Orion, £20, 766pp. £18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030; Orbit, £7.99, 571pp from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Passage, By Justin Cronin
Feed, By Mira Grant
Friday 09 July 2010
Clearly, those who make the more dubious bits of public policy need to be better acquainted with the works of George Romero and Stephen King. The powers-that-be in Justin Cronin's The Passage have no idea of how to avoid being in one of those stories that does not have a happy ending. Sending expeditions to cursed South American temples in search of immortality is never a good idea; nor is injecting new viruses into death-cell prisoners and little girls.
And so, of course, the aforementioned experimental subjects turn out to be biding their time and they eat us all. Cronin has made the interesting decision to combine the current obsessions of popular culture – his creatures have the teeth and near-invulnerability of vampires, but shamble around infecting people like zombies.
After a century passes, the few enclaves of humans get around to fighting back. A group of maverick heroes and heroines go traipsing across the US in a variety of fast vehicles and try to save the world – you know the drill, you've seen it before, but Cronin does do it really rather pacily and well.
This is a very self-conscious blockbuster written by a literary gentleman who has applied his considerable intelligence to understanding the underlying structures of Stephen King novels and does you a very neat line in pastiche. He has mastered such counter-intuitive rules of pulp as when to go into the ducts, and the rules of comic-book death (no body, no death; body, maybe they'll get better). About the only thing that could stop this being the summer's success is that Cronin's foray into glorious tosh is a bit on the bleak and dour side, and even more prone than King to long streams of consciousnesses of people who are about to die horribly.
Mira Grant's Feed is less well- written but has a can-do brio that Cronin would regard as whistling showtunes in the dark. Grant's zombies are the result of experiments gone wrong – everyone is infected and everyone might turn in a moment. Yet civilisation does not collapse, and there are even elections; business as usual. Grant isn't writing a horror novel at all – just an SF novel with zombies in it. And with bloggers – her heroine would die, or become undead, for a scoop.
Scoops follow her around. Hardly has she and her brother and team been embedded in a Presidential campaign than a saboteur tries to get the Candidate eaten or turned. Georgia and Shaun are supremely irritating young smart-arses, but Feed is a perfect antidote to Cronin's gloomier excesses; sometimes after a well-cooked heavy meal, you really need a tub of ice-cream, with sprinkles.
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