Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review of Deadline, by Mira Grant - peppered liberally with spoilers.

I wanted to like this book. I really did.

I read Feed, the first book in this trilogy, on the recommendation of a friend, and there were things about it that bothered me. I didn't love George's voice, she seemed to be trying way too hard to be edgy/angry. The book is about Kellis-Amberlee, a fairly well-thought-out virus that causes the dead to "amplify," or, as we're all used to hearing it, turn into zombies. Zombies have been around for a couple decades and even in Feed were not a huge part of the story, which was okay - the book is largely about the post-apocalypse culture of fear that we're left with, the extremely well-thought out ramifications of the virus (laws against dogs that are above the 40 lb. amplification thresholds, testing units to verify infection status being very much a part of hour-to-hour life, etc.), and, perhaps most importantly, blogging's shift to a medium that almost replaces the news, as the news sources were useless when the virus first broke, and bloggers helped people stay alive. They're now divided into Newsies (more serious, less action-oriented just-the-facts journalist types), Irwins (a cute nod to Steve Irwin - charismatic thrill-seekers who go play chicken with zombies for public entertainment), and Fictionals (writers of poetry and fiction to distract the public from their cloistered, secluded lives), and okay, that's interesting enough, but the first book dwelled entirely too much of division politics and technicalities for my preference. The characters in the first seemed a little underdeveloped, some more than others, but it had redeeming qualities. George's death was truly a powerful emotional scene, and I was invested enough to care when Buffy betrayed the group and died. It had flaws, but it had an interesting enough plot and enough strong scenes to keep my interest and make me check the next book, Deadline, out of the library.

Reading Deadline was kind of like...I don't know, putting a fairly sweet zombie book at the center of a horde of slow-moving zombies that you have to wade through to get to the good book, only the good book turns out to be about 3 pages long. The plot was just interesting enough to make me suffer, trudge, and "Are you kidding me?" my way through 581 pages of abysmal, repetitive, at times just insulting writing, and it was kind of a waiting for the punchline thing. This crap has to improve in the next chapter, right? No?

I don't even know how to write this, it was so terrible. I think I have to make a list.

- Shaun. Christ, I hate him. He is childish, immature, obnoxious, one-dimensional, repetitive, crazy, but you don't need to tell him that he's crazy, other people already do, as we're told on almost every single page. He's supposed to be an angry, brooding character, so he punches walls and other objects routinely, and occasionally his staff. Shaun really doesn't even feel like an angry sort of guy, he's generally been painted as somewhat happy go lucky, slightly reckless, so the "Shaun is angry now, and you know it because he hits stuff" development is absurd and juvenile. His exaggerated sarcasm is so overdone that it makes him sound like a fifteen year old trying on sarcasm for the first time.

- Shaun still talks to George in his head, and naturally, she talks back. Mira Grant really, truly fell into the soap opera trap of "This character is such a fan favorite and I just killed her off, so she can return as my long-lost twin/ghost that haunts me/star of innumerable dream sequences/voice in my head who oh, also, is nearly nothing like her character was." When the hell was George this supportive, helpful person who "made soothing noises" to calm Shaun down? The storyline absolutely never does anything but fill space and waste the reader's time. He tells us every few pages that his team "is used to" him talking (out loud - out loud, seriously, he states that she hears him even when he doesn't talk, so why does he still say everything, all the time, at even the most inappropriate moments, out loud? Attention seeking?) to his dead sister, yet they give him odd looks or ask him to repeat himself every time. It gets old, older than old, by the end of the first chapter, and then continues. For the whole book.

- One-dimensional characters. Dave died, and I don't even remember who the hell Dave was, so I really don't care. Maggie is endearing, Becks has a hint of a personality that is never explored, Mahir and Alaric are basically interchangeable, and the only tension I could find it in myself to mildly care for is whether Mahir's wife is going to leave him. That would be unfortunate. You can tell that I feel passionately about the issue.

- Filler. If I had a dollar for every time they told us completely and totally and utterly unnecessarily what order the group entered a building or where they sat around a table ("We walked in, with Becks leading the group, Alaric behind her, Maggie trailing along and me bringing up the back" - why couldn't that just say "We walked in"?), I bet I'd have, oh at least $581 dollars. The time spent in this book on driving, walking, sitting, maintaining equipment, or muttering under breath is, basically, the whole book. Add in commentary about the Shaun talking to his dead sister situation and yeah, it's the whole book. The. Whole. Book.

- The gross underuse of Kelly. Kelly could have been an interesting character. I'd like to know what her motivations, feelings, thought processes were. She is not an interesting character for one single sentence. While we're there, Dr. Wynne was so briefly developed in the first book that it's neither surprising nor expected nor interesting when he turns into the evil scientist in this book. It's just "Oh, he's evil now. Well, shit." And of course, he reveals his evil plans in great detail before trying to kill our main "characters." To the book's credit, it does take a jab at itself and the genre here: "'Why is it you assholes always feel the need to tell the media your evil plans before you kill us?' asked Becks. 'Is it a union requirement or something?'" in one of the only entertaining lines in this book.

- Let's just get it out there: the incest. I'm not into it. It's gross. It's weird. The hints at it in Feed, from George's perspective...I could've really done without it, but at least in George's voice you could at least feel some affection, connection...sincerity. From Shaun is just feels like desperately creepy co-dependance. And if you're going to include an incestuous sub-plot, spit it out. Don't tip-toe around it. Even after Deadline, it's never blatantly, explicitly, without a shadow of a doubt confirmed, just implied so strongly there's no ignoring it, and that impresses me even less.

- There's a "second rising." Cities are wiped out. There's so little tension or genuine horror that it's nearly impossible to care.

- The first direct encounter with a zombie is on page 555. If the rest of the book were readable, I would excuse this. It is not. It's a brief encounter - a page or two.  We hear some zombies around a corner and down a hallway, but we don't see them. Zombie deer are extremely briefly mentioned, and hell, zombie deer would've been a fairly entertaining interlude. If they'd cut out a page or two of George's voice in his head or seating arrangements they could've made a detour and talked about it.

I could probably go on all day, but I'm so over this book that I've probably said enough.

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