Deadline - Mira GrantTrilogies, the bane of modern publishing: discuss.

A trilogy is composed of a beginning, a middle and an end. Middles are a problem. For humans, middle age spread is often an issue, and it affects your middle. Books can run to flab as well. With my editor’s hat on, I can see that nothing much happens in Deadline. The characters spend a lot of time running around, or more often running away, from either the bad guys or the zombies. The plot doesn’t develop very much. And yet the book is gripping. If an author can keep you reading even when she’s dishing out flab, she must be good.

Trilogies are a pain to review as well. It is hard to say much about the plot of a middle book because there may be people waiting for the entire series to be available before reading it. You can’t come to many profound conclusions because there is still one book to come. There’s not a lot you can say, and I probably wouldn’t be reviewing this book if it wasn’t a Hugo nominee. Let’s see what I can talk about without being overly spoilery.

Deadline is narrated by Shaun Mason, who is a much less likeable character than his sister, Georgia. The Presidential election plotline finished in Feed, and there isn’t much to replace it. All that’s really left is to investigate the origins of the zombie virus, and perhaps to look for a cure. As a result, it becomes much more obvious that the series is science fiction. I don’t know much about virology, but Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) has clearly done quite a bit research. Because she has girl cooties I’m sure that there will be plenty of male fanboys complaining loudly about how she has Got It All Wrong, but there’s no more handwavium here than in the average space adventure. We are just habituated to all of the dodgy assumptions that allow space adventures to work.

Of course the books aren’t only about zombies, and every so often you get a reminder of this:

“There’s always been something nasty waiting around the corner to kill us, but it wasn’t until the Rising that we let ourselves start living in this constant state of fear. 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.”

I note also that Deadline features some pretty bad things happening on the Gulf Coast. The scenes of Shaun and his crew glued to the television watching the disaster unfold reminded me strongly of how I felt watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina as it hit land. I’m sure they were supposed to. And I’m sure I was also supposed to remember the allegations about the Bush Administration being happy to let New Orleans be destroyed.

The sections about Oakland are somewhat less convincing. I mean, how is one supposed to tell the difference between a zombie uprising and a crowd of Raiders supporters? The zombies wear less paint, I guess. (Yes, this is Bay Area sporting rivalry snark.)

Another part of the books that is very much about the here and now is the way that the business of blogging is treated. When I reviewed Leviathan’s Wake I noted that it was in part a discussion about radical transparency. Although Grant’s characters are famous for being heart-on-my-sleeve bloggers, they don’t tell anything like the whole story. Grant begins each chapter with some quotes from the characters’ blogs, but by this point in the story she’s not using the Dos Passos world building technique. The quotes are intended as a window into the minds of the characters. Often there will be two quotes from the same character, one of which was written in a highly emotional state and left as a draft, the other being what the character finally published. It is an interesting ploy.

As with Feed, what Grant does best is hit you in the gut. This isn’t just an adventure story about zombies, or even just sharp political commentary. It is a book in which some fairly ordinary young people get caught up in events and soon find themselves desperately wishing that they hadn’t. Something that many Tolkien imitators forget is that Sam and Frodo spend a lot of time asking, “why us?” By the time they get to Mordor there is nothing that they want more than to go home, but they can’t because they have a world to save. Grant understands this. Her characters are in way over their heads. Their friends die; their families die; they spend much of their time running and hiding. But if they stop then the bad guys will win. So they go on, and in doing so they are far more heroic than any steel-thewed warrior who spends his time merrily slaying monsters.

The book has a coda. It also hits you in the gut. I really should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I went straight out to look for the final book in the series. Fortunately for all of the other books on my To Be Read pile, my local Waterstones had sold out. I’m not surprised, that they did.

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