I always find short stories hard to review. They always seem so ... short. Consequently, they always end up compromising on characterisation. Countdown is lucky, as it's not really about people. It's about a virus - and how much characterisation do you really want for a virus? This is the prequel story to the Newsflesh trilogy. In it Grant explains how the virus came to be and how the outbreak started.
Lots of the story had been hinted at - or more - in the three novels, but it was good to have the details all come together and laid out for us in a single chronology. Grant made a couple of interesting decisions though I thought - and they all seemed successful. Firstly, she provides a more human face to the doctors who are manufacturing the two viruses that go on to create Kellis-Amberlee - the zombie virus - and they turn out to be much more normal and likeable than the future would unfortunately paint them. And, secondly, that the Masons who adopt Georgia and Shaun after the death of their own son don't actually do so in this story. Grant has already written three novels about Georgia and Shaun Mason. Keeping them out of this story enabled her to focus that much more closely on the real character - the virus.
Like any prequel short story, it stands less well on its own. But for fans of the existing series, this is absolutely worth the time. The only real annoyance about this short story is that the publisher imprint Orbit Short Fiction is only available in the US. It's a right royal pain in the arse (ass) to have to reset my Amazon account to be a US account just so I can buy the story. There's no reason why it shouldn't be available worldwide. Orbit has been promising us Orbit Short Fiction would launch in the UK now "any day now" for far too long.