(Walker Books, £4.99, 313 pages, paperback, published 2003.)
Feed: a constant flow of information, advice, advertorial, and plain
urging to buy, buy, buy. It's the Internet and the Shopping Channel
plugged into your head, so that you never really have to think for yourself
(because the Feed will prompt you, fill any gaps, find information for
you, suggest that you might want to buy the latest trainers jackets
We've all been here before, of course -- we've even had the cyberpunk
label for it for the last twenty years -- but MT Anderson brings his
own up-to-the-minute take to the sub-genre. There are some lovely touches
here, as the Feed provides a constant backdrop to everything young Titus
does, advising him, nudging him, encouraging him to consume in
this ultra-consumerist future. There's the way the Feed keeps you up
to date: you go to a party and the Feed fills you in on all the good
bits you've missed, while at that party everyone's in their own little
Feed-mediated bubble: no need for actual music, because everyone can
have their own music in their head -- the novelty of having real music,
where everyone hears the same thing at the same time is striking. The
Feed speeds everything up: as communication is instant, and you never
have to miss anything, so trends come and go in the blink of an eye
-- part way through one party two of the girls go off to the bathroom
"because hairstyles had changed". And Titus's kid brother, nicknamed
Smell Factor, demonstrates how stroppy brats can subvert even the most
controlling of technologies, playing his games and movies unshielded
so that anyone nearby is subjected to fragments of interference and
intrusion from whatever is entertaining him at that time.
Feed is narrated in a slangy first-person voice that can be
hard to get into and sometimes just doesn't quite ring true, but for
the most part this adds to the overall effect:
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to
We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home.
It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring.
Link Arwaker was like, "I'm so null," and Marty was all, "I'm null too,
unit," but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like
hour we'd been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming
out of the wall. We were trying to ride shocks off them. So Marty told
us that there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon.
So Titus and his friends go to the moon for a bit of fun. And then
he sees Violet and immediately he recognises that there's something
different about her, something that sets her apart from the crowd. Soon
she's tagging along with them, and so she is with Titus when the group
fall victim to a terrorist act in a nightclub that renders their feeds
useless and in need of major repair work. This binds Titus and Violet
in a relationship that becomes claustrophobic and Titus gets increasingly
out of his depth as he struggles to handle the far greater impact this
incident has on Violet than it does on him.
Feed treads a very fine line between triumph and failure in
the way Anderson has chosen to tackle this personally-invasive 1984-ish
future. The small group of central characters -- other than Violet --
are pretty much unquestioning in their acceptance of, and reliance on,
the Feed. This is the point. But sometimes the way they parrot
the PR is just too glib:
When no one was going to pay for the public schools anymore
and they were all like filled with guns and drugs and English teachers
who were really pimps and stuff, some of the big media congloms got
together and gave all this money and bought the schools so that all
of them could have computers and pizza for lunch and stuff, which they
gave for free, and now we do stuff in classes about how to work technology
and how to find bargains and what's the best way to get a job and how
to decorate our bedroom.
Any spark of teenage rebellion has been snuffed out by the Feed, which
is a valid enough premise. But when we have a novel whose protagonists
just drift along unquestioningly, it becomes very hard to really care.
There's a lot of mystery in this novel: when and how they will learn
that the feed is a Bad Thing, what really happened when they were hacked
in the nightclub incident, the odd lesions that are affecting more and
more people, whether events in the rest of the world (only ever touched
on in news reports) will intrude. But Titus finds it hard to think about
these things, let alone to actually care. And so, too, does the reader.
The successful portrayal of Titus as a kind of Everyman of this apathetic,
ad-washed future can only contribute to the reader's growing antipathy
as the story progresses...
It's this fine line between success and failure that marks Feed
-- a young adult novel that should certainly be read by old adults --
as worthy of serious attention. It may not, entirely, work, but it's
an intriguing demonstration of the delicate balance between creating
a credible protagonist who doesn't care and creating a story where the
reader really should care.
Review by Nick Gifford.