Mark Reads ‘Countdown’: Part 1

In the first half of Countdown, we learn the details of how Kellis-Amberlee was birthed into the world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Countdown.

May 15 – July 7, 2014

If Mira Grant had chosen to open the Newsflesh trilogy with the story in Countdown, I would have liked it. I would not have loved it, and I don’t think it would have captured my interest as much as it does right no. What’s so fantastic about Feed is that we open in the future, that the story takes place after the apocalypse. While Kellis-Amberlee looms as a very real and viable threat to the world, it is largely contained. Grant’s imagined universe works so well because it’s so detailed and pedantic. It’s a fascinating twist on the zombie genre because we actually don’t get that many scenes with zombies in them. Information is gleaned from a few flashbacks and from experiencing life through the eyes of Georgia Mason. (OH GOD, MY HEART.)

Because of this, Countdown already has a natural tension to it because we know so many of the pieces. We know the ending, and the suspense comes from waiting for the inevitable to happen. It’s a chance for Grant to give us a greater context for the past and to introduce some key characters to us as well. And sweet baby Gandalf, her writing during all the POV sections of the virus itself is downright poetic. It just makes me excited to read Deadline and Blackout because I can already see how her prose is improving. Anyway, I’m going to split up this review and the one on Thursday to address each day present in Countdown.

May 15 – Denver, CO

I MEAN, RIGHT OFF THE BAT, THE FIRST CHARACTER IS AMANDA AMBERLEE. Grant’s wit and cleverness is readily apparent in most of the first half of this novella, and a lot of that exists in the terrible sense of poetic irony. It’s as if the point of Countdown is to make us laugh until we’re hugging ourselves and crying. Amanda believed that Marburg Amberlee had given her a second lease on life, and absolutely none of the people involved had any idea that what they’d done would soon doom the whole world.

Daniel Wells smiled as he watched the girl who might well represent the future of mankind walk out of his office. A world without cancer. What a beautiful thing that would be.

NO. STOP IT. STOP IT.

May 15 – Reston, VA

OH MY GOD, DR. KELLIS IS GAY. Okay, look, I often get irritated when I see praise for queer characters in fiction that amounts to, “And their sexuality doesn’t even matter! Isn’t that amazing???” Like, I understand the sentiment: for once, a person’s sexuality isn’t demonized or made out to be a terrible tragedy. I get that! I enjoy that, too. However, this often leads to an unfortunate execution where the actual differences between someone who lives as a queer person is erased in order to make everyone “equal.” The truth is, other folks and I have lived experiences that vastly differ from what most heterosexual people have experienced themselves, and it can feel very discouraging when these things are ignored.

That being said, I’m going to be one of those people: I really love that Dr. Kellis is gay and happily married to his husband, John. It’s a small detail that is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, sure, but it’s nice. I don’t need radical queer stories from my fiction. Sometimes, something this small is perfectly fine.

“We’re going to be famous for what we’re doing here, you know,” Alexander said. “People are going to remember the name ‘Kellis’ forever.”

You’re just teasing me at this point, Mira Grant. YOU ARE JUST TEASING ME.

May 29 – Denver, CO

Another horrible irony: a car accident, not cancer, was what killed Amanda Amberlee. Holy shit, that is tragic.

June 9 – Manhattan, NY

You know, what little I knew about Robert Stalnaker from Georgia’s POV made me dislike what he did, but goddamn, reading his POV makes me hate him. His selfish, egotistical desire to get the “story” is what influenced the Mayday Army to break into Dr. Kellis’s lab. Fuck him. And you know, it’s not that he was mistaken about the fact that the pharmaceutical industry would panic if a cure for the common cold were distributed evenly and cheaply. But that’s not why he wrote his story, or that’s at least not the main reason. He did it for attention.

Fuck him.

June 11 – Allentown, PA

Honestly, I’m surprised that Brandon Majors and his friends weren’t centered in Berkeley or Piedmont or North Oakland. Let me just tell you this: as stereotypical as the Mayday Army might seem to you, they are so real. Grant might rely on tropes dealing with activists like these people, but I assure you that the East Bay and San Francisco are full of these types: misguided hippies who have deeply flawed understandings of capitalism, oppression, and the corporate control in the world. That’s not to say that I’m an expert on this shit, either, because I certainly don’t know a lot. But I have quite a few acquaintances in the Bay who are potluck vegans who have no knowledge of how poverty works, can’t wrap their minds around food deserts or cultural imperialism, and have participated in truly fucked up activism to get their message of “animal freedom” spread to people they will never be able to empathize with. It sort of comes with the territory of being a vegan in the Bay Area, and it’s one of the reasons y’all hardly ever see or hear me talk about it. It’s like as soon as some asshole up here finds out, they want me to go protest outside a farmer’s market or contribute to organizations that oppose cultural uses of animals, and then I’m busy ignoring them while nodding my head because I refuse to run with people with such narrow views of the world. These people often speak of The Man – as Brandon Majors does here – in capital letters, despite that these privileged white folks have faced little to no systemic violence or oppression in their lives.

I know that this segment has nothing to do with horrible, bigoted vegans, but my god, it’s what my mind instantly went to once I read this. Then I started thinking about the nightmare that Occupy Oakland turned into and how an anarchist from Ireland once called me a “NIMBY motherfucker” on Twitter because I decried a group of black-masked anarchists trashing a Whole Foods near me since it was people of color who would have to work overtime and spend time away from their families to clean up the mess they left behind. Y’all, I love living in Oakland and spending time with my boyfriend in San Francisco, but this place can be the worst when it comes to misguided attempts of political chance. Ugh. Just let me eat my delicious vegan cupcakes without your bullshit, dudes.

HAHAHAHA WHAT HAS THIS NOVELLA TURNED ME INTO.

June 11 – Berkeley, CA

NO, NOT THE MASONS. NOT PHILLIP AND A CUTE DOGGY. NOOOOOO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, MIRA GRANT? HAVE YOU NO SYMPATHY FOR MY EMOTIONS?

Maybe it was time to talk about getting him a dog of his own.

Maybe when he was older.

Are you one of the Old Gods created by H.P. Lovecraft? How can one writer be so evil?

June 12 – The lower stratosphere

I can’t say I fully understand everything Grant’s written here, as it’s been years since I took AP Chemistry or AP Biology (I GOT 5’S ON BOTH EXAMS, FUCK YEAH). But I honestly believe her best work exists in these segments. Her grasp of language is truly impressive, especially since she’s able to wield otherwise overwhelming terminology and weave it together with darkly lyrical bits of prose. Bravo, Mira Grant. This is incredible.

There is nothing so patient, in this world or any other, as a virus searching for a host.

Just haunting, y’all.

June 13 – Denver, CO

That sense of poetry carries over to Suzanne Amberlee’s only POV part in the first half of this novella. Grant brilliantly conveys the angry sense of grief and loss of a mother whose daughter died due to poor decision making, not the disease that once ravaged her body. I know from experience how hard it is to deal with the physical things that people leave behind when they pass away. I remember that my mother got rid of my dad’s recliner not long after he died. She couldn’t sit in it or even look at it. Some things carry too much of the person who owned them. And while my mom was quick to get rid of the chair, like Suzanne, other things my mother never faced. The same goes for me, and I’m probably the one family member who is most in denial about my father. So it goes.

June 15 – Reston, VA

I can’t even begin to fathom the heartbreak that Alex went through. His life’s work was stolen from him, his experiments were ruined, and worse yet, he wasn’t even sure how his creation would affect a human host. So he’s doubly destroyed because of his fear that he’s doomed the world because of someone else’s actions. It’s a complete loss of control on his part, and his puts him into a state of despair.

Oh god, he was so right, and in a way he couldn’t ever imagine.

June 18 – Atlanta, GA

It’s interesting hearing from the CDC because they had such a complex and mysterious role in Feed. But before Kellis-Amberlee was a reality, the CDC was aware of just how dangerous Alpha-RC007 was to the public. Of course, they couldn’t have gotten the logistics right. Who could have predicted the perfect synthesis of the two viruses?

“And what’s it going to do to us in a year, Chris?” Dr. Matras shot back.

Dr. Chris Sinclair grinned. “Raise the dead, of course,” he said. “Don’t you ever go to the movies?”

HAHAHA. HA. HA. Oh god, it hurts. It hurts.

July 2 – Denver, CO

Even before Kellis-Amberlee was a thing, Marburg Amberlee had already begun to attack the relatives and friends of those close to the cancer. Their bodies’ natural immune system was attacking Marburg Amberlee as if it were an infection, and many are BLEEDING FROM THE NOSE OR TEAR DUCTS. WOW, THAT SOUNDS AWFUL. It’s so overwhelming for Dr. Wells, though, because of the sheer number of patients he has. To Grant’s credit, this really helps build the dread of this piece. I kept wondering how all these pieces would fall into place and what would come of a world thrown into chaos.

July 4 – Allentown, PA

It’s not surprising that Brandon is utterly clueless about what he did, still insisting that his actions were justified and moral, a true act of patriotism and activism. For example:

Endangered it how? By setting the people free from the tyranny of Big Pharma? If that was endangerment, then maybe it was time for everything to be endangered.

SHUT UP, BRANDON.

July 4 – Berkeley, CA

Of course, this wouldn’t be complete without scenes of joy and happiness. The images of the Masons enjoying their last normal Fourth of July contrast with what we know of them from Feed. They aren’t hungry for media attention. They aren’t using their children for ratings. They are enjoying an East Bay summer afternoon.

I will say that the end of this segment felt a little too gratuitous about teasing us with dramatic irony. It seemed forced to me.

July 7 – Manhattan, NY

It figures that, like Brandon, Robert Stalnaker was just as oblivious to the damage he caused. Because of the person who ratted out the Mayday Army, now Robert’s “story” was being called into question. His credibility was disappearing. But he’s so dense that he balks at the very idea of his editor treating him like something he did was wrong. Well, poor you, Robert. EXCEPT I DON’T CARE. Oh god, I just realized I’ll probably get to read about how these characters die, won’t I?

July 7 – Somewhere in North America

This is easily my favorite section of Countdown so far. There’s a cold beauty in Grant’s tone and prose, an almost clinical lyricism to her words. For the sake of narrative power, she tracks what could be a patient zero, except that there’s no real way to pinpoint the “first” victim, especially since the terms by which to measure that are so complicated. But Lauren Morris is the first host to fully synthesize Kellis-Amberlee, and on the day of July 7th, a very intense future is set into motion.

Fucked up, y’all. I’m so excited to read the second half of this.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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