A Newsflesh collection
Rise is billed as a collection of short fiction, one that brings together every Newsflesh story published so far, along with two brand new, never-before-seen novellas in the world. To me, if seems like more than a collection; the pieces are so deeply connected, enmeshed in the broader universe that Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) has created, with characters crossing from piece to piece, their backstories ever expanding, that it really deserves the moniker of mosaic fiction. Every piece is a building block in the greater whole, and the length of the stories also helps it feel more like a long-form work; the reader is immersed from beginning to end.
I am a massive fan of the Newsflesh world. I had, I believed, hunted down and devoured every related work already, so I was delighted (if somewhat chagrinned) to realise that two of the previously published stories were also new to me, so I got FOUR new Newsflesh pieces, which was very exciting. Each story has a short introduction by the author, offering a little back story to the circumstances surrounding its birth. While these tidbits are little pearls for the rabid fan, and sometimes offer acknowledgement to supporters of the author through the writing process, there were a couple that were a bit spoilery. They perhaps would have worked better as postscripts rather than intros, and it might be worth a new reader skipping them on the first time around. But the stories…oh, the stories…
If you have not read Feed, Deadline and Blackout, you cannot, MUST NOT, read this book. Go away and read the Newsflesh trilogy. All of it. Go on, I’ll wait. You won’t regret it. Okay, you’re back? You didn’t stop at the end of Feed, did you? You read ALL of them? Right, good. Now we can continue.
SPOILERS FOR THE NEWSFLESH TRILOGY (but hopefully not the Rise stories) UNDER THE CUT…
This collection opens exactly where it should, with “Countdown”. Having said you have to read the trilogy before you start on Rise, you could actually start with “Countdown”. Written in the lead up to the release of book two, Deadline, as a series of thirty blog posts, what became this story chronicles the origins of the Kellis-Amberlee virus that would trigger the zombie apocalypse and change the world. In it, we are also introduced to some of the players who will shape the post-Rising world and beloved characters from the Newsflesh books. It is a heart-breaking, frighteningly realistic story, one that should terrify us if we think too hard about it, and it is a brilliantly perfect opening to this book.
The second piece, “Everglades” was one I hadn’t previously read, and I have to admit it was my least favourite, possibly because it doesn’t really have a deep connection to the rest of the series. Partly though, it was the shortness of the story – we don’t have the same immersion in the characters that the longer works offer. And it is definitely one that would be more effective if one does NOT read the introduction before reading the story, as I think the ending would be more powerful without a snippet of foreknowledge.
“San Diego 2014: the last stand of the California Browncoats” was just as heartbreaking on this reading as it was when I first came across it a few years ago. The massive comic con-style conventions are not my bag, but they are well known and attended by people in my world, so it hits very close to home. Horribly sad, even while exploring the strength and tenacity of humanity in general.
Next up is one of my favourites, patriotic Aussie that I am, “How green this land, how blue this sea”. You must not read this story until you have read the trilogy; it is filled with spoilers for the events of the books which won’t detract from your enjoyment of THIS story, but will absolutely RUIN the books for you. Narrated by Mahir Gowda of After the End Times, it can’t help but build on the books, despite the utter change in focus and geography. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author extrapolated the Australian identity to the post-zombie world. Having lived in rural and remote areas of this country for most of my life, Grant’s painting of how Australia responded to the end of the world as we know it made an awful lot of sense. I loved the way she thinks about things we take for granted, like travel, and it’s a great story in all.
“The day the dead came to show and tell”. Oh my. Yes, I had read this before. It didn’t matter. It’s still devastating the second time around. Grant calls it “the one that most closely follows the traditional ‘zombie fiction’ model” and this is true, but the heart and hurt within it…well, it might break you as badly as it breaks the characters involved. One of the standouts of the book.
The next story, the other previously published one I hadn’t read, takes a slightly less dark tack (thank goodness), centering on the possibly mad scientist Doctor Abbey. Again, this piece spoils the books left and right. Part corporate espionage, part mafia-style takeover bid, part scientific drama, “Please do not taunt the octopus” is one of the few stories that I am really not sure would work in isolation, certainly not as successfully as it does in the context of the larger world. I think the characters and situation are too deeply embedded in previous events and the worldbuilding for the piece to be effective on its own, but it is splendid as a chunk in the glorious Newsflesh jigsaw Grant has created.
And then the first of the new works. “All the pretty little horses” is in the wrong place in the book. It really should be read after “Everglades” for internal chronology. I understand the probably publishing purpose of placing it second last in the book, but it disrupts the continuity and I would recommend skipping to it after “Everglades” and then skipping back to the final story, if you can. Given its place in the Newsflesh timeline, you could read this without having read the trilogy – it may make you approach the Masons (all of them) a little differently, but it won’t ruin the books. A really strong humanising story about two semi-minor characters who have a huge impact.
And finally, you need to know that even though I have said multiple times that there are spoilers in the stories in Rise…
Do not even LOOK at the next paragraph if you haven’t read the Newflesh trilogy in its ENTIRETY and you plan to!
“Coming to you live” finally gives us Shaun and George. Grant’s introduction reads only: “This is what you asked for.” If we asked for tears, fear, panic, pain, heartache and a few gentle smiles, then yes, it is what we asked for. Finally, we are back in the heads of Georgia (2.0) and Shaun, living and recovering, until suddenly they are under threat once more, this time from something George can’t out-think and Shaun can’t punch or shoot. Drawing together threads from throughout the series and this collection, it is a perfect way to conclude. And enough…for now.