The thing about trilogies is, I always get extremely excited about them. Then, inevitably, I find myself disappointed by the time I get to the last page (or audio track)… not because there’s anything wrong with the book but because after all that buildup it’s over.
The letdown is like a physical slap in the face, made even worse by the personal failing of letting the anticipation build until I’m in a glum mood to begin with and decide to treat myself to a story I’ve been looking forward to.
I’ve done this with The Magicians series by Lev Grossman and probably others, but the most recent is the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant.
I consume a lot of zombie stories, zombie tv shows, and zombie movies on a fairly regular basis, and I am a sucker for a good zombie concept. Feed, the first book in the series, has such a well thought out scientific explanation for the zombie plague that it kept me hooked even though the plot is centered around politics and conspiracy. (Not a favorite, particularly given the current heaving mess that is US politics.) The end of that book makes me cry every damn time with downright visceral empathy for both a dying character and someone quite close to said dying character — which is not a spoiler, because zombies. If at least one main or somewhat central character doesn’t get killed off in a zombie story, you’re doing something wrong.
Like another of my favorites, World War Z, the zombies in Feed are fast when fresh and slow down as they are exposed to the elements. (Contrast this with the zombies in Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, which decay only to a certain point. The saving grace of there, for me, is the observation that higher ground is safer because the zombies, when left to their own devices, tend to follow the force of gravity and move downhill. Or, in the absence of stimuli and/or when on level ground, they just stand there indefinitely until something new happens.)
Here’s the premise for the zombie virus in Feed:
In the summer of 2014, three men tried to help the world, and nearly ended it instead. In Colorado, Dr. Daniel Wells worked on a genetically engineered virus designed to cure cancer, finally achieving a breakthrough with teenager Amanda Amberlee. In Virginia, Dr. Alexander Kellis worked on a similar program to wipe out the common cold. And in Pennsylvania, Brandon Majors led a group of college students to break into Dr. Kellis’ lab, setting free the experimental and incompletely tested virus.
Soon, the two viruses met and combined to form Kellis-Amberlee, which turned out to be the Virus: it caused the dead to get back up as zombies and eat people, which of course generated more zombies. The initial series of outbreaks was dubbed The Rising.
So on one hand, no one gets cancer or random inconvenient sniffles, etc. On the other, there’s a shit-ton of zombies and the CDC becomes one of the major global powers able to operate more or less on their own authority.
These zombies, when fresh, will actively try to infect. Spitting, smearing fluid, biting, anything that will get you dead. Once an outbreak reaches a certain critical mass they will (although it’s eventually mentioned that this was a development that post-dated the initial Rising) start displaying a pack mentality and go on the hunt. As they pass their best-by date they begin to dehydrate and start conserving their fluids more — which I guess just means they’ll go for the bite or scratch rather than trying to hock a loogie into your eye.
Like the zombies in The Walking Dead, everyone is already infected with an inactive version of the virus that only goes live and zombifies you if you are (a) infected by a zombie or (b) die and are given the time to reanimate. Feed also has fun bonus options of (c) spontaneous amplification, which is presumably rare but everyone is on constant paranoid edge about, and (d) mammals under a weight threshold of 40 lbs can carry the live state virus without amplifying, but will become a zombie if they gain enough weight. (See an explanation of Mason’s Law here.) So, for example, a baby can be exposed and infected, grow up full of live Kellis-Amberlee, and depending on what kind of diet you have them on might not become a zombie until around age 10 or so. Which, you know, it’s not like parents aren’t going to hang on as long as they can hoping someone comes up with a cure in the meantime…
Of course, some exposed individuals develop reservoir conditions instead. It seems to happen when exposed to the live-state virus while below 40 lbs. The live virus becomes harmlessly contained in a part of the body. One of the main characters in Feed has retinal Kellis-Amberlee, meaning her eyes are infected and the rest of her isn’t.
I have only read the three books. Yes, there is more — not for the main characters of Feed, Deadline, and Blackout, but there is definitely more context to this particular zombie apocalypse out there. I’m dying (not literally) to read San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, which takes place at ComiCon during the Rising.
It’s worth noting that I already had no interest in going to ComiCon. Social anxiety might well save my life if the world does end due to outbreaks of the living dead.
My final comment is that… I loved these books. I loved Feed the most, and developed at least one personal theory about the zombie virus while reading Deadline that was neither confirmed nor necessarily contradicted in Blackout. Does the pack mentality trait of live state Kellis-Amberlee when you get X number of zombies or more in one area apply to the neutral state as well? Could a reservoir condition, and prolonged exposure to someone with a reservoir condition, result in some sort of low-grade mental connection? I’m not thinking actual telepathy so much as having a second perspective on things in the back of your head, analyzing the things you hear and see separately from whatever in your brain is consciously “you” and providing a perspective and insights that “you” wouldn’t have reached on your own.
… If you’ve read the books, particularly Deadline, let me know what you think. I’m still geeking out over this idea, and one of the reasons the end of the trilogy left me dissatisfied is because I feel like this is a loose thread that was left hanging.