Let me quote the back cover:
"'We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.' So says Titus, a teenager whose ability to read, write, and even think for himself has been almost completely obliterated by his "feed," a transmitter implanted directly into his brain."
The feed is basically non-stop commercials and brainless TV, plus a search capability and the ability to "chat" telepathically. Sort of like the internet, except that no one uses it to make and maintain long-distance friendships, do research, or anything else worthwhile. I think it's suggested that people use it for various business-related purposes, but all business in this book is evil, so I don't think that counts as worthwhile.
The world is a hell-hole of war and environmental devastation, and a horrible leprosy-like disease is making everyone's skin fall off, but as long as Americans can consume, they can pretend everything's fine. Then Titus and his shallow, moronic buddies meet a girl named Violet, who seems a little different from the rest, a little bit of a rebel. Their feed gets hacked by a protester, and they spend a few days in the hospital experiencing life without it. Then they get the feed back, and things go back to normal. Except that something's wrong with Violet's feed...
I picked up this book because I enjoyed Anderson's first novel, THIRSTY, a weird and quite funny novel in which America has always been plagued by vampires. Despite the vampires, the vampire God Tchmuchgar, and the occasional interference by unpleasant beings from Heaven and Hell, things are very similar to the way they are now. All the characters are either vicious users, shallow sheep, or stupid victims, but one still feels sympathy for the doomed protagonist, who just wants to get a date but is slowly turning into a vampire.
(I was bored by Anderson's second novel, BURGER WUSS.)
With that worldview and the premise of FEED, I not only had a feeling I wouldn't like it, I had a feeling for why. But Anderson's an interesting writer with a distinctive voice, so I picked up the paperback. Yep. Didn't like it.
It's quite well-written and clever. And yeah, I pretty much agree that consumerist culture is bad, Americans are way too insular, a lot of corporations are evil, and destroying the environment is a bad thing. And yeah, a lot of people are stupid or ignorant or shallow or hateful or all of the above. Sometimes.
But when everyone in the entire book is all of the above almost all of the time, except for Violet, it starts reading like one of those articles that appears all the time, the ones that can be summarized as "Anecdotes/dubious statistics/a feeling I pulled out of my ass proves that teenagers are morons/killing each other in record numbers/having sex in record numbers/shooting heroin before they even become teenagers. Eeek! The sky is falling! I blame the internet."
I don't have kids, but I hang with teenagers now and then, and they don't seem notably more stupid or shallow or hateful than adults. I think that most teenagers, if they ended up in the extremely painful and difficult position Titus is in toward the end of the novel, would behave much better than he does. Because what he does is completely despicable.( Read more... )
I'm curious how teenagers have responded to FEED, by and large. I found it extraordinarily depressing. The message is that everything's hopeless, rebels will be crushed by the system, and virtually no one is worth saving anyway.
I think Anderson wants his book to make people stop being apathetic. But I'm not sure that telling them that they're jerks and pawns and that everything's hopeless is going to do that. I think that people who don't act are often not apathetic, but think that change is impossible and nothing one person can do will make a difference. They need to be inspired and encouraged, not confirmed in those beliefs, insulted, and yelled at.
I don't want to sound like I require happy endings. Connie Willis's DOOMSDAY BOOK (despite the dull future parts, which I always skip when re-reading) is a good counterpart to this one. Willis presents a situation which is equally dreadful: the end of the world on a smaller scale. There is nothing her protagonist can do to change things, in the sense of changing history or saving lives. But what she does just by being there and trying to help, in another sense, makes all the difference in the world.