by m. t. anderson
At first look, Feed seems to be the sort of book I would enjoy immensely. This not-too-distant-future dystopia exaggerates our current culture, magnifying aspects of the internet, social awareness, and commercialism. Everyone has a feed inside his or her head which gives instant access to information, lets people message and chat, and displays music/shows/ecommerce right inside one's own head. The new hot thing is what's important; though people still have friendships and real conversations as well, it's done at a very shallow level. No one has to think, because the feed tells you what's important. Feeling down because it looks like all the countries might be declaring war against the US? The feed senses this and can suggest just the right pair of pants for you to buy to make you happy again. No one seems to care that people in parts of the world are mysteriously dying. No one seems to care that there are no real trees left. No one seems to care that people are getting lesions all over their bodies--no one even tries to stop that and when characters on the most popular TV show, "Oh. Wow. Thing," get lesions as well, it's suddenly so cool to have them people go out and get artificial ones, complete with artificial blood and pus. *shudder*
The main character, Titus, is on spring break vacation with his friends on the moon and meets a girl there who's a little bit different. She enjoys the "why" not just the "what". And she enjoys challenging the feed--asking for information about tons of different products she doesn't intend to buy in order to confuse the personal shopper programs, for example. The problem is, something goes wrong in her feed and because it's hard-wired into her brain, it's causing bits of her to stop working. She loses a memory or the ability to move her hand for an hour... at first. Then it gets worse. And you'd think that this is your typical teen YA dystopia where the boy and the girl meet, are strong enough together to think the big thoughts and then buck the system. You think they'll find a way to escape or find a way to enlighten the world or even find a way to take the whole system down so people start acting, you know, normal again.
But that's not what happens. What happens is something altogether darker and less certain. It's a strange, unresolved feeling of terror you're left with in the end, as you see a world not so different from ours reflected in the story.
My big problem with this book was that I earread it (listened to it on audio).
Pro: there are commercials in-between chapters and even within sections. In the audio version, these are actual commercials with a whole host of special effects, music, and various voice actors coming on to make them sound convincing. You even get music and jingles within the story as well, all of which are fantastic and entertaining and feel utterly familiar as well. In the print version, that whole production consists of just some bits of text in italics.
Con: the characters talk in the worst sort of English. "I, like, went down to School Inc., you know, and, unit, you wouldn't believe, uh, the, like, amazingness, the total amazingness of, like, how one can just be there, like, unit, you know?" And the voices of characters are all slow and drawn out like they're constantly drunk or on drugs--the worst kind of shallow speak. I could almost stand it when it was the main character and his friends. But then we got ADULTS speaking like that. Titus' parents. The doctors at the hospital. The President of the United States. EVERYONE. It is BEYOND painful. And it lasts for the ENTIRE book. Yes, with some characters it's worse than others. But it made none of them likable for me, not even Titus and Violet.
There were times, as I was earreading, I could tell I was supposed to feel for them, but it was hard for me to do so because of the way it was read. I did, of course, sympathize with them (I certainly felt awful for Violet). But it didn't hit me emotionally, deep down, because the characters were still annoying.
The best part of this book was that, as a reader living in our world, you read it simultaneously on two levels. There's the story that's going on, with the characters and the plot and how the characters perceive their world. And there's our point of view, as outsiders who live in a society that could very well become that. You can't help but see parallels in every thing we do, in every twist and turn. When the President gets on TV and starts chuckling and giving typical political rhetoric about how America is the best because we have freedoms, I couldn't help but draw a parallel with George W. Bush. When the characters all start wearing a certain line of clothing modeled after riots, you can't help but know what those riots took place because (even if the characters don't care to figure out). When the character buys something advertised on the feed, you can't help but think of those banner ads that pop up on your screen and play automatically and intrusively when you try to write an innocent book review post here at Live Journal. The whole time I was reading the book, I felt like an outsider to their world. My favorites are worlds that draw you in and make you feel part of it, and I just didn't feel like that with this. Instead, the whole time it was like I was watching a spooky, exaggerated version of my world on top of the drama taking place with the characters. It was weirdly realistic and strange to read on what I can only describe as two levels at once. You get a lot more out of it than what the main storyline gives you, that's for sure.
It's not a book I can say I loved. It's a book I found annoying and depressing (depressing in how it is completely possible for our current society to inspire this). It didn't end with a good resolution (or a resolution at all). But characters did grow and change and a few of them do think (or at least start to think. It's not enough--not nearly enough--but it's something; it's unrealistic to expect severe societal change in such a short book, in such a short amount of time. It's maybe even unrealistic to expect one person's entire mindset and things that have been instilled in him since birth to completely change by the end of a book. But little things do happen, and it makes you wonder where it will go from there. And it makes you think and question and think some more; if you like stories like that (as I do), this is the book for you.
Just do yourself a favor and do NOT make your first exposure to the book the audio version. Believe me, unit, it is mega uncool, you know? Just read it in paper form first, and THEN you can listen to it on audio and enjoy the commercials and jingles.