Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feed by M.T.Anderson

I hate spoilers, but I can't really review this properly without one this time. So be forewarned.

Feed is set many hundreds of years from now in a dystopia that evolved from allowing our free markets and conglomerates unfettered reign. The forests have been pulled down, the oceans poisoned, and the weakened atmosphere has let background radiation grow so high that it's only through technology that we can continue to have healthy children. That same technology is our constant companion now, embedded as a Feed in our heads and force-feeding us a constant stream of marketing and information.

"I don't know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before that, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside of them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe."

The premise of a world where computation is naturally equated with breathing is fascinating. And Anderson does a great job of conveying the personalities of his characters--which is actually unfortunate because they're all intentionally shallow, ignorant and flighty, shifting their opinions to follow every hint from their peers. Never having needed to memorize or learn--after all, instant data access 24/7 in your head, yeah?--the characters are terrible at communicating: nearly every sentence they speak (aloud or in chat) involves nouns replaced by "thing" followed by a few curse words while a lookup is done.

"Marty said, 'It will be a, a, you know, funckin', it will...' He kind of waggled his hand."
"Look at the guy in the, you know, that thing? The neck bat?" ... "Bow tie."

It's a captivating world, reminding me not a little of Barnes' Orbital Resonance (a great book btw). But--and here we're getting into spoiler territory--the MC is a total shit head.

See, a few pages into this book our group of friends--the MC Titus and his buddies, plus a new girl Violet whom they just met--has their feeds hacked. They're offline for several days while they get the virus cleaned out, but Violet's feed is physically damaged and she spends the rest of the book dying: the feed is implanted in the brain, integral to its function, and hers is shutting down. And the worse she gets, the more Titus pulls away from her--revealing in painful detail exactly what a shallow asshole he really is.

I like books with happy endings, and I really like books where I can identify with the characters; couldn't enjoy either of those here. But Feed was so compelling that I have to give it a thumbs-up anyway.

B&N link

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