Feed by M. T. Anderson
“Everyone is supersmart now. 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 shit.”
I know you caught that.
The feed belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to the feed. It is wired right into people—biologically connected to their organs–so that they can get information 24/7 without the use of a computer or any other device. News, advertisements, music, reality, game and children’s shows, health information, even sex tips are on a continuous feed through the brain. What pops up and starts flowing through the brain depends on what the person is doing. And corporate sponsorship of the feed makes all of this information free (although having the feed installed has a price). People can chat one another privately in their thoughts, so many people no longer know how to write.
People are going through some strange health problems and no one knows why. They have lesions growing on their skin. Rather than become alarmed at them, teens turn them into a fashion statement, the coolest new trend.
As Feed opens, Titus is going to the moon with his friends to have some fun during their spring break, goof off in the ‘low-grav’ area of a lounge. There he sees the beautiful Violet. Both Violet and Titus, along with a few of Titus’s friends, are the victims of an attack by men who are trying to get people to resist the feed. They become very ill and are hospitalized until they can be reprogrammed correctly. Or at least until they think they are.
Violet knows more than many other kids because her father, a college professor, home schools her. For those going to public schools, some of their education comes from corporate feeds; the rest, due to budget cuts, comes from holographic teachers that just don’t quite have the connection to their students that real people would. But Violet’s knowledge gives her outsider status—other teens don’t even understand the words she uses to describe the world around her. So while she is trying to fit in, Titus’s friends see her as a pretentious freak. Her poverty also sets her apart—she lives on a street that really still is a street—available for ground transportation when everyone is using upcars. If only these were the worst consequences of her odd upbringing.
High school housekeeping: Although it was published more than a decade ago, Feed still lands on my list as of ‘best of dystopian fiction.’ It’s just so much better than many I‘ve read. Part of the reason I feel this way is that it takes place in the near future and all that occurs appears quite feasible. I also like the banter of the teens—the slang which seems perfectly natural. The use of ‘da, da, da’ when the conversation becomes inane reminds me of the old Peanuts (Charlie Brown) cartoons where the voices of adults are just so much background noise. More significantly though, is that the protagonist isn’t always wise and witty. His girlfriend (Violet) is not only smart and better educated than most kids, but she is someone who questions the world order, environmental degradation, and political news. She’s serious about important issues, and Titus just doesn’t get it. While you sympathize with him, you also want to slap him when he can’t react appropriately to tragedy as it unfolds. And tragedy does unfold.
Why I think this book is an even better experience if you can listen to it: Feed as an audiobook is great. There is a narrator for Titus, who tells the story. His teen inflection is spot-on. There is also an ensemble cast to work the feed—male and female—so each ad sounds exactly like it would on radio or TV. Ditto for the news reports. And when teens in the book are ‘chatting’ one another, their voices sound like they are talking in a cavernous space, which adds to the creep factor of the whole world of feed. I’ve never heard an audiobook that was done better. Of course, Feed is downloadable from various sources, but don’t forget that you can also get it from the public library, either as a download or in CD format.