Jul 14, 2010

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed by M.T. Anderson

In the dystopian world M.T. Anderson created in Feed, human beings are thought of as consumers first and as people second, if at all. The “Feed” the title refers to is a chip implemented in people’s brains at a young age and which allows them to be constantly connected to FeedNet. Everyone connected to the Feed has their thoughts monitored at all times, and this information is used to build consumer profiles and to then spam them with the mental equivalent of constant pop-up adds. This sounds like a nightmare, and rightly so, but in the world of Feed few can conceive of life in any other way. As readers are told at one point,
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.
Also, because the Feed chip is implemented in people’s brains when they’re still developing, it becomes such an ingrained part of them that to remove it would cause death.

The narrator of Feed is a teenaged boy named Titus, who goes to spend his spring break on the moon with some friends. There he meets Violet Durn, a girl unlike anyone he’s ever met before. Violet’s family is not well off, and due to this and to her parents’ ideological concerns, she didn’t get the Feed installed until she was seven years old. She can remember, then, a world without constant mental spam, and she’s quite a bit more prone to asking questions and thinking outside the box than Titus and his friends. She also has a much larger vocabulary, and there are moments of tension when Titus’ friends assume she’s purposely using words they’ve never heard before to make them feel stupid.

Because Feed is narrated from the point of view of someone who doesn’t really question the system, readers have to rely as much on what Titus tells us as on what he remains silent about. Titus is a perfect example of a clueless and less than articulate narrator, but the ways in which this serves the narrative are very clear. I don’t want to tell you too much about the world of Feed, as all the gradual horrifying revelations are part of what makes this novel so compelling. But let me give you a few examples: this is a world hit by environmental disasters, the severity of which can only be read between the lines. This is a world where living creatures can no longer reproduce without assistance. This is a world where clouds have been replaced with CloudsTM. And this is a world where startling descriptions like the following are possible:
It smelled like the country. It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was like these huge hedges of red all around us, with these beautiful marble patterns running through them. They had these tubes, they were bringing the tissue blood, and we would see all the blood running around, up and down. It was really interesting. I like to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from.
The most disturbing thing is the normality of it all; the fact that so much that shocks readers passes without remark for the characters. It’s a technique not unlike the one used by Kazuo Ishiguro in the brilliant Never Let Me Go, and it’s equally effective here. There are moments when Titus escapes his alienation, when he realises that there are riots and hunger and people dying all over the world, and that even in his own country, the lives of the 27% of the population who don’t have Feeds must be very different from his own (as Titus says, “I forgot that there were so many”). I said before that Titus was clueless, but it would be unfair to say he’s unintelligent. At the end of the novel, we’re left with the impression that it’s possible that he’ll follow Violet’s example and attempt to break free from the system, or at least learn to question it. But usually it’s fear that forces him back in – it’s the sheer bleakness of the world he sees when he ignores the bright and shiny appeal of the Feed and everything it’s trying to sell him. Does any of this sound familiar?

The dehumanisation of the world of Feed is shocking – as I said above, this is a world in each people are merely seen as commodities. One striking example is the story of a character whose Feed begins to malfunction, but who’s refused assistance by FeedTechTM because they don’t have a clear consumer’s profile. In other words, they aren’t easy to sell to, and therefore their life is not worth saving.

And more than this I cannot say, not without spoiling some of the story for you. Read Feed: it’s a subtle, alarming and intelligent book, and it’s YA at its very best.

Reviewed at:
Presenting Lenore
Rat’s Reading
Bird Brain(ed) Blog
YA Reads
Becky’s Book Reviews
Guys Lit Wire
Necromancy Never Pays
Opinions of a Wolf


(Yours?)

38 comments:

  1. Very interesting concept, and yet it sounds scary too!

    Mentioning of Never Let Me Go, I need to read that soon as it's been sitting on my pile for like ages! Then again, I'm waiting for the right mood to strike. :P

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  2. I totally loved Feed, brilliant language and worldbuilding. I'm reading Burger Wuss and Thirsty now, but Feed is the best of the three.

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  3. I read this in middle school, and I quite enjoyed it. I loved Link's "identity" and how one of his friends, whose feed worked, sat around and told them stories when theirs were down. The worldbuilding is quite excellent.

    I'm trying to organize my thoughts about darker novels with literary Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and Violet is definitely one of them.

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  4. Wow, the normality of how he explains things does sound quite disturbing. The book sounds great though, and sounds like it would have parallels to life today with TV, computers, etc!

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  5. I was one that loved Never Let Me Go, especially the voice of Kathy where she was naive and distant and you had to interpret the world through her. I'm getting confused though, because I had heard of a book called Feed that just was published, and the cover had the symbol of an RSS Feed. Going to have to see what that was.

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  6. Wow just reading your description of the book gave me chills. I'm definitely going to look for this one!

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  7. I liked this one very much, too. I hadn't realized it was dystopian fiction (but there's no doubt it is).

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  8. Wow that sounds really, really interesting!

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  9. I've had this on my TBR pile for at least a year and a half, but it never seems to make its way up to the top. Partly I think it's because I have to be in a particular mood for techy dystopian fiction, and I think partly because I wasn't particularly entranced with The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, which might have soured me on Anderson, even though they're obviously very different books. You've definitely re-sparked my interest, though.

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  10. You are right, this book sounds so disturbing but I must read it! What a fascinating world it creates. I hadn't heard of it but thank you for the great review. It's going on my list!

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  11. I also loved Never Let Me Go and I've seen Feed at the library plenty of times while never thought to pick it up. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, I think the next time I see it I will take it home. :)

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  12. I bought this book awhile ago after reading rave reviews of it. I lent it to both of my kids, who really loved it, and now it's my turn to read it. I absolutely loved Never Let Me Go, so the fact that this book has a lot in common with it does intrigue me. I am going to have to try this one over the summer. It seems like it would be a really engrossing read. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth!

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  13. Hm, I had a somewhat different experience with Feed when I read it. I felt that Titus was just an asshole and never learns anything. I certainly didn't feel the ending left much possibility for him to change his behavior at all. (I talk about it more at length here if you're curious: http://opinionsofawolf.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/book-review-feed-by-m-t-anderson/).

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  14. Anderson's humor is matchless when he's in his groove. I don't think he has been in that groove for a while, but Feed blew me away. I also noticed the meat farm scene. I had a horrible moment of laughing aloud, when he talks about liking to visit the country, and see where things come from. I must remember to refer anyone who thinks Americans don't do irony to this book.

    I appreciate it that you didn't think Titus was dim. Though I can see, as in Amanda's comment above, how many people would find it hard to sympathize with him. For me the most striking tragedy wasn't the coming-apart world; but the close-up object lesson, through Titus' narrative, of how the feed could actually stunt someone's intellectual and ethical development.

    But then it always cheers me up to find a writer who is a even bigger pessimist (and funnier with it) than I am!

    Burger Wuss is his lighter take on the service economy, if more teen-aged-boy-y. I think you might enjoy it as well.

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  15. Oh, I must read this! (even though I didn't like Never Let Me Go) But generally I love dystopias!

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  16. I bought Feed earlier this year but still haven't read it - after your review, I'm moving it up on the list!

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  17. I loved his Octavian Nothing books, as well as Never Let Me Go, so the odds are good I will like this one.

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  18. Sounds like a world that I don't want to imagine to be possible in the future but certainly a very compelling read.

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  19. I LOVED Feed! For an interesting experience I recommend listing to Feed as an audio book with headphones on. At points you'll begin to think of the headphones as your feed. Esp. because the commercials at the start of the chapters are produced like commercials. So your interrupted from the narrative much the same way the character is interrupted form his life by the feed.

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  20. Can you feel me kicking myself right now, Ana? Seriously..can you feel it over there in Portugal? Because I JUST gave this book away on Paperback Swap. I was cleaning off my shelves and thought it was one that I may eventually read, but it's been on my shelves way too long now and I didn't plan on reading it anytime soon, so I got rid of it. And here you go reviewing it and making me want it back. AND you did the worst thing in mentioning Never Let Me Go!! Now I have to get it back.

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  21. I hate to say this, but the Feed sounds like what Facebook will eventually be ... what with all their little targeted ads and stuff.

    And I like your comparison to Never Let Me Go. Having just read it, I knew exactly what you were talking about.

    This sounds kind of intriguing. Thanks for opening my eyes to it.

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  22. "YA at its very best" is SOOO spot on! This is one of my all-time favorite books largely because of the wonderful discussions I've had about it. I first read it in an adolescent lit class in grad school, and we absolutely picked it to pieces (in a good way). I later had to teach a novel to an introductory writing class, and I chose this one because the students could so fully relate to the problems presented in these teens' lives. We talked about technology overload and we also talked about the function of science fiction to magnify and critique society's problems. They loved it, and we had a great time picking out all the similarities (scary) to our contemporary society. We drew parallels between the fashion industry's "heroine chic" phase and the characters' desire for lesions. We looked at environmental issues, smart phones, you name it. Such a wonderfully written, affecting, and applicable book.

    I might have to post about this one on my site as a reminiscence!

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  23. This sounds like a great read, one which offers opportunities for great discussions, which would be great for my lit courses. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  24. This sounds like a really good dystopian for YA and adults. I added it to my TBR.

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  25. I needed one more book for my dystopian challenge, and after reading your review, I reserved this book at the library straight away. Thanks for this review!

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  26. Totally my kind of book! I don't know why these horrible future worlds fascinate me so much, maybe because they're becoming more and more possible?

    I loved Never Let Me Go so I think I'll like this one too. I think you've read the Lois Lowry books, but have you read Jennifer Government by Max Barry? You might enjoy it.

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  27. Oh this sounds intense! Just reading about it made me want to run to the nearest bookshop, grab a copy and dive in! That first passage from the book- it gave me the goosebumps, not because it’s so shocking to think that way but because I CAN imagine people saying this maybe 50 yeas from now…

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  28. I was talking to Amanda just recently, isn't it strange how much easier it is for us, as a culture, to write dystopias than utopias, now? I mean, part of it, I guess, is just mechanical - a Utopia by design is a place where conflict is minimized, after all, and conflict is what makes a book interesting. But at the same time, I just wonder, our collective imagination I think is sometimes trained to see the faults and fears and concerns, and then of course a dystopia just amplifies those. But, as a culture, I just wonder what good (or maybe bad) it would do us to have artists present really compelling visions of what the world could be like if we make good choices and, say, the internet becomes a liberating influence instead of an enslaving one.

    Not to say anything against Dystopias which are important, and often wonderful books. Just something I've been wondering. I mean, when I read Neuromancer, which has a different but equally gritty of an internetworked future, I do what you hint at here, I feel the little echos of how their world is really like ours, how it feels prophetic. But wouldn't it be wonderful to read a book where humanity wins, and to see future, beautiful world that also I can see how it would come from today?

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  29. This is the first time I've heard of this book. It sounds like an interesting spin on "Big Brother," and probably eerily accurate in many ways.

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  30. I have never heard of this book before. It sounds...frightening. I hope it doesn't come to take place. I don't know if it's the sort of book I'd ever pick up (certainly not based on the title, which I though implied the book was going to be on organic farming or something!), but it does seem to hit on a lot of interesting and compelling subjects.

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  31. I love this book, and like to read the ending optimistically--yes Titus is dim, but some light does eventually get through. The question is whether it's already too late.

    I think Feed is an important book, enough that I taught it right after it came out and again last year--unfortunately, it's still quite topical.

    I reviewed it here:
    http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com/2008/05/feed-pro-and-con.html

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  32. Dystopian fiction, I´m hooked! And then you also mention Never Let Me Go :)

    Btw, the character of Violet reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 and Clarisse.

    Obviously this book is very intriguing and I need to put it on my wishlist!

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  33. Melody: You need to read Never Let Me Go asap! It was one of my favourite reads of last year.

    Margo: I loved the worldbuilding! Especially the fact that it relied so much on omission.

    Clare: It absolutely is. And I'd absolutely LOVE to read your thoughts on Manic Pixie Dream Girls in literature. Looking forward to that post!

    Amy: Yep - and that's always how it goes. The dystopias that disturb me the most are the ones that aren't that far fetched.

    Sandy: There IS a new Feed with an RSS icon on the cover! I have no idea what that one is about, though.

    Jeane: I hope you enjoy it!

    Alessandra: I'm glad you enjoyed it too!

    Amanda: I think you'd like it :)

    Fyrefly: I've yet to read Octavian Nothing, but from the sound of it they really are completely different. I'm glad to have re-sparked your interest! And about the techy stuff - it really isn't that detailed at all. Not that it'd be bad if it were, but I don't think it requires that sort of mood as much as some other books.

    Iliana: You're most welcome! I hope you enjoy it.

    Heather: I can't wait to hear what you think.

    Zibilee: They aren't extremely similar or anything, beyond the fact that they had narrators who are so used to a world that is to us horrifying that they don't comment on it. Anyway, I do think you'll like this!

    Amanda: I can see how it could be read that way, but Trapunto worded the reason why I didn't perfectly: I can see myself retreating into indifference just like Titus did if I had grown up with the feed. With that in mind, it was difficult for me not to sympathise with him.

    Trapunto: Yes, that's exactly it! You worded it perfectly. And yes, the "I like to see how things are made and where they come from" made me laugh too :P Even though it's immensely sad when we stop and think about it - another example of what you were saying, a curious boy whose intellectual development was restrained by the feed.

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  34. Jill: I think it's definitely possible to dislike NTMG and like this. I hope you will!

    Carrie: I look forward to hearing what you think!

    Shelley: The Octavian Nothing books have been on my list ever since they came out. I need to get to them sometime!

    Kathleen: The scariest thing is how very easy to imagine it is :S

    amcatoir: That sounds like an amazing experience!

    Chris: Argh! Well, you can always get it back, I hope :P

    Jenners: I know just what you mean :S

    Andi: That's so awesome that you taught this! There's definitely plenty here to discuss, and it remains absolutely relevant.

    Trisha: Yes! And judging by what Andi and Jeanne are saying, it works wonderfully in class.

    Teddy Rose: It definitely has all-age appeal!

    Leeswammes: You're welcome! I look forward to your review :)

    Joanna: Maybe, yes. And thank you for the recommendation! I have indeed read Lowry's trilogy, but not Max Barry.

    Lua: Yes, exactly! Titus' inability to imagine a world before the feed really made me sad, mostly because of the absolute loss of history that it signalled.

    Jason: I think that more and more we feel that the world is reaching a breaking point, and that things will have to change very much very soon - but then I wonder how many other people lived with that feeling before, even for different causes. The late 19th century certainly comes to mind. Maybe it's not so much about the world but about the act of writing in itself. It's difficult to write an Utopia that won't be read as didactic, even though dystopias have the very same potential for proselytizing. But somehow we don't perceive it that way, I don't think. Anyway... that IS a fascinating question.

    Stephanie: Yes - eerily accurate is the right way to put it.

    Aarti: You know what made it even more frightening? The fact that when Titus talked about the Feed and what it could do, I couldn't help these moments of "Oh.. that sounds kind of cool."

    Jeanne: I agree with you on the ending - I think some of it DID get through.

    Bina: That's such a great comparison!

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  35. I got this one ages ago after hearing fantastic things about it, but then I had a really 'cold' experience, when I read his vampire book, Thirsty, probably put me off picking up this one a little unfairly. Definitely have to reconsider now!

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  36. One of my favorites. Need to check out some of this other work.

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  37. I'm so glad you finally read this! And that you liked it. It is one of the most memorable YA novels I've ever read.

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  38. Read it in 2 days, it was sad though, and kinda makes you angry.

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