Hugo Review – Best Novella – Countdown

As I previously mentioned, I’m attempting to consume as much of the 2012 Hugo Short Listed works in order to make an informed vote.

I  am now on to the category of Best Novella.

This is my review of Countdown by Mira Grant.

Note, this review is obviously subjective and most definitely biased, based on the topics and style of writing which interest and entertain me.

This review may contain SPOILERS.

Synopsis: Set in 2014, some 25 years before the time of Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Countdown shows us what went wrong and caused the Rising (zombie apocalypse). We meet Dr Kellis, Amanda & Suzanne Amberlee, Michael & Stacey Mason and their young son, Phillip, and many others involved in the Rising.

Plot: There’s not a huge amount of plot, what little there is involves the various actions of a dozen or so different people, the random happen-stance that results in the Kellis-Amberlee virus, and how various people are impacted by it.

Characters: We get brief moments of characterisation from those working on the various medical treatments, those who played a part in the zombie apocalypse, for better or worse (think plague carrier) and the Masons in their community. I’m not sure how someone who hasn’t read any of the Newsflesh trilogy would find it, but I definitely noticed my opinion of certain characters coloured by how they were viewed in the Newsflesh world of 2039. I think I see what Grant was doing, but I’m not sure it worked, and I felt we didn’t really get enough time with any of the characters to overcome any prior biases.

Scope: The scope was moderate – how the zombie apocalypse began, and the world as we know it ended. That said, much of it was “fill in the blanks” around the tidbits of information we’d been given in the Newsflesh trilogy, which possibly made it more difficult for Grant.

Writing: For a novella, I felt Grant had slightly too many characters, and hopped between them a bit too much. As a result, I didn’t emotionally connect as much with the characters as I would have done if they’d had more page time, so some of the events didn’t have the emotional shock they may have had for other readers. It probably says something that the character I was most attached to, and distressed with, was Marigold, the Golden Retriever.

Pacing: The first half of the novella seemed very slow to me, it was background material on the various doctors and the medicines they were working on, without enough to tie them together. By the time things picked up and got interesting, the novella was almost over, and I didn’t feel the pay-off was proportionate to the setup.

Other Comments: I think Grant was hindered by the background in the Newsflesh trilogy, she knew there were certain things which had to be mentioned, and then had to write the story around them. Also, the fact it’s a “prequel” as such, meant Grant couldn’t play with a lot of the citizen blogging as she does in the Newsflesh trilogy, and I felt its absence was noticeable.

Overall: I think I probably would have preferred not to have read this, and to have filled in the background to the Newsflesh trilogy myself, based on the hints and references we were given. That said, I’m sure some people would have found it quite enjoyable to see exactly how things occurred.

That’s all the Novellas reviewed, next the Novelettes! I think I’ll start with The Copenhagen Interpretation.



Best Novella Background Material:

Short listed in the Best Novella category for the 2012 Hugos are:

Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Ice Owl, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
Kiss Me Twice, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

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