Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Mira Grant: Deadline

There is an expression in the world of journalism; "Burying the lead". Since Mira Grant put her zombie apocalypse squarely in the world of citizen journalism (or blogging, depending on how seriously you take either version of yammering about idiots to other idiots), this feels like a criticism I'm allowed to make.

Mind you, I'm prejudging the issue. The first book ended with conspiracy being unmasked, but neither explained nor trounced. The second book picks up a year later, with no progress to report on the old conspiracy, and an immediate lurch into a much bigger one, which might be the same conspiracy's final form, or a completely different conspiracy. By the end of the second book, I couldn't tell you which, but I've got just pulled in enough to read the third book in the next few days and find out. I've a suspicion it's going to fizzle...

Which throws up the question, why am I even bothering? It took me something like two years to get around to finishing the first book, and here I am with the second one finished in a week. Did Mira Grant kick it up a gear half way through the first book? Did I fall off my bike and suffer a sudden head injury which made everything look better all of a sudden? Am I just bored? Hard to say. Although Feed and Deadline were both nominated for Hugos, I haven't found the plotting or characterisation all that amazing, even by the low standards which hamper SF most of the time. The 2011 winner was Connie Willis for Blackout/All Clear; the 2010 winner was Paola Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. Mira Grant is not in that league. (In 2012, she lost to Jo Walton, who is not as good as Willis or Bacigalupa, but is still better than  Grant). Well, let's be reasonable here. She's not in that league yet. She's very young - though she's chunked out a lot of material under the Grant name and her own name - and she's not terrible. But the characters are somewhere between corny and wish-fulfilling, as though she'd read a lot of Robert Heinlein's early stuff while binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Writers write the books they want to read, but often they're just trying to write more of something they don't think there's enough of already (which is why we're drowning in elves these days).

Wish fulfilment in your characters is not the biggest sin a writer can commit, and hardly anyone's future makes any kind of economic sense. Something which does bug me is the "early Heinlein had a coffee with Ayn Rand" feel I get whenever she talks about money; one of the main characters in this book is simply rolling in it, and the narrator isn't even a little bit bothered that this money came from her parents making out like gangbusters in the pharmaceutical industry as the zombie rising changed the world. Whatever about the macro-economics of her post-zombie USA, I'm baffled by the psychology of that. After every major conflict the human race has ever seen, there's been a revulsion towards the people who made money out of it; that's how we even have the phrase "war profiteer". Not only is Shaun Mason not bothered by it, he even sounds kind of approving. Maybe his world is just that broken, and he can only talk about what he knows, but Grant isn't a good enough writer to give us a sense of someone who's wrong without known he's wrong; as far as she gets with that is having a narrator who doesn't notice anyone flirting with him (only a youngish woman could come up with a young male character who's dishy, single, and oblivious to women throwing themselves at him. There are young men who don't notice that women are making eyes at them; but generally that's part of a larger problem of hurling themselves at OTHER women who aren't interested in THEM, because for the ten years after puberty, most men's interest in women is far greater than their ability to figure them out.)

No, to the extent that this thing has pulled me in, it's curiosity about the master plot. What's going on with these zombies, and are the characters ever going to stop tripping over themselves and just find it out? There's a lot of hate going on over on the internets these days about The Hobbit and the way one small book has somehow turned into three movies; I'm starting to feel like this Newsflesh trilogy might have got its job done a whole lot better in a single volume.

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