With a built-in warning that humanity is its own worst enemy – by a considerable margin and that’s without a nasty zombie-creating virus on the loose in the world – Deadline picks up the shambling good work of its brilliant predecessor Feed, and runs with it, far faster than you’d think an animated corpse can manage.
Shaun Mason is alive and kicking – though convinced his sister George aka George is alive, living in his head and talking to him; he knows it’s a sign of madness but he can’t live without his beloved fellow-sister journalist /blogger sister by his side and so he keeps up the impossible conversation – and the globally-renowned newssite they created After the End Times continues to draw into the Newsies (news), Irwin (adventurers) and Fictionals (stories, poetry) crowds.
Everything seems to be going relatively well, the imminent threat of viral amplification aside, for the news team headed by the surviving Mason, and department heads London-based Mahir (Newsies), Rebecca “Becks” Atherton (Irwins) and Maggie Garcia, which is, of course, the cue for the conspiracy thought partially-seen off to rear its decayed, ugly head once more.
Now based in the community of Oakland, San Francisco’s grittier sister city across the bay which survived thanks to a critically-important never-say-die attitude during the Rising of 2014 and beyond, Shaun and his investigative team, who eat, sleep and well, all the other things, the news, find themselves once more staring into the endlessly dead void that is the collective soul of humanity when CDC scientist Dr Kelly Connolly appears on their reasonably-heavily fortified doorstep.
No sooner is the recently-dead scientist there than their world implodes, with a massive outbreak of zombieism – keep in mind that society is now geared towards protecting against and smoothly handling outbreaks of the Kellis-Amberlee virus; constant fear and a phalanx of security measures make things as safe as they can be – killing hundreds, a deadly occurrence that is met with customary thoroughness by the authorities.
“Oh, the world didn’t change in the big apocalyptic “tiny enclaves of people fighting to survive against a world gone mad” way most of the movies suggested it would, but it still changed. George used to say we’d embraced the culture of fear, willingly letting ourselves be duped into going scared from the cradle to the grave. George used to say a lot of things I didn’t really understand. I understood this much, anyway: Most people are scared of more than just zombies, and there are other people who like them that way.” (P. 29)
Surviving this annihilistic attempt to shut down Kelly’s quest to reveal the conspiracy that led not just to Georgia’s death but that of fellow After the End Times colleague and friend Buffy and thousands of others in a world dominated by the aftereffects of a slow-motion zombie apocalypse – it’s not over by a long shot; just happening a lot more slowly than it used to – Shaun and the others lay low at Maggie’s keep reporting the truth and make a commitment to follow through on Kelly’s gamechanging revelations.
Because that’s what journalists do, right?
Well, yes, but as countless stories have made clear down through the years, poke the hornets’ nest of entrenched power and influence and you are bound to find yourself at the losing end of history.
True, tenacity, a boundless thirst for the truth and a desire for revenge count for a lot, but when your enemies can conjure up an outbreak big enough to wipe cities and coastline conurbations off the map with barely a whimper and minimal, coldblooded effort, you have a titanic battle on your hands.
The After the End Times team knows this, and they accept the risk and seriously undead consequences and sally forth to pull back the wizards curtain, one which, in this instance, reveals not a less-than-imagined power but with the capacity to play destiny puppetry with humanity, and think nothing of the collateral damage that accompanies it.
Deadline is then not just a story of zombies, many, many zombies and their constant shambling, sometimes sprinting, presence, although it is that and more, but how humanity handles living under the ever-present threat of death.
It can warp a psyche and indeed, an entire society, but most people do their best, even when going to the supermarket is an exercise in endless patience and multiple threats and any animals over 20kg is a potential zombie threat, trying to carve out as normal an existence as possible.
But as this remarkably tense, suspenseful book intelligently-emphasises again and again through its gripping, page-turning narrative, all this normalcy, such as it is, clawed back from the truncated apocalypse of the middle years of the 21st century’s second decade, only exists at the whim of a shadowy group of people who are using humanity as their testing plaything.
No matter how noble and humanitarian their motivations may be – honestly, that’s highly doubtful when you witness the lengths they will go to, up to and including killing of tens of thousands with nary a backward glance – the net effect is a society trapped in a paradigm of constant, brutal fear with any truthseekers like Shaun, Mahir, Becks, Kelly and Maggie facing the constant threat of death, undeath and the obliterating consequences of power gone mad.
“‘Or maybe something’s really wrong.’ Becks pressed the radio scan button, scowling as it skipped through a dozen channels of static before settling back on the canned modern country station she’d been listening to the night before. ‘All my live news is off the air. There’s nothing running but the preprogrammed music channels. I’d kill for an internet connection right now, I swear to God. Something’s really wrong.'” (P. 431)
Deadline continues Mira Grant’s brilliantly-told tale of power ran amuck, zombies at every corner, and the living caught between the two.
Deftly keeping the action burbling along through its 500 odd-taut-as-hell pageswhile allowing her deeply-wrought characters time to think about and express what happening to them (this is the unthinking person’s conspiracy thriller), Grant, the pen name of Seanan McGuire, masterfully a tale of power corrupting, those that seek to stand against it, and those like the After the End Times team who seek to expose the whole sorry, humanity-dooming mess.
It becomes hard to escape through the near-misses, end of the world reruns and constant death that punctuates this delightfully self-aware book that takes its worldbuilding as seriously as it takes its shadowy power machinations, that humanity is holding the dagger to its own long-exposed throat.
While the zombies are the ever-present reminder of our reminder of our seemingly endless capacity for self-delusion and abuse of each other for highly-questionable gains, what really percolates through Deadline is the sense that this is simply the pattern that has repeated through our long, violence,-punctuated history.
Sure it’s now told with virus splicing, god-like abilities to manipulate life and death and a near omnipresent capacity to skewer reality and the truth, but the bedrock of humanity’s narrative remains eerily the same – there are those who will do anything to acquire and retain power, there are those who will stand to oppose them, and inbetween lies drama, a morally-ferocious battle to the end and the people of After the End Times doing their best, and compellingly bringing us along with them, to save us from ourselves, if such a thing is even possible.