M.T. Anderson was another of the many authors at the NCTE conference in Boston this past November. I always feel like I read a fair amount every year, but that doesn't really do anything to diminish the books on my wishlist, where three of Anderson's books have been hanging out for the past few years: the two volumes of Octavian Nothing and Feed. One of my favorite aspects of the NCTE conference is that fact that for any author speaking at the conference, their publisher brings in a selection of their books to sell. I met M.T. Anderson after his panel discussion, and picked up all three books that I'd been wanting to read, and have slowly been reading them over the last few months.
Feed was one of those books that I'd heard a lot about (buzz, recommendations, good things!), but didn't know much about (plot, setting, content!). I zipped through it once the story got going, a mix between dystopian and sci-fi with a teenage twist. The book is set in a future where citizens are implanted with a chip that consistently feeds in entertainment, music, news, others' memories, information, and advertising. When protagonist Titus and his friends head to the Moon for a night of partying, their feeds are compromised and they end up in the hospital to recover. For the first time in their lives, their feeds go quiet as the hack into the digital system is investigated by doctors and other agents. When they are in the hospital, Titus connects with Violet, a teenage girl who hasn't had her feed for as long as Titus and his friends have. And when she leaves the hospital, she discovers that her feed hasn't been fixed. Not entirely. It continues to malfunction and compromise her health and her life.
For all of the opulence and expense described in Feed, the technological improvements and development are not at all benign. There is mass pollution happening, and Titus describes the way that he and his friends have developed lesions all over their bodies from the atmosphere. But rather than seeing the lesions as a mark of the poisonous environment, Titus's friends instead wear their lesions like accessories, even cutting fake ones in across their necks and shoulders. Consumerism and advertising (and Anderson's critique of both) are at the heart of the novel, heightened by the feed, the perfect tool for the dissemination of product placement.
Anderson's representations of Titus and his friends are outstanding and inventive, especially Titus's best friend Link, who is a clone of Abraham Lincoln.There is also Quendy, a teenage girl who competes with Calista (Link's girlfriend) throughout the novel, plastering herself with lesions when Calista cuts extras into her skin. The teenage characters are products of their situation, and they do not change or grow from the beginning to the end of the novel. Titus lets Violet down utterly. Their consumption only increases as the environment fades, and the economy starts to crumble. It's the futuristic version of The Great Gatsby, a replication of the 1920s before the crash of the 1930s.
The writing in this book is vivid, adopting a futuristic slang and structure. And it comes with one of the best opening lines in YA literature: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck" (3). And the chapters titles are pretty great, too.