Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: Feed- M.T. Anderson

This is the second young adult fiction book recommended by John Green, excluding his own novels, that I have read, and I have been displeased by both.  In fairness, the video link above led me to expect something different than what the book actually turned out to be.  So, to clarify if you don't watch the above video, some context.  Last summer I made it through my YouTube Watch Later Playlist before I went to my Advanced Placement Summer Institute for Chemistry down in Kentucky where I was away from my wife and family in the middle of nowhere KY for a week.  During the day I was in class and in the evenings I had dinner in a hotel room and watched YouTube videos.  I decided to attempt to watch through the backlog of nearly 800 videos on the blog brothers channel.  It was fun to watch many of the early videos but I only made it through about November of their first year.  At that time, John had written his first two and was working on the draft of the third, so about that same time I listened to them (in fact that week I listened to Looking for Alaska).  In the video above John refers to Hank's desire to have Wikipedia in his brain.  John and several commenters referred to the book here.
So to the book.  Feed is basically about having the Internet, and especially the advertising and mindless entertainment portions of, it wired into our brains.  The technology to do this is called the feed.  Most people have it and enjoy it because of its convenience, but there are some who hold out due to skepticism.  Although the skeptical mindset turns out to be correct, it is those who were skeptical who suffer in the end.  The novel is set in the future and is a science fiction dystopian novel.  I know I swore off of dystopian novels after reading Hunger Games and Brave New World, but I had forgotten that this was not just sci-fi, but also dystopian.  
Without spoilers, the main female character, Violet meets the narrator Titus at a party on Earth's Moon.  While at the party someone disrupts theirs, and others', feeds with something akin to disconnection via a software virus.  Through this attack, as well as Violet having received her feed implant later in life and a cheaper model she has trouble recovering from the feed.  Furthermore, the medical costs are too high for her widowed, eccentric father.  Of course, already in our real-world digital age we are seeing the start of a filter bubble and customized advertising, but this book took it one step further.  In her attempts to mess with and confuse the feed she shops for all sorts of eccentric things, but buys very little.  When it comes time to pay her medical bills an option outside of insurance and self-paying is to get a corporate sponsor.  But she burned her bridges with them by maintaining no brand loyalty.  The story unfolds predictably from there with a little bit of teenage angst thrown into the mix.  The end morality is to be distrusting of corporations and governments, but mostly it is a warning against consumerism.
One minor complaint too is that to show the dumbing down of society a lot of odd slang and cussing is used, at times it is distracting because it is so inane, but I do understand the point of it.  I was reminded of this while looking for the book image above, which links to an excerpt from early in the book.
Being dystopian, the novel has a distasteful end, but I think my main complaint is something that I already stated.  The feed causes problems, but in the end those with the feed only have minor problem and those without the feed, or who were reluctant to adopt it because they were skeptical, end up suffering the most when all is said and done.

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