In education, there is a chap by the name of Dylan Wiliam who espouses the theory that one shouldn’t give grades out. Children look at their grade and either think “yeah, that’s good enough” or they think “I’m a failure and there’s no point in trying”. Dylan Wiliam tells us that we should just give advice with no grade attached.

Perhaps that’s why I tend not to give star ratings on my reviews.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a star rating might be useful. Having read Deadline immediately on top of finishing Feed, a nice clear and visual indication that I didn’t like this one as much as the first could be useful.

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Okay, so this is book two of the Newsflesh trilogy in a post-zombie apocalypse world. The dead rose. The living shot them. Our heroes are the same team of intrepid bloggers that we followed in Feed. Link here to my review of that one.

Well, almost the same team.

Well 33.3% of them. No spoiler alert here. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you’ll have read Feed already. Georgia Mason, our first person narrator, and Buffy the tech-geek died in book one. I applaud that. It’s a brave move and unexpected – rule one of a first person narrative is almost that your narrator has to live! Georgia’s final blog post in Feed, as the Kellis-Amberlee zombie virus took over her body and her brother Shaun held a gun to her spine, was effective and moving.

But it left Grant with a problem. Shaun Mason, Georgia’s adopted brother and an adrenaline junkie Irwin and, to be honest, a bit of a prat, took over the team and narration.

And he really wasn’t up to the job.

Various beta-characters that had been mentioned in Feed re-appear in Deadline as the new team. But the team was pointless. Georgia had been driven, the political campaign in Feed had given direction. Shaun’s team appeared to drift somewhat aimlessly from one disaster to another. But maybe that was the point, to emphasise the enormity of the loss.

And he hears voices in his head.

Well, one voice. Georgia’s.

He is self-diagnosed as ‘crazy’ and repeatedly referencing the fact that he talks to her and how others reacted to it became… tiresome. And continually threatening to punch people or walls was… tedious.

The plot – which I had praised in Feed – has become razor thin. A minor doctor from the CDC who we’d met briefly in Feed arrives at Shaun’s home / office with sensitive information. People with a form of the zombie virus which affected only a certain organ, such as the eyes, were dying more frequently than people without these so-called reservoir conditions.

Almost immediately, zombies appear on the roof of the building and an air strike wipes out that section of the city. Obviously, our heroes escape and re-group at the fortified home of one of their fiction writers – because all writers of doggerel and aficionados of George Romero zombie movies are also the heir to mega-fortunes.

Various road trips ensue. To an underground zombie virus laboratory. To the increasingly shady CDC. Twice.

More clunky plot devices are rammed at us.

More statistics are uncovered remarkably easily.

Zombies are used as weapons to try to thwart our increasingly unplucky and occasionally downright annoying heroes.

An awkward love moment happens for no real reason whatsoever.

The strength of Feed‘s drive and shape is lost here, although it remains a fairly taut conspiracy thriller. The credibility of the world created by Grant does wear a little thin here. The blogosphere becomes nothing more than background noise: under Shaun’s narration, it is little more than a revenge novel. Shaun’s time on the successful presidential campaign and the fact that his friend has become vice-president was sidelined. The fact that there may be organisations that would seek to benefit from a zombie-based opportunity and the fears it engendered I get… but I’m not so sure that releasing zombies into city blocks in order to level the area to kill a renegade scientist and a couple of journalists seems a rather blunt and ineffectual assassination technique.

I’d also have liked more on the statistics and more on the epidemiology. Another weakness in Shaun’s narration was that he didn’t understand the science and we were reliant on rather artificial and clunky dialogue to explain it. Which was a shame: Grant seems to have put a lot of effort into devising a credible viral pathway to zombiehood … and I’d have liked more.

And more on the evidence that was found that showed the extent of the corruption and manipulation of the reservoir conditions.

For a book revolving around bloggers and containing excerpts from their blogs both published and unpublished, I wanted to see this evidence first hand. As bloggers, I would have thought Shaun would have put the original figures online – or at least in an unpublished blog or secure server – alongside the interpretation. And it wouldn’t have been a huge effort for Mason to have mocked that up for us, his reader. Ideally colour coded. With graphs.

Overall, I do feel slightly disappointed. I have some faith that Mason will be able to bring things back together. The repeated reference to Georgia’s retinal KA in Feed makes more sense as one of the reservoir conditions brought up in Deadline. I’m hoping President Ryman and Shaun’s hearing and seeing the dead Georgia will all be knitted together in book 3. As well as Dr Abbey.

Clearly, in the world of the undead, death may not be the end of Georgia Mason.

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