In the tenth chapter of Blackout, Becks and Shaun head out on their road trip. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Blackout.
I already know what I’m going to love about Becks’s and Shaun’s road trip. I am going to get the chance to see what it’s like to live off-the-grid in post-Rising America. So much of the previous books was spent on world building within the parameters of legal travel in the United States that I never really thought about the fact that there would be entire communities of people who chose to live apart from the framework of security and control that came with life in a world of the undead. I mean, there are plenty of people who do this now, so why wouldn’t there be more once the dead started rising?
It’s exciting to me because these two have to make their entire trip to Berkeley (and then Florida) via backroads, service roads, and dirt paths, both to avoid spy satellites, tracking on major highways, and DEA suspicion. Right, there is still a DEA. Of course there is! Seriously, y’all:
It turns out the lobbyists and corporations who stood to benefit from keeping those nasty drugs illegal didn’t agree, and the war on drugs continued, even up to the present day.
Smuggling is a time-honored human tradition. Make something illegal, create scarcity, and people will find a way to get it. Better, they’ll find a way to make it turn a profit. In some ways, the Rising was the best thing that could have happened to the world’s drug smugglers, because suddenly, there were all these roads and highways and even entire towns with no population, no police force, and best of all, no one to ask what those funny smells coming out of your basement windows were. They had to be constantly vigilant, both against the threat of the infected and the threat of the DEA, but they had more space than they’d ever had before.
I. LOVE. THIS. It takes such care to do this kind of world building, to think about the framework you’ve set up, and then to imagine how that would change the world we live in. In this case, how would this entire network of people adapt to the zombie apocalypse? I find this remarkably clever and satisfying to read, but above all else? It’s believable. I believe the pharmaceutical industry would seek to make profits off of supporting an absurd drug war even after a Rising. I believe that thousands of people would choose to reject the very nature of blood tests, of constant surveillance, of sacrificing their personal freedoms just to obtain that nebulous idea of safety. Honestly? I think this is my favorite bit of world building that Mira Grant has written.
But there are a few important things to discuss before Shaun and Becks arrive at the first smugglers’ outpost. Like Shaun felt in chapter eight, Becks vocalizes the fact that what they’re doing would have made a great Irwin feature. That has to be a bizarre thing for them to feel! The thing you enjoyed, the thing that made you feel satisfied and alive, is now the only thing you have left to keep you alive. It’s not that a hobby became a chore or anything. It’s more dramatic than that. On top of that, Grant uses this moment to explore journalistic integrity and responsibility. When Becks expresses this idea, Shaun comes up with a damning counterpoint:
“Think about it this way, Becks. If these people had been exposed a year ago, they wouldn’t be here to help us now. Everything’s a tradeoff.”
And it’s not just that it’s a tradeoff. Shaun elaborates on how the highway system nearly disintegrated because of the Rising, how roads aren’t even programmed into the GPS system because… jesus, that’s so scary. Entire roads abandoned because of where they are. No one fixes them. No one drives them. Sure, that’s great for this ~super secret~ trip they’re on, but at the same time, it’s totally not great. There are a whole host of terrible things they can come across on these roads! Potholes that could cause them to crash, rogue bandits hiding in the brush so they can rob people, ZOMBIE HOARDS. Well, okay, we’ll get to one thing they come across later (!!!!!!!!!!), but you get the point.
Anyway, this is all leading me to a crucial segue: what these people do on these roads matters. Shaun talks of a story that Georgia covered about a woman who tried to essentially smuggle her Great Dane out of California. The point isn’t that people try to do what they can to live outside of the law, though that’s an element of it. (Especially considering what Shaun and Becks are doing.) Georgia shows up to explain. (Which… lord, her physical manifestations are becoming more and more rash and blatant, which scares me. Is Shaun truly cracking, as Becks said in her unpublished blog post? LORD.)
George leaned forward, resting her cheek on her knee as she smiled at me. “The woman with the dog, Shaun. Even if she got out, how many of the routes we documented her taking were closed by Homeland Security immediately afterward? How many people like her tried to run when they saw our report, and got driven straight into a trap we’d created?”
“That’s not our fault.”
“Was it Dr. Kellis’s fault when Robert Stalnaker decided to write a sensationalistic article about his cure for the common cold, and kicked off the whole stupid Rising? We’re supposed to be responsible journalists. How do we cope when the stories we report get people hurt?” She sighed. “Do you honestly think Buffy and I were the first casualties?”
Good lord, this is great. It’s a very necessary conversation that Shaun has to hear, especially given his actions in Deadline. Did they unknowingly create the Second Rising because of what they did in Memphis and Portland? I’m interested to see how Grant deals with these things because I think it is important to address the idea of culpability in our protagonists. That doesn’t mean we should direct our attention away from the CDC, as they certainly deserve most of the blame here. But has Shaun’s reckless behavior caused more harm than good?
The chapter transitions at this point to AN EXTREMELY NERVE-WRACKING sequence involving the very first off-the-grid gas station that Dr. Abbey approved of. My god, first of all, I AM A HUGE FAN OF NATHAN AND PAUL. Can I imagine an entire series written about them as they struggle to find love with one another amidst hiding out during the zombie apocalypse? Yeah, pretty sure this shit writes itself. WHERE IS THE FIC? WHERE IS IT?
I just… y’all, I love this so much. I love that these people took over an old Denny’s. Do you realize how hilarious and fitting this is? I mean, I have been touring/following bands around for years, and that meant that after shows, it was the only place open late when you were in strange cities, so I have eaten at a Denny’s close to a billion times in my life. This is verifiable science, FYI. That means I could perfectly imagine the scene that Grant describes in this chapter. I could see those red upholstered seats. I could see the counter. IT’S SO PERFECT. It’s the perfect place to have an off-the-grid center like this.
This chapter also introduces me to Indy, who we later learn is Indigo Blue, a Newsie who disappeared after she collaborated with Shaun’s father. OKAY, SERIOUSLY. Shaun better ask his dad why she left because I need to know. The thing is, you ever read a book and a character is introduced for like two pages, and all you can think is, “Please let this person take over the book”? That’s what I want from Indy. Ugh, I WISH SHE COULD COME ALONG WITH SHAUN AND BECKS. But that’s how I felt about this entire part of the chapter. Why was it so brief? It’s so detailed and lively that I wouldn’t mind spending a few chapters here. But these segments have to be brief, especially since Shaun and Becks have so much to do.
You know. Like:
I didn’t answer her aloud. I just raised my hand, pointing at the shaggy hulk that was standing at the end of the dirt road. Becks turned to follow my finger, her eyes going wide.
“Shaun. Is that… is that a bear?”
“Yeah,” I said, not quite managing to keep the glee out of my voice. “You ever killed a zombie bear before?”
OH MY GOD, BLESS THIS SERIES, I CANNOT WAIT TO READ MORE.
Mark Links Stuff
- I am now on tour!!! I have 26 events spread out across the eastern HALF of the U.S. and Canada. They are all free and all-ages. Come see me speak about the Mark Does Stuff Universe and read terrible fanfiction live!
- Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
- Commissions are still open while I am on tour! There may be a day or two delay to get them done, but I am accepting them graciously to help fund my tour!