Hugo nominated novella: The Last Stand of The California Browncoats, by Mira Grant
Posted July 9, 2013on:
Let’s talk about some Hugo Nominated novellas! click back a day or two to see the whole list, and to click on novellas I’ve already reviewed. Ready for the zombie apocalypse?
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, by Mira Grant
What do you get when you mix a Comic-Con with the zombie apocalypse? You get Mira Grant’s San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats. If you’re not familiar with Joss Whedon’s breakout show Firefly, fans often refer to themselves as Browncoats in reference to the long brown coat the main character wears in honor of his military service. If you’re not familiar with what a Comic-Con is, we got bigger problems. But that’s another blog post.
It almost sounds like the beginning of a comedy – cosplayers and merchants attend Comic-Con, and give the zombie apocalypse a beat down! But Grant’s novella is anything but a comedy. This is what Mira Grant does: she grabs you by the feels, and does horrible things to you.
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats is a stand alone novella that can be read as a prequel to her Newsflesh Zombie trilogy (the third book in that series, Blackout, is nominated for best novel this year). You don’t need to have read any of the Newsflesh books to enjoy The Last Stand . . .
The Last Stand . . . is mostly told as a flashback. It’s thirty years after the event that irreparably changed the world, and journalist Mahir Gowda is interviewing an aging Lorelei Tutt, the only survivor of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. She doesn’t want to talk about what happened, but he needs her memories. They talk about other footage from the event, other evidence, and what she witnessed. Along with Lorelei’s story in flashback, we get the POVs from an ensemble of characters who are attending San Diego Comic-Con, including a television actress, a blind journalist, some merchants from the dealer room, and a couple on their honeymoon, among others.
No one is the wiser when Lorelei is sulkily helping her parents and their friends unload merchandise for their booth in the dealer room at the Comic-Con. Fed up with her attitude, her parents send her back to the hotel to have a nap, or a bath, or whatever teenagers need to stop being total brats. The rest of the adults continue setting up the booth and trading geek culture quotes back and forth, and generally annoy their less good natured neighbors.
Elsewhere on the Con Floor, actress Elle Riley is desperately trying to get to her panel, with or without the help of her idiotic handler. Fans ask for autographs, squee at celebrities, compliment costumes, shop for fake weapons, whine about the lack of wifi, try to find the bathrooms. Just a regular day at Comic-Con, right?
Until someone starts coughing. And then someone starts screaming, because the biting and chewing has begun. And then the lights go out. Lorelei’s parents are able to contact her via walkie talkie, but it gets harder and harder to insulate her from the worst of what’s happening inside the locked down convention center. Things get bad, and then they get worse, and then they become unimaginably horrific.
There’s a huge cast to this densely packed novella, and Grant spends just the right amount of time introducing everyone, and making sure the reader wants these people to survive. Even when the action gets going (and it gets going pretty early), we keep getting more character development.
There’s something disturbing about reading a story when you know from page one that everyone is going to die. These people have no idea what’s happening. They think a few phone calls can save them, that the army or the national guard is on their side. For god’s sakes, they think they’re going to laugh about this over a few beers next weekend! How could they possibly know they’re already dead? Props to Mira Grant, while her characters are standing there talking about regular things, I wanted to shake them by the shoulders and scream “this is the end! can’t you see that?”
But even harder than watching innocent and hopeful people die in vain was forcing Lorelei to relive what happened to her.
I admit that I run hot and cold with Mira Grant’s writing, but this needs to be said: the hardest part of reading The Last Stand . . . was that I felt like I was hurting Lorelei. I felt like with every page I turned, I was re-opening her wounds, forcing her remember things she’d have rather forgotten. This power of grabbing you by your vulnerable bits and tearing them from your very flesh, of making you feel responsible for a character’s pain and suffering, the only other author I’ve come across who can do that to me is Robin Hobb.
On a lighter note, let’s see if I can read Blackout before the end of July!