"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review #11: Feed, by M.T. Anderson

Earlier this week, I looked at Target's website to see if they carried shoe repair glue. I didn't want to make a trip if they didn't have it (they didn't, by the way), so I did a brief thirty-second search online rather than drive to the store and be seduced in to buying things I don't need. Now, each time I log on to the interwebs, I'm inundated by ads for shoe glue, shoe inserts, and cobblers. I rarely pay attention to those ads - after all, my music station has been trying to get me to buy Kate Hudson's yoga pants for months now and I've successfully avoided ordering them, mostly because I know my ass won't look the way hers does. Ever. No matter what pants I'm wearing.

But in the future, I may not be so successful. Feed takes our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feed and puts it on crack, implanting it directly in to human brains, most often at birth. Virtual reality becomes actual reality. School has been turned over to advertisers. All babies are test-tube babies, made in the conceptionarium, created with Mom's eyes, Dad's nose, and your favorite celebrity's smile. People instant message with each other by thinking their thoughts and directing them in to another person's feed. Music isn't played over the speakers at bars; you just hook your feed up to it. (Imagine how weird that must be - the bar is silent, everyone nodding and dancing to some unheard beat, talking to each other without talking. People-watching at its finest.) And seventeen-year-old Titus never questions any of this until he meets Violet, a home-schooled teenaged girl who turns his head during a Spring Break trip to the moon.

Violet is unlike any girl Titus has ever met. She questions things, tries to beat the system by confusing the algorithms of the feed. She can write, and not only that, she does write, like with pen and paper, something that surprises Titus and embarrasses Violet. And the big difference: Violet didn't get her feed until she turned seven. When Titus and his friends, including Violet, are hit by a hacker while out at a club one night, their feeds are taken down and need to be reset. But because Violet didn't get her feed until later, her reset doesn't work as well, and as a result, Violet is dying. The feed is too central to her body and its functions; without it, she can't move, can't talk, can't survive. The help desk is no help, and anyone who has ever called an automated answering service will understand her frustration at not being able to talk to an actual human, only when we can't talk to a human, the only thing it affects is not being able to pay our phone bill. When Violet can't get a person on the phone, it's quite literally a matter of life and death. 

Anderson's writing is difficult to handle at times. Because the novel is written in the first person, it reads much like I imagine a half-stoned teenaged boy would speak, with lots of "likes" and "units" thrown in for good measure, kind of a Cher Horowitz version of the future. Much of the conversation between Titus and his friends is mind-numbingly inane, but it serves as a good counterpoint to Violet and her father. Violet's father, a professor, speaks in a "dead" language that sounds an awful lot like the English we all know and love. I was concerned about Violet's potential to succumb to Manic Pixie Dream Girl-itis, but Anderson infuses her with just enough imperfections to keep her grounded and real.

What I liked most about this book was that, at its heart, it's a simple boy-meets-girl story and Titus and Violet are both flawed heroes. It just happens to be set against a crazy futuristic backdrop, but Titus and Violet have the same issues that teenagers have today in 2015, that they had when I was a teenager, that they had when my parents were teenagers. The environment changes, but the emotions are still the same. It's good to know that when my daughter is melting down over what someone said on Instagram or whatever its iteration will be five years from now, I'll still be able to identify with her. And hopefully I'll be able to do it verbally, instead of over the Feed.

"Yuh," said Loga. "It's Riot Gear. It's retro. It's beat up to look like one of the big twentieth-century riots. It's been big since earlier this week."   ... When we went inside, Marty and Quendy were also wearing Riot Gear. "Hey," said Loga to Quendy, pointing. "Kent State collection, right? Great skirt!"

If you think Feed can't happen, you haven't been paying attention. Urban Outfitters is already making the sweatshirts.

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