true than others.
Set approximately a year after the end of “Feed”, the story picks up with Shaun still trying to deal with the death of his sister and best friend, Georgia. Now in charge of their news site “After the End Times”, Shaun stumbles through each day talking to Georgia in his mind and looking for a chance to expose those that were really behind her death. When Dr. Kelly Connolly from the CDC shows up at his front door, a fugitive from the government, he realizes he may have the chance to do just that.
Equal parts “Alias” and “Dawn of the Dead”, (with perhaps a dash of Alex Jones thrown in for flavor), Grant again turns in a superb book that just happens to be about zombies. As with any good zombie literature, the zombies in “Deadline”, while fully realized and potently dangerous, are not really the thrust of the story. They are the symptom of the disease, the result of the action, the recoil of the gun. They are the catalyst that allows us to examine the larger human drama – the darkness against which the light of human survival is contrast.
What really pulled me in to the book was the broader story taking place just beneath the surface. You can read the book for the adventure, for the action, and for the zombies, and be completely satisfied. What really intrigued me, however, was the powerful subtext of world government and elite power that played out as Shaun, Becks, and the entire “After The End Times” team began to pull back the curtain Georgia exposed at the conclusion of “Feed”.
Taken on their own, the living dead are pretty damn bad. The world has learned to cope with them, but let’s face it – there are zombies around. That sucks. But these zombies aren’t the product of demonic invasion from a higher plain, or a freak accidental virus discovered in sweat glands of a small frog from the rain forests of the Amazon. These zombies, and the infection that created them, are in fact the tools of a deeper conspiracy.
Read closely and you will find the undead are a mechanism to not only convince free people to willingly given up their freedoms and liberties in the name of safety, but also the gateway to population reduction, and total control over peoples lives. All in the name of “safety”. In true political fashion, the ruling elite have “not let the crisis go to waste” – a crisis that was of their own making.
There was also a subtle, yet powerful commentary on the dangers of fear woven throughout the story. It’s easy to be afraid when the dead are walking the earth. It doesn’t get a whole lot worse than that. It’s that extreme level of experience that allows us to use the story as a lens to examine the world we live in today.
Just one more government service, keeping the world safe from infection, the living dead, and the terrifying risk of privacy.
Over the last ten years, we’ve sacrificed many freedoms on the altar of safety. My family can’t meet me at the airport gate anymore. Taking pictures of public facilities is likely to get your arrested, or at least questioned. You can’t fly without getting x-rayed, microwaved, and/or groped. Hell – I can’t even bring a thermos of my favorite tea from home onto a plane. The blood tests and safety precautions in the world of “Deadline” are far more extensive than that – but are they really that different?
Shaun and Georgia grew up in a world where freedom was willingly exchanged for the promise of safety. You can’t blame them – there were zombie walking around after all. But where did it get them? Were they really living, or just trying not to die? Sure, the government protected them from the zombies – but who was there to protect them from the protectors.
George used to say we’d embraced the culture of fear, willingly letting ourselves be duped into going scared from the cradle to the grave.
The yet to be revealed architects behind the entire affair conspired to promulgate the very zombie menace they claimed to be protecting everyone from. Why? Simple – power. If you keep people afraid, you keep them dependent. As Shaun searches for those behind the scenes, pulling the strings, the real question is clear. Call it the Kellis-Amberlee virus, call it terrorism, call it global warming, call it the tax code, call it what you like – who profits from your fear? Answer that and you find the true seat of power.
As she did with “Feed”, Grant surprised me with the ending of “Deadline”. Coming in to the book, I was more savvy (and more jaded) and expected none of that. Boy was I wrong. For all of the astonishment I found at the end of “Feed”, it paled in comparison to the feeling I had after reading the last 10 pages of “Deadline”. Faithful reader, I was stunned. I was left speechless – that is, until I found my way over to my keyboard (a fact that, I think, would make Georgia and Shaun proud.)
With “Feed”, Mira Grant established herself as a major new voice in zombie fiction. With “Deadline”, she proves that “zombie” is a superfluous addition to that accolade. Without the subtlety of her storytelling, the layers of conspiracy at the heart of this book would have ripped apart like so many sheets of rice paper. Instead, she parceled out the story with the literary timing of Stephen King at his best, while managing to do what King has suffered with so much in recent years – tying the story together in the end and leaving the reader with an emotional punch akin to being hit in the chest with a Taser.
Too often, the human avarice behind the zombie outbreak in novels is played as a cardboard cutout of military/political/moral evil. Two-dimensional characters creating one-dimensional monsters to menace characters in a sometimes (but rarely) three-dimensional world. In “Deadline” Grant pays off the careful groundwork laid in “Feed”, and breaks soundly and decisively out of the mold described above. There are deep waters feeding the wellspring of the zombie outbreak in this world. Much like life, things aren’t always what they seem, and nothing is ever really simple. Grant gives us a glimpse of the “man behind the curtain”, but holds most of her cards close to the vest. Giving us just enough to satisfy, without enough to truly answer the question, Grant has ensured that I will be the first in line to get the final novel in the trilogy next year when it’s released. Let’s just hope the zombies don’t overrun us all before then…
My favorite words from “Deadline”:
Everything I cared about could fit in one bag, the pockets of my coat, and my head. There’s something tragic about that.
This constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re all addicted to being afraid.
All we needed was a creepy minor-key soundtrack to reinforce the idea that this was a bad situation.
That’s the problem with being scared all the time. Eventually, people just go numb.
© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.