Why I Read It: when I read it back in 2010, Feed took me by absolute surprise. I fell in love, and fell hard. When I read Deadline last year, I needed one hour of recovery time before wanting to read the next book the series, but sadly, I was given a good year of recovery time instead. Now, the final installment of the Newsflesh trilogy is here, and this was my reward for slogging through Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. To say I couldn’t wait to read it would be an understatement.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Rise up while you can. — Georgia Mason
The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.
The year was 2039. The world didn’t end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. The uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.
Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there’s one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it’s this:
Things can always get worse.
BLACKOUT is the conclusion to the epic trilogy that began in the Hugo-nominated FEED and the sequel, DEADLINE.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. If you haven’t read it yet, let alone if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, then for the love everything pure and good, skip to “My Rating,” which is much safer. This is the rare set of books where spoilers utterly ruin the experience, so please, don’t do that to yourself. But if you’re caught up, onward!
Discussion: So it ends. And as timing would have it, I’d just started this book when life threw me a 180, forcing me to put reading on the back-burner while I took care of other THINGS, so this review is coming later than I’d like. I’d planned to have this book finished by weekend’s end, but it didn’t happen that way. Oh well.
Blackout is a book that forces readers out of denial. Not that I was in denial to begin with. From the start, I wondered if there was something more between George and Shaun than meets the eye. Of course, at the start, there was the question of whether or not they were truly siblings or biologically unrelated but raised as such. Deadline clarified that issue in stark relief: not only where they not related, but there was a strong, strong implication that Shaun and George has a sexual relationship. I mean, come on, Shaun said George’s name after he and Becks had sex, and that’s not a connection one would make if one hadn’t experienced first, you know?
Yet some readers (even commenters here on this blog), didn’t see it. They were convinced it wasn’t there, and hey, denial’s a powerful thing. Incest is still quite the taboo, and it doesn’t seem to matter if those participating aren’t biologically related. They were raised as brother/sister, so therefore, that’s all that matters.
So when Georgia 2.0 revealed that secret and kissed Shaun, when Shaun kissed her back, I imagine some readers freaked the hell out. Me, not so much. For starters, I rather like twisty romances, and it’s not like we’ve got father/adopted daughter action or mother/adopted son action going on here. Second, I’m used to twincest thanks to George R.R. Martin, and the HBO series has made it clear that blood relatives are not taken out of the running of potential hook-ups. Martin has TRUE incest, folks, the kind that makes Shaun and George’s hook-up look downright conservative.
Of course, I am, by all rights, an only child. I’m not putting myself in either character’s shoes and imagining myself attracted to my sibling. I would imagine that most people who freak out do have siblings, and the idea squicks them out so bad that it’s no wonder they were in denial for the first two books. But maybe not. It’s just a theory.
But regardless of current moralities or taboos, I think it’s an interesting relationship all the same. Shaun and George both were co-dependent on each other from the start, something George acknowledges in Feed. She points out that pre-Rising, their closeness (mind you, we don’t have any suspicions about them hooking up yet) would be a serious problem; post-Rising, it’s a survival mechanism. You need people you can trust completely, and in a world where things really are out to get you, you’d better have a high tolerance for the people you trust, because you’re going to be spending a LOT of time with them, likely in confined spaces.
While reading reviews for Blackout today, I came upon an interesting note from a reviewer who felt utterly betrayed by this revelation. And before I could snort my dismissal of this reader’s betrayal, he said he felt that way because in the first book, we were firmly in George’s POV, and George’s big thing is the TRUTH and nothing BUT the truth. And while George didn’t outright lie in Feed about her relationship with Shaun, one could argue she lied by omission. Which is a grey area to me, but whatever. However, that reviewer then went on to say that when he re-read Feed, his feelings of betrayal were totally erased, because the truth is there. You just have to have the eyes to see it. He specifically pointed to chapters 3 and 4, so I picked up my copy and read most of those pages, and yes, one could look at certain statements very differently if you’re reading from a certain angle. And I have no doubt it’s really there: hell, even in the first book I noticed the big deal made when George and Shaun requested a room together.
Also, I should make something clear. While I won’t argue too much that Grant could have done in a totally different direction to accomplish the same thing, the fact that Shaun and George were lovers was a major plot point. For starters, it kept Shaun and Becks from killing her, because there was no way ANYONE else could’ve known that one secret except for George and Shaun. Second, crap… my brain just farted out on me. There WAS a second, I swear. I think it may have an something to do with how George 1.0 transferred her immunity to Shaun, and that transfer happening via sexual contact. Of course, this is fuzzy: book two explains the immunity process and the theory as to why he was immune, and I don’t remember the details. I’ll pay attention the second read-through!
So now that THAT’s been cleared up beyond any doubt (please don’t tell me any of you have doubts by now), let’s move on to the rest of the book, which incidentally feels rather tame compared to the previous two books in the trilogy.
On one hand, I wish something bigger than Becks’ sacrifice was to be had in the climax. Because of what Grant had done to her characters previously, I was ready to see Shaun and George 2.0 have to kill each other in some kind of suicide pact. I mean, seriously. I was ready for all manner of heartbreak, and yes, Becks’ death did have be tear up a TINY BIT, but it wasn’t on the same scale of “oh shit!” moments that so punctuated Deadline, or the major OH FUCKING SHIT! moment of Feed. The revelations about the CDC felt rather anti-climatic, and I think it’s because everything that was “revealed” here was essentially revealed or strongly hinted at in Deadline. The main conspiracy plot is just one of the reasons I look forward to re-reading this trilogy some day in the future, because I while I do believe I’ll run into some plot holes, I want to make sure I understand what’s going on inside and out, as presented, before I make any assumptions. Because as it stands, reading each book one time, a year apart, it’s pretty convoluted. Mind you, it’s my kind of convoluted. Once I’m attached to characters, you can pretty much put them through any kind of ringer and I’ll run with it. For the most part, and while I’ll admit to having some “wait a minute moments” while reading, I’m so invested in this world and its characters that I shoved that dissenting voice in a corner and enjoyed my reading.
I had all kinds of questions about George’s cloning. At first, I didn’t understand why they had to reintroduce the Kellis-Amberlee virus into a clean, healthy system, only to learn later that the CDC was growing clones at such an accelerated rate that the radiation-produced cancer cells would’ve killed her otherwise, so yeah, it makes sense to dose her up with Kellis-Amberlee.
But still, that’s quite the expensive little cloning project, and no matter which way you slice it, that’s a lot of money spent overall, let alone singly, just to create a clone of a reporter who was a total pain in the ass, one they hoped to mold into their image. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it. Sure, I like it from an emotional standpoint, because George and Shaun do rather get a happy ending, but from logical perspective, it’s pretty tough to swallow. But I won’t say it negates George’s death in book one. That George is dead, and Shaun had to kill her. Him getting a second chance was, I think, deserved, especially when they learned in book two that George would not have amplified the way they thought (which reminds me, I need to read Grant’s alternate ending of Feed, called Fed, which promises to take the ending of the original and make it SO MUCH WORSE). You can say that Grant went soft in this book: after all, Shaun and the team never had to deal with a CDC mouthpiece of George, nor were Shaun and George truly put in a position of having to kill each other (in Shaun’s case, for a second time). There was a lot of talk about how Shaun wouldn’t be able to lose George twice, but while I wouldn’t have put it past Grant, I stopped worrying about that. Call me crazy, call it intuition, but I didn’t think Grant would have the guts to pull the same trick twice. Whether she should have or not is up for debate. I think it would’ve been a bleaker novel and overall ending if she had, and I’m a sucker for happy endings. I like Shaun. I like George. I like them together, whether it’s as brother/sister, best friends, or lovers. That they’re out hiding in the wilderness doing whatever the hell they want, away from the prying eyes of the public, is a happy thing.
That being said, the ending was rather abrupt. I can’t tell you what I would’ve wanted instead. I really did like the line right before the end:
“They may not have lived happily ever after. But they lived happily long enough.”
Getting back to the plot, I’m still trying to put things together. I may have this wrong, but this is my understanding:
1) Reservoir conditions appeared when humanity was starting to adapt to the virus. It wasn’t a cure, but rather a sign that human biology was finding a way to co-exist with the virus, and in some cases, created an immunity. Meaning that even if exposed to a live strain of Kellis-Amberlee, they wouldn’t amplify, or if they did, they might revert.
2) Because of the potential about reversion, the CDC was keeping said purpose of conditions a secret so that the world wouldn’t be COMPLETELY overrun with zombies, and they feared it would because if people learned that the bodies could adapt to the virus, they might be afraid to kill those who’d already amplified, as they would hope those amplified would come back to their normal selves one day. The idea, I think, of infecting everyone with the same strain was so that no one would get reservoir conditions and therefore there was no chance of reversion, which meant that those who hadn’t amplified would still kill zombies (keeping the population down, yo) and those had amplified wouldn’t return from the dead in a different fashion. All of this is so that people wouldn’t think that there was an actual CURE, which there wasn’t. Just adaptation.
I could be wrong. Deadline set a lot of this up, and it’s been a while since I read that book. But it was a major revelation. I’ve just slept since then. I could be wrong, and I’m not going to make any judgments about how effective or ineffective all of this is until I get a chance to re-read the series one day.
Now, let’s talk about some shining moments, text-wise, in the book:
Page 251 (Shaun’s POV):
“Mom…” I stopped, realizing I had no idea what else I could say to this woman. We were family and we were strangers. She was my mother and my teacher and the one person I had never been able to please, no matter how hard I tried or how much I played the clown.
Page 301 (George’s POV):
“The Shelley — oh come on. They named the ‘let’s clone a reporter, it’ll be fun’ project after Mary Shelley?
Page 313 (Shaun’s POV):
“Let’s hope the directions don’t tell us to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” I muttered, and pulled out onto the street.
Page 533 (George’s POV):
“Just wait,” said Becks. “When he gets really worked up, he swears in Cantonese. It’s like listening to a macaw having a seizure.”
Not going to quote, but I love that Alaric and Maggie will be getting married.
My Rating: 7 – Good Read
Through no fault of its own, it took me longer than intended to read this book. That I could actually put the book down means I can’t give it a “Couldn’t Put It Down,” and the only reason I’m not using “Excellent,” is simply because, as a concluding installment of a trilogy that set the bar SO DAMN HIGH, the book was about tying up loose ends using what the reader already knew and giving the reader a satisfying conclusion. And I was quite satisfied. I stayed up late one night just to finish, because I was 10% away on my Kindle and refused to go to sleep until I was done.
That being said, I do have a little bit of confusion regarding the why’s and how’s and whatnot’s of the conspiracy, confusion that will likely be lifted once I re-read the books back to back one day. I also felt like Grant could’ve trimmed the pages. While it read wonderfully quickly, I think the book would’ve benefited from a slightly stronger hand in the editing process (scene-wise, while the bear was amusing, was it necessary, and were the events leading up to it necessary?). Still, I was gripped from the start, and while there were no MAJOR revelations, there were some surprises, where Grant zigged when I expected a zag, and by the end, nobody escapes unscathed. Still, considering the note the first book ended up, I think we get a happy note at the end. I’m quite pleased with the trilogy, and as a whole, it’s knocked my socks off. I look forward to the novella, Countdown (which is in my Hugo TBR pile), and I will definitely get around to the alternate ending of Feed that the publisher so kindly provided on Facebook (don’t know if it still works, but click here to like, and then read, but DO NOT DO THIS unless you’ve read Feed). As for the future, Grant has me hook, line and sinker. There’s no doubt whatever she does next will be on my pre-order list.
For those of you who haven’t yet started this trilogy, what are you waiting for? It’s a great, visceral and nail-biting ride, and one of the more unique set-ups that I’ve seen in a long while. If you’re not reading this trilogy yet, you’re missing out.
Cover Commentary: Not much to talk about here. It matches the covers, conceptually, of the first two books, though I will say I wish the cover of this one had been a black background with white lettering and a slightly brighter red. The title is Blackout, after all, and as it stands, the color palette is too close to that of Feed.