by Mira Grant

Cover image

Publisher: Orbit
Copyright: August 2011
ISBN: 0-316-20448-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 75

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Countdown is a novella that tells the "origin story" of Grant's Newsflesh universe, the setting for Feed and sequels. It's the story of the initial creation of Kellis-Amberlee and the first zombie Rising, mixed with a small bit of backstory for the Mason family.

There are two ways to read this novella that work. It's possible to read it prior to reading any of the Newsflesh books as a sort of teaser. It sets up the universe, shows the devastation of society, and raises the question of how society will respond. Alternately, and I think more effectively, it can be read as an appendix to the Newsflesh trilogy that fills in the backstory. Reading it after all three books led to some fun moments of "oh, that's how that happened." It shows the accidents and bad decisions that led to the Rising, and provides a bit of a counterbalance to some of Georgia and Shaun's snarky comments about the government, scientists, and the media.

The way to read it that doesn't work is to try to read it as a stand-alone work. Countdown has very little in the way of a story. It's told in the disaster epic style of brief scenes following numerous characters, some who are only seen once. There are small plot arcs following the Kellis virus, the Amberlee virus, and the Masons, but none of them are satisfying when read as a traditional story. Some events, particularly in the Masons' thread, have no real meaning by themselves and only acquire significance as part of Georgia and Shaun's backstory. The reason to read this novella is because you're invested in the universe, either to whet your appetite for more or to fill in some of the background.

With that caveat, I think Countdown is more effective as horror than the Newsflesh trilogy itself is. Feed and its sequels are more action novels that become political thrillers, and the confident first-person narration and snark undermines most of the sense of dread or horror in the world. (Please note: not being a horror fan, I consider this a feature.) Countdown doesn't have that strong narrative presence. Instead, it covers events that are both horrific and inevitable and towards which the characters are largely helpless. Some of the scenes towards the end are haunting. Grant still isn't very subtle, but I think she does a good job writing quiet desperation and leaving some of the emotions for the reader to interpolate.

Countdown could be read after Feed, if you're interested enough in the world to want more, but I think it works best after Blackout (for reasons that are minor spoilers). It could be read before the whole series, but I recommend reading it as an appendix instead. Don't expect too much of it — it's background filler rather than more story — but I thought it was effective and enjoyed the additional filling-in of the world.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-12-29

Last spun 2022-02-06 from thread modified 2013-01-04