Checking the back cover of Feed by M.T. Anderson, there is a small strip of print saying ‘Age 14 and up.’ How appropriate.
Feed has been on my bookshelf for over five years at this point, but even if I were to have read it the day I bought it, it’d still be outdated. Even without checking the publication date, it’s easy to tell that Feed wasn’t written within the last decade. All the technology we know – smartphones, social media, the internet – aren’t mentioned.
This story, to put it blatantly, is a poor mashup of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, the slang from A Clockwork Orange, and the passiveness of society in 1984. Only it’s bad as those novels are good. (Well, I don’t like Catcher in the Rye, but I won’t deny it’s popularity).
Here’s a laughable quote from the front cover: “Another book that can be added to the list entitled ‘YA Novels I’d Never Heard of But Which Turn Out to be Modern Classics’ and Feed may well be the best of the lot.” I’d say only a quarter of that is true; the “I’d never heard of” part.
Amazingly Feed was a finalist in a national book contest. For 2002, I can see why. The themes are pretty obvious: technology is bad, teens can be sheep if society is complacent, American capitalism will literally kill the planet. I really, truly believe quotes from this novel could fill the front page of r/Iam14andthisisdeep. It’s just so one-dimensional, so shallow, and so blatant.
It’s easy to infer the ‘morale’ within the first act to the point that it’s not worth finishing. Technology = bad. Teens = easily influenced by media. Society = fucked if we keep this up. Whoa, talk about revolutionary ideas /s.
Feed takes place in distant-future America where everyone has technology integrated into their brains, allowing them to instantly buy things, chat with each other, and receive advertisements. This technology is called the ‘feed’ and is implanted very young. Because it’s implanted so young, the feed is fully integrated into the brain and can control things like breathing, or body movement.
The story follows the main character/narrator Titus and his relationship with secondary main character Violet. Titus is a bratty kid who is pretty dumb, as seen in his narration and as he later admits. He, along with his bratty dumb friends, visit the moon and meet Violet. Titus is instantly attracted to her by how different she is.
They talk and the group agrees to go to a club. There, they are attacked by deranged man who, just by touching them, hacks their feeds. They’re hospitalized, their feeds are disrupted, but eventually life returns to normal.
Except for Violet. Violet is much poorer then Titus and the rest of his group. Her parents, who were against feeds, didn’t get one for her until she was seven. Turns out, by getting it installed so late, physiological problems can occur. The hack has basically spelled Violet’s death.
The rest of the story follows Titus and Violet’s relationship. She doesn’t reveal her problems until later in the story, so for the first and third act, the two have a normal-ish relationship. Violet is a rebel the feed, unlike Titus, so a lot of tension comes from their different view points.
The Good and the Bad
The weird thing about Feed is that the good and the bad is so integrated I can’t separate them easily. I have to talk about them in tangent.
Unfortunately, Feed took a good idea and ruined it for everyone. I can’t speak to pop culture in the early 2000s, but I have the gist of it. It was a couple years after Y2K, technology was on the rise but still considered scary, 9/11 was only a few months ago – people were antsy.
I can’t say the concept of a computer chip in your head is new, but maybe it was in 2002? Feed doesn’t really innovate on the sci-fi corrupt future setting either. Hover cars, tubes and bubbles-domes everywhere, the moon as a vacation spot; these weren’t new in 2002 and certainly aren’t new now. I mean, Ghost in the Shell (1998) already had the augmented-reality-feed-in-your-brain-thing going on and were doing it better.
Yet, they have good world building. Earth has colonized Jupiter’s moon Io. There are vacation spots at the bottom of the ocean. Probably the most interesting scene in the book is when Titus and Violet visit a meat farm. There are no animals there, they literally grow the meet. That was interesting, but we only get that once. A real shame.
Despite being set in the distant future, the feed sounds pretty primitive. Titus talks about playing games, seeing ad banners, and watching streams. That all sounds pretty basic. What can’t do that these days – amirite? I can’t tell if that’s me interpreting it, or the author not describing it well. Probably a mix of both because of the writing.
The writing makes me want to throw this book in a fire. Here’s an excerpt from the first page:
“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.”
Can you see my issue? I can stand the use of ‘I guess/like/yknow/etc’ in editorial pieces like this, but in a novel? In a 300-page novel? NO. This isn’t Clockwork Orange, this is just bad ‘teen speak.’ I suppose it’s doing its job of setting the environment and whatever, but good lord is it annoying.
Another thing about the writing is how, every couple of chapters, there will be little vignettes from Titus’ feed. Song lyrics, commercials for shows, product advertisements, news reports, things like that. These were just a waste of space. I skipped over a lot of them. I understand what they’re doing – contextualizing the last chapter and shit, but it’s dumb. The only parts I liked were the news reports.
That’s the sad thing about Feed: it’s hiding an interesting story about global war and planet colonialism by focusing on a bratty teen and his dying girlfriend.
And sorry if that doesn’t sound sympathetic, but I’m not the only one. Titus is a real asshole. Violet, in one chapter, sends him hours of memories because the hack is starting to affect her brain. Titus just deletes them! WHAT AN ASSHOLE. Can’t even export that shit? Oh wait, it’s 2002 so that hasn’t been invented yet.
But back to the better story. In the background we hear snippets of riots, bombings, a dumb president and general chaos. I guess this is the theme rearing its head – People are ignorant because their feeds are too busy selling to them! We need consumers happy so they’ll keep buying. No time for being properly informed!
This book, for me, was very middle of the road. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it. I read it in about three days, but I think that’s because it’s written at such a low reading level.
Instead of that little print on the back cover saying ’14 and up’ it should really say ‘for ages 13-17.’ I can’t see anyone else not rolling their eyes at the premise. The themes and writing are so on the nose the final page might as well say TECHNOLOGY IS BAD, DON’T LET IT CONSUME YOU.
Spoilers, not that it matters; the last words of Feed are actually ‘Everything must go,’ which is so on the nose it might as well me a punch in the face. Because I don’t want you wasting your time, just know that the world in-story is going to shit, the planet is literally dead, everyone is radiated to shit, but people still live their lives normally.
Really, however, I wouldn’t even recommend this to 13-to-17-year-olds because it’s just outdated at this point. There are either better novels that have since come out, or classics (like A Clockwork Orange, like 1984) that are much more worth their time.
5/10. True middle of the road.