SciFriday: Delicious RIB-ulations of a Zombie rising
You will be moaning by the end of this post. I don’t know if it will be out of agony at some bad punning or hunger but it’s gonna happen. I’m also doing my best to be as spoiler free as possible because I want you to go out, read these books and get the same “OH MY GOD” experiences I did. Especially at the end of the second book. Most terrifying, zombie infecting vector ever imagined. I will have nightmares for years….
Deadline: Part 2 of the Newsflesh Trilogy written by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) is the third book in my Hugo Award challenge. It’s also a fucking amazing, not-so-typical telling of your typical Zombie Apocolypse. I went into this moaning that as a sequel, I actually had two books to read. The first in the series being called “Feed” and I thought oh what a corny title for a zombie novel. I was quite pleased to discover that the title was far cleverer than I originally estimated. How is that? These stories follow the trials and tribulations of a brother-sister team of bloggers in a world where society managed not to crumble despite the constant threat from swarms of the undead. Feed is actually a clever reference to RSS in a world where blogged news media is as essential to life as any food stuffs.
It didn’t take long for me to get hooked.
Since the nominee is a sequel I feel like I should review the series as it stands up until that installment for my review. I have in fact read all three books because Deadline ends with the most insane cliffhanger. I’m going to avoid bringing the conclusion, and any feelings it may have stirred, into this review. Well I’m going to try, anyway here it goes the good. the bad, the moan-y.
The Newsflesh world is one where zombies are extremely dangerous but haven’t plunged the society back into the dark ages. We still have a functioning government, infrastructure, electricity and above all else, the internet. Humankind is down but it’s not out and people live what amounts to relatively normal lives. Our main characters are Georgia and Shaun Mason, adopted siblings who spend their days chasing zombies around the California coastline for their blog site. Shaun is an “Irwin” a job title that involves poking dead things with sticks and seeing what happens. Georgia, who prefers the more masculine, George, is a “Newsie” who spends most of her time reporting on factual events, telling the hard truth and the rest of the time reigning in her brother. They work closely with a third character who names herself Buffy (yes after the show, be still my heart) because she’s a 90 pound, blonde cheerleader type but with enough technical genius to architect her own Matrix. The three begin “Feed’ embarking on the news story of a lifetime as they follow a political candidate around the country on his campaign trail, live blogging and fighting zombies along the way. What unfolds over the course of the trilogy is a web of government conspiracy, squishy zombie action and more geeky in-jokes to squee about than you could imagine.
“This is Shaun Mason activating security protocol Campbell. The bridge is out, the trees are coming, and I’m pretty sure my hand is evil. Now gimme some sugar, baby.”
Mahir looked at me with undisguised confusion. “What the fuck was all that about?”
“Single-use phone. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t activate it by mistake.” – Deadline
In fact Mira has recently released a novella set in the Newsflesh universe set during the beginning of the zombie uprising smack dab in the middle of Comic Con. The title of this particular work just happens to be: “The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” Yeah you can bet your jayne hat that’s on my shortlist of things to read next.
Another big part of what makes these stories so great is the heavy emphasis on bloggers. Newsflesh really captures the essence of the phrase “You can’t stop the signal” and it gives your typical zombie story a completely new flavor and direction. We don’t often get a world where people can still stream funny cat videos while avoiding having their flesh torn to pieces. In fact the only reason the human race survived the initial uprising was because a lone doctor took to his daughter’s blog to release knowledge of the zombie virus (in this world a hybrid between a cure for cancer and the common cold) to the general populace. As such each chapter is punctuated by a blog entry from one of the characters in the story. Sometimes it’s an unpublished diary entry, a news post from a “Newsie”, retelling from an “Irwin” about wrestling a zombie bear, or a poem from the third branch of any blog crew known as the “Fictionals”. These little tidbits add to the story by keeping the blogging concept present even as the chapters are more action driven.
Mira’s insight into the state of California enriches the verse as well. I particularly loved and jotted down a note about this line: California is essentially a bunch of smaller states held together by political connections, water rights and the stubborn refusal of any segment to cede the cash-cow name “California” to any of the others. — Feed
California natives or long term residents will find her depictions of Oakland, Santa Cruz and Sacramento spot on and hilarious. Once again I found that like “Embassytown” and “Among Others”, this Hugo Award nominee holds quite a bit of “oh my god, it’s like it was written just for me” elements to it. I’m starting to feel a little paranoid about the nomination committee actually….
Speaking of paranoia let’s get back to the government conspiracy aspect. Give me a good scifi story where people in power are abusing it and I’m there. I’m not going to spoil much but can I just say this: I have never thought of using zombies as a terrorist weapon until I read these books. When that part happened I just sat back and said “Damn.” My evil genius was crushed to have not thought of it first. What can I say? I like my shiny aluminum hat thankyouverymuch. Tying nicely into my love of conspiracy, these books give governments that like to use fear for control a giant “Fuck You”. As I wrote in the past few weeks…fuck fear and fuck the people who would use it to control and abuse you.
“The trouble with the news is simple: People, especially ones on the ends of the power spectrum, like it when you’re afraid. The people who have the power want you scared. They want you walking around paralyzed by the notion that you could die at any moment. There’s always something to be afraid of. It used to be terrorists. Now it’s zombies.
What does this have to do with the news? This: The truth isn’t scary. Not when you understand it, not when you understand the repercussions of it, and not when you aren’t worried that something’s being kept from you. The truth is only scary when you think part of it might be missing. And those people? They like it when you’re scared. So they do their best to sit on the truth, to sensationalize the truth, to filter the truth in ways that make it something you can be afraid of.
If we didn’t have to fear the truths we didn’t hear, we’d lose the need to fear the ones we did. People should consider that.” — Feed
The first book, “Feed”, does a great job setting this trilogy up and initially I was describing these books as great summer pool reading. They aren’t insightful or deep in the artsy, “I’d like to thank the academy” kind of way my last two reviews were. What they are is riveting, accessible, clever and with a level of philosophy that’s right on target with my stance on life. In other words, I don’t think these are the “Oscar” winning books but they are akin to the box-office smashes that never get enough credit for being thought provoking because we too often assume works of great meaning can’t also be generically entertaining. I liked The King’s Speech as much as the next person, but you know what I’m going to be watching far more often over the next decade? Dark Knight and while it had tons of explosions it also had some deep psychological shit. I’m just saying…..
“Deadline” picks up where the first novel left off and it’s not a pretty place. The main cast is dealing with the aftermath of uncovering what was only the beginning of a pretty nasty set of truths. Where George narrated the first book, brother Shaun picks up in the second. This gives the second book a fresh spin and well, Shaun has got some issues by the time this happens. I’m not going to tell you what they are since that would spoil a lot, but it’s pretty fascinating to read from his POV. While the sequel tends to meander a bit more, I think it’s more compelling a read than the first. Like many great sequels it gets a lot darker, a lot more complicated and has the benefit of established background to work off of.
Sadly there are also a few minor problems. The second book does have some slow points. The characters spend a lot of time having to figure out what to do next, where to go and it can seem a little less action driven than the original. This is because by the time you’ve reached this level of the story, the writer has to begin to reveal the man behind the curtain and that involves more talking than zombie killing. Plus the zombies, while terrifying, are obviously not the ultimate big bad. The conspiracy is and conspiracy always means people talking. The upside is that at no point does the telling of it get boring. Shaun is a perfect choice for the first person narrative and Mira’s humor keeps the banter engaging.
I glanced to Becks “Isn’t this the part where you should run screaming?”
“Nah” she said “I’ve got no problem with octopuses. It’s bugs and spiders I don’t like. Octopuses are cute, in their own “nature did a lot of drugs” sort of way.”
If you really wanted me to criticize these books, the one thing that did get on my nerves is something I find often find annoying about serials: the repetition of information. As someone who reads quickly and retains information well, I always found it annoying when authors would need to reestablish things from past books as though I’d forgotten or hadn’t bothered to pick up the first installment. I already know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, I don’t need a blow by blow recap every time you publish the next part of the sequence. As such I found the constant reminders of things past a bit annoying. This isn’t unique to the books mind you and I find it happens quite frequently in serial novels. The other kind of repetitive crutch is how often George asks for a Coke and Shaun will mention wanting a cup of coffee. It’s quite genuinely mentioned at a rate of what seems like every 5 pages. I want to know when, in the zombie chasing hell they live in, these people pee.
No seriously. If you asked me one thing I’ll remember from these books when I’m a senile bat in my cyber-nursing home, it’s that Georgia Mason always has a can of coca-cola in her hand and Shaun Mason is always seeking out his next cuppa joe. Initially it was annoying but I moved on and came to embrace and be amused by it. If these books are ever turned into a film franchise I think they would do extremely well in that regard. In fact I’m convinced someone must be trying to buy the rights to make the movies right now. It’s too much of a zombie loving time not to make these a film. Hey Mira: keep me in mind when you’re casting for Buffy would ya? Anyway back to the coke thing…my point is, if these books are ever made into a movie, you could turn George’s requests for a Coca Cola into a drinking game. Only problem is that by the end of the second film you’d have enough alcohol to kill your liver and then your zombified corpse would chew off the face of that lame sober friend who hangs out at every party.
The upside to the Coke thing? It inspired a recipe for the most amazing Coca Cola glazed Baby Back Ribs ever made. I mean what screams Zombie more than a rack of ribs right? It came to me while I read the books and I knew I had to develop the recipe myself so this is an Olivia Original. The best part? Mira (or rather Seanan) was at Comic Con this year and she signed my recipe inspired by the books. Oh look here’s a photo of my crazed fangirl grin and the original scribble sheet now signed and laminated by one of my now favorite authors. The ribs are seriously one of my favorite recipes now of all time. Not your traditional BBQ flavor mind you. I tried to use spices that would be reminiscent of what is thought to be present in the secret recipe still held as a corporate trade secret. I also used actual Coca Cola in my braising liquid. The flavor had an almost indian quality to it and as such my mother especially loved these. So please enjoy this Olivia Original for SciFriday and PLEASE read these books. I’m definitely ranking the Newsflesh trilogy as the Hugo Nominee I would be most likely to recommend because I think they are both wonderfully written and more universally appealing than any of the others. That’s not to say I think they’ll win the award, I’ve yet to make up my mind about that prediction, but I do think they would get the popular vote…or at least would were they not up against the cock tease that was “Dance with Dragons”
Coca Cola Glazed Zombabies Back Ribs
an Olivia Original – inspired by Georgia Mason
giving a whole new meaning to the slogan “Life tastes good”
- 4 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
- 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp minced jalapeno, keep the seeds if you like it HOT
- ¾ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp freshly ground cumin
- ¾ tsp paprika
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne powder, double if you like it HOT
- 2 ground bay leaves
- ½ tsp cocoa powder
- pinch of ground pepper
- 1.5 cups Coca-Cola
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
And the Rest…
- 2 slabs pork baby back ribs
- Aluminum foil
- Braising Pan
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Combine all your dry rub ingredients in a bowl or airtight container. You can make the blend a day ahead if you like and store it in the pantry.
Lay out two large sheets of aluminum foil; enough to wrap up each rack individual in a pouch like container. You are going to be wrapping them and cooking them in a liquid within the foil wraps so be generous. Nothing worse than spilling braising liquid all over the kitchen floor. Place your baby back ribs on the foil and first pat down the meat with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid currently sticking to it from packaging. Now pat the dry rub into the meat, really work it in and give those ribs a good stroking. Wrap the ribs up by folding the aluminum foil over the ribs in a tri-fold pattern and then roll up the foil on the ends tightly. Place in the fridge for minimum of 1 hr or up to overnight.
Combine all your ingredients for the braising liquid in a small sauce pot and just barely bring to a simmer on the stove. This will make sure the thicker paste and ingredients all blend together nicely.
Place the ribs on your broiling pan. Open one end of foil packets and pour in the braising liquid. Be sure you split it evenly between the two racks. Gently re-roll the open end and then tilt the pan to equally distribute the liquid. Braise them ribs slow and low– approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees. Then gently remove the ribs from the oven and let them sit for about 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes has passed the foil should be a little cooler to hand. Gently open one end and carefully pour out the braising liquid into your sauce pot. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then stir occasionally as you bring the volume down by half and get a thick glazey sauce. Brush about half the glaze onto the ribs. Place under the broiler just until the glaze caramelizes lightly. Add a second brushing of the glaze and caramelize that if you desire. Reserve the rest of the glaze for serving.
Once you’ve gotten a nice caramelized top, maybe even a little pretty char on a few segments, remove your ribs from the oven. Let the meat rest for a good 15 minutes before serving. A horde will most likely gather, moaning the entire time about the wait until you release the ribs and descend in a feeding frenzy… Bon Apetit!