@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
M. T. Anderson’s award-winning novel, Feed, is one of the scariest books I’ve read in many years (and it was written for teenagers!). Yet the terror it evokes emerges only slowly, as Anderson reveals, chapter by chapter, additional details that demonstrate the hopelessness of the future society he envisions.
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” This opening sentence sets the supercilious tone, signals the idiomatic language Anderson employs throughout, and introduces Titus, the teenage narrator. It’s a brilliant lead.
Feed tells the tale of Titus and his friends, six teenagers who hang out and party together. Like a majority of their fellow citizens—those who can afford the cost—they access all their news, advertising, education, games, “m-chat,” and money through implants in their brains—not just embedded chips but multipurpose devices that are fully integrated into their nervous systems. Theirs is a world of constant distractions. Fashions may change by the hour. (“Quendy and Loga went off to the bathroom because hairstyles had changed.”) A powerful future version of Virtual Reality allows them to experience novelty and excitement at any time without special equipment—and without pausing for reflection. (One presentation is “based on the true story of a clone fighting to save her own liver from the cruel and ruthless original who’s farming her for organs.”) This is a world you and I would not want to live in, yet there’s much, much more to make life little worth living.
Corporations are the dominant force on the planet. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing have killed the oceans. Past wars have left a blanket of radioactive dust all across the surface. Human settlements on Earth exist underground under domes to shield people from the intolerable heat and unbreathable atmosphere. Massive numbers have migrated off-planet to Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and nearby star systems. This is truly a dystopian society.
The Feed of the title is the experience generated by the implants in people’s brains. As Titus notes, “the braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big, is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are. . . [A]ll you have to do is want something and there’s a chance it will be yours.” Those wants and hopes are manifested through personalized sales pitches that constantly bombard the teenagers’ consciousness. If they have any purpose in life, it is to consume indiscriminately in a constant search for novelty and acceptance by their friends.
To compound the misery, one’s feed can be hacked by a shadowy entity called the Coalition of Pity. Titus and his friends fall victim to such an attack. While they resume their lives unchanged after brief hospitalization, Titus’ new girlfriend, Violet, learns that her life is in danger as a result. She is unable to recover completely.
The language has degraded to the colloquial dialect that is spoken by Titus and his friends, but it’s not limited to the young: their parents speak the same way. There is no public education. Now, children attend SchoolTM, the corporations’ for-profit answer to public schools, which clearly doesn’t teach much at all. “Everyone is supersmart now,” Titus reports. “You can look things up automatic, like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and sh*t.” When Violet asks Titus whether he can read, he responds, “A little. I kind of protested it in SchoolTM. On the grounds that the silent ‘E’ is stupid.”
About the author
M. T. Anderson (Matthew Tobin Anderson) is an L.A.-based author of both science fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults. Feed won the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. In 2006, Anderson won the National Book Award in that category for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume 1: The Pox Party. He has written 14 books to date.
This novel is one of The 15 most memorable novels of the decade and of 45 great sci-fi novels reviewed (plus a list of 41 all-time classics).
For other important dystopian novels, see my posts, A brief look at 15 notable dystopian scenarios and 24 compelling dystopian novels in series. Also, this is one of the top 10 novels listed in my post, 45 dystopian novels reviewed here.