Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading Notes: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats

This post is part of my commitment to read and review as many nominated works in the Hugo Awards (Science Fiction Awards) as possible before the prize announcements in early September.   Today I am looking at one of the five nominated novellas: Mira Grant's San Diego 2014 - The Last Stand of the California Browncoats.

The first thing to note about this book is that it's set within the world of the wildly popular Newsflesh trilogy, Mira Grant's enormously successful zombie series. This novella is neither prequel nor sequel, but rather side-quel / a detail story expanding a particular moment in the established history of the Newsflesh world. In brief, it deals with the beginning of the real incursion of the zombie apocalypse - at ComicCon, San Diego, in 2014.

Grant is the horror-writing pseudonym employed by urban fantasy writer Seanan McGuire, and under both guises, she ishighly awarded and acclaimed, and has being gaining momentum since her 2010 Best New Writer award. I admit that although I have heard of McGuire / Grant, I haven't read anything else by her, probably because I am not generally a horror fan or a zombie aficianado (although, how ubiquitous are zombie stories at the moment? the ravenous undead are the vampires of this decade, for sure).

Having read this novella, though, I understand why she has received such acclaim, and I'm keen to read more, even pushing past my horror aversion to do so.

The story is full of wonderful character touches, which Grant manages to sketch in very few words - even the seeing eye dog has a personality, and evokes pathos, which is no mean feat given how much else is going on here.

The setting of ComicCon as the locus for the zombie virus is at once brilliant (it provides a premium vein of easy pop culture references, free of effort) and surprisingly effective; to create a sealed environment with a bunch of idiosyncratic but savvy nerds, she couldn't have asked for better. As a Firefly tragic myself, I was especially appreciative of the central role of the California Browncoats, the Firely fangroup whose tragic demise is central to the plot.(Hint - and this is not really a spoiler, as it's a zombie apocalypse book - everyone has a tragic demise. No happy endings for zombie victims, I'm afraid.)

Plot-wise, this is not especially complex - it's a linear, reportage-style narrative, filtered through the memories of Lorelei Tutt, the daughter of two of the browncoats, who survives because of a serendipitous headache that sees her returning to her hotel before the zombies start up. I wasn't particularly enamoured of the retrospective style, finding Lorelei a bit of an unnecessary intrusion, but perhaps this is because I haven't read the books - I suspect there are resonances there that I missed entirely.

Bottom line - I liked this one a lot more than I expected to, given its subject matter. It is pretty horrific, but it's in no sense mindlessly so, which is quite ironic really as the whole point of the zombies is that they are mindless. As the third Newsflesh book, Blackout, is on the novel nominee list, I've decided to read the whole trilogy so I can do it proper justice in the review.

I did not locate a legitimate free source for this one either, and bought it on Kobo for $4.


So - just one novella to go, four novels, plus all the novelettes! Next up will be the last of the novellas - on Tuesday, if I get time. After that I think I'll do the novelettes as a set - all 5 if I can get hold of the last one, or the 4 I have found if the elusive "Rat-Catcher" remains unobtainable.

The remaining four novels will probably be the biggest challenge. I'm reading 2312 and Throne of the Crescent Moon at the moment but both are going slowly, probably because 2312 is very dense and I'm not really enjoying Crescent Moon. I'm still waiting on a library copy of Blackout and its two predecessor books, and haven't found either an ebook to buy or a library copy to loan of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance yet (and I am not going to spend $17.95 to buy the paperback of a book and author I'm not familiar with).

Other Hugo reviews can be found here:
Short stories (all)
On a Red Station, Drifting (novella)
After the Fall, During the Fall, Before the Fall (novella)
The Emperor's New Soul (novella)
Redshirts: A Novel and Three Codas (novel)

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