Monday, November 28, 2011

Feed Offers Not-Very-Subtle Wake-Up Call For Our Plugged-In World

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I'm not sure why I thought Feed, a 2002 National Book Award finalist by M.T. Anderson, had to do with zombies. Maybe because of the title? Or maybe because the closer we creep to 2012, the more nervous I get about an undead apocalypse? Anyway, whatever the reason, I was totally wrong. No zombies shuffle their way through this book. Except, sort of, in a way, they do. Only they're not the slobbering, walking dead variety. Not exactly.

In this futuristic YA novel, almost anything has become possible. Spring Breakers can party on the moon. Jet-setting off to Mars is completely doable. And no one has to go offline. Ever. Feeds are transplanted straight into people's brains, allowing them to not just stand, but live their entire lives, at the very center of the information superhighway. A constant stream of content pours into their heads, meaning they never have to sound ignorant, never have to wonder about anything, never need to bother with learning or thinking at all. Ads flash through their minds continually, keeping them up-to-date on the latest fashion trends, celebrity breakups and cool, new gadgets. With a functioning feed, they can fit in anywhere, with anyone.

But what happens when a feed malfunctions? Titus is about to find out.

When the teenager and his friends go looking for a little lunar fun, they discover something: the Moon kinda sucks. In no time, their little excursion has gotten totally null. They're bored out of their feed-blasted minds. Then, Titus meets Violet Durn. Not only is Violet stunningly beautiful, but she's different. Like, somehow she seems more real than anyone else Titus has ever known. She's a little out of the loop, sure, but she's unique, something exciting to brighten his dull vacation. Titus convinces a reluctant Violet to come party with him and his friends at a night club his feed assures him is hot. He's having a good time (even if she's not) when the unthinkable happens - a raging doomsayer hacks into both their feeds, spamming them with angry extremist mumbo jumbo. In order to get their systems back online, both their feeds will have to be shut down. Immediately.

Without the noise in his head, Titus experiences an unsettling quiet, a kind of clarity he's never known before. Between the weird emptiness in his brain and Violet's odd observations about life (""Everything we've grown up with - the stories on the feed, the games, all of that - it's streaming our personalities so we're easier to sell to ...'" [97]), Titus literally does not know what to think. Even when the feed doctors reboot him and everything's back to normal, he's out of sorts, a feeling which only increases when Violet gives him some very disturbing news. Suddenly, Titus is asking questions he's never even considered before: What, in his life, is real? Who is he - his own person or some kind of product manufactured by the wily feed gods? If he didn't have his feed to stuff him full of info, would he be worth anything at all?

The allegorical Feed offers a chilling commentary on our Internet/Facebook/Twitter-obsessed times. In alternately frenetic (when he is on feed) and calmer (when he's off) chapters, Titus explores concerns that plague all of us with our increasingly virtual lives - realitiy vs. the online world; genuine human conversation vs. instant messaging, Facebook status updating, and Tweeting; true scholarship vs. copycat research; and developing authentic personality vs. allowing marketers to tell us who to be. The book's lesson isn't very subtle, but the plot's entertaining and Anderson's point comes across in a way that's both vivid and affecting. I can't say I loved Feed; I can say I appreciated it. And I haven't stopped thinking about it. Must be the zombie thing ...

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Girl Parts by John M. Cusick and, oddly, of the movie Wall-E)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Feed from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!

5 comments:

  1. There's an adult book about zombies called Feed maybe you got them confused?

    I thought this was book was quite thought provoking when I read it!

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  2. I'm not familiar with this book, so I'll have to look into it. Like you, I might have guessed that it was a zombie book based on the title/cover and avoided it. Glad you cleard that up for all of us!

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  3. Amy - Ah, that explains my confusion! And, yes, this one's definitely thought-provoking. It would be a great book club read, as long as members didn't care about the R-rating.

    As the ... - Glad I'm not the only one that gets confused by such things :)

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  4. You know, I read about the first 10 pages of this and put it down. I think I was turned off by the language or the dialect or something. I probably should try it again.

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  5. Melissa - Yeah, it does have a lot of language. Not only is there a lot of cussing, but the characters also use their own slang, all of which make the story kind of hard to get into. I think it was worth the read, in the end, even though FEED's definitely not my favorite book of all time.

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