If someone asked you to make a shortlist of the very worst things that could ever happen, chances are, your list would be similar to a lot of other people’s. (Partly because we’re just not that original, but mostly because we’ve been exposed to the same TV, movies, and books as everyone else.) We have some pretty vivid images embedded in our brains of the Bad Stuff that lies in wait for us--images we share.
Natural disasters would no doubt place highly on the list--tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes strike terror into the bravest among us. Fire is another truly fearsome, destructive force. And of course, the thought of all sorts of transportation accidents--something like a horrible high-speed car crash or the dreaded mid-air disaster--hit most of us in the gut.
Illness and disease would likewise find their way onto a lot of lists. We have only to see the devastating effects of cancer or another debilitating disease, to have an unholy terror of it someday striking close to home.
But how many, I wonder, would include “zombie attack” on our shortlists? (Yes, I really said “zombie attack”.) For those of us who devoured (tee-hee) Mira Grant’s Feed--and then proceeded to wait with bated breath for the arrival of number two in the trilogy, Deadline--well, let’s just say that probably a LOT of us would.
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Deadline picks up several months after what, for the main characters, was one of the worst things that could ever happen: a string of zombie attacks. We’re not talking about any full-of-wide-eyed-wonder sort of “Oh my gosh, there are zombies?!?” sense here, either, because Grant’s vision of the world--thirty years in the future--isn’t a happy place, but is instead one in which zombies have already been moaning and staggering around for more than twenty-five years. (Contrary to some rather peculiar beliefs recently, the end of times involves zombies, not a scheduled rapture, okay?)
First, though, a brief refresher course--because you’ve already read Feed, right? (If not, hie yourself on over to the review, here, then run out and pick up a copy, pronto; read it and then come back to this, okay? Really, you’ll thank me.) Anyway, since the first zombie rising in 2014--following the exceptionally-unfortunate snafu which resulted when two viral “cures” (one for cancer and another for the common cold) collided with unpredictable and violent effect in our bodies, leaving us with a condition that makes us 100%-susceptible to becoming zombies--mankind has had to live with a strange new threat that had previously only been fodder for B-horror flicks. In other words, anyone in 2041 (when this book is set) who has the extreme bad luck to get up close and personal with a zombie will--in very short order--also become a zombie him- or herself. Ever since the “Kellis-Amberlee” hybrid viral strain formed, messed-up cells just waiting for “amplification” via contact with an actual zombie are genetically part of our makeup, and there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no handy-dandy vaccination or bottle of pills to take as a precaution or a cure; if you get infected by a zombie, you’re gonna become one, too... end of story, and may someone please shoot you before you can infect too many others.
So, for the “After the End Times” crew--the small group of journalists we follow who report, via their online blogs, what’s really happening out there--when I say the zombie attacks finally hit too close, I mean they experienced casualties of the very worst kind: the deaths of several of their members.
Even now, months later, things aren’t remotely close to being “back to normal”. Co-founder Shaun Mason, one of the “Irwin” branch of journalists (daredevils in the late Steve Irwin, poke-the-big-crocodile-with-a-stick-to-see-what-happens mode), is adrift and aimless without his sister, Georgia, around to temper his particular brand of insanity. (“Insanity”, by the way, is no longer an exaggeration; Shaun may not be going out in the field risking his life looking for flesh-eaters... but he’s haunted by Georgia’s ghost and holds frequent conversations with her, while hovering in a too-close-to-suicidal state for anyone else’s peace of mind.) Meanwhile, Rebecca “Becks” Atherton has taken over most of his Irwin duties, including the majority of local field reporting; Dave Novakowski has been doing his best to follow in Buffy Meissonier’s techie, go-go-gadget footsteps following her untimely demise; and, from London, Mahir Gowda has stepped into Georgia’s head-of-the-“Newsie”-branch shoes.
It has, overwhelmingly, been a period with nothing much new really happening. Scattered outbreaks, as usual. Daily lives lived out in fear, with multiple blood tests and a home-before-sunset schedule, for most people. No good news, no changes, and no cures.
More importantly for the After-the-End-Timers, though, there’s been no resolution, retribution, or answers for the loss of Georgia and the others... nothing but the steadily-increasing sense of urgency to somehow make sure their deaths mean something--that they might not be quite so utterly and absolutely in vain.
Until one day, that is, when a young CDC research scientist from Memphis comes knocking at their Southern California headquarters door... with information and speculation that changes everything. Not only is the conspiracy they’ve been fighting not even remotely dead, but now they know it looms larger than they ever dreamed possible. Much larger... and much, much worse, as it points in directions they’d never even considered... and at people they’d previously thought were on their side.
Galloping coast-to-coast while facing storms, road hazards, unfriendly government employees, scary off-the-grid conspiracy theorists, plus the occasional pack of rabid zombies, Deadline is one roller-coaster ride of pure, adrenaline-filled, pulse-pounding terror... made so much scarier by the dawning realization that the worst monsters aren’t the creepy flesh-munchers, at all... but people who look as ordinary and seem as sane as everyone else.
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Like the very best that sci-fi (or a sci-fi/thriller, as I'm terming it) has to offer, Deadline is a cautionary tale, one which illustrates that very bad things can happen through even the best of intentions--and that too often the response to the something bad is to try to cover it up and bury it. Even more so than in Feed, the monsters in Deadline aren’t propelled by an undying hunger for human brains (really, for a zombie book, there's almost a total absence of them here)... but are, instead, the scientists, politicians, and company big-wigs--the brain trusts and mouthpieces and fat cats (with apologies to felines everywhere)--intent on denying everything, at the cost of anything and anyone who gets in the way. The heroes, meanwhile, don’t come with super-powers or impossibly-fantastical skills and knowledge; they’re just regular people who believe enough in something--and in themselves, and each other--to try to make a difference, no matter the cost.