National Book Award finalist Feed was a book I knew I needed to read, given my interest in writing YA and speculative fiction. So this was the first novel I chose for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge I signed up for through the book review blog Floor to Ceiling Books.
The story follows a young man in a future America where everyone has feeds pumping them full of consumer information and digital entertainment.
After reading the first few pages, I knew this was a book I needed to take my time with. Part of this was the first person narrative and how language has evolved (or devolved) thanks to the feed. It took effort on my part to read carefully — this is a book that you really cannot skim thanks to its novel content and futurespeak.
The book also touched on issues that I’m personally interested in, particularly mass communication in our evolving digital culture and the ramifications of devoting your life to the feed.
As I read, I kept expecting Titus the main character to fight the feed’s encroachment upon daily life. Violet, the love-interest, does fight back in her own way, and her struggle and resulting suffering form the primary conflict. Titus interprets her efforts through the emotional framework the feed has given him – a lens of fractured media referents and hyper consumerism. Negative emotions are expressed through buying things and seeking out mal code to get feed users high. So I found it to be an interesting choice to have the main character experience the primary conflict by proxy.
Anderson’s book presents a future where America has taken over the moon and mysterious skin lesions that cannot be cured have been turned into a fashion accessory. The worldbuilding is excellent, even as it veers from the absurd (fun and games on the moon) to the preachy (artificial meat farms and oceans that can only be experienced in protective suits). But the most impressive part is the use of first person POV — the teenaged future boy’s perspective was skillfully and convincingly portrayed, providing just enough detail of the world around Titus without stalling the narrative.
At the end of the book, it’s unclear if Violet’s death will galvanize Titus to fight the feed on a broader front. This ambiguous ending was frustrating as I found myself wanting at least a glimmer of hope for the future. But ultimately, what you learn from Anderson’s story in terms of craft and technique, and the questions it raises in terms of our society’s technology/life balance is worth the melancholy you’ll feel at the end of the book.