Feed by M. T. Anderson
read by David Aaron Baker
Feed was one of the first young adult books I read. I remember the distinctive cover and I can even tell you what shelf in my middle school library it was on—the first on the left, the same shelf that boasted Firebirds. I even remembered the story vaguely before I picked up this audiobook. But after reading “The King of Pelinesse” by M. T. Anderson (collected, oddly enough, in Firebirds), I knew it was time to revisit Feed, preferably via audiobook, to assuage the enormous gap listening to Harry Potter has left in my aural life, and, luckily, the public library next to my school had a copy.
Feed takes place on a future Earth, where almost everyone connects to the Internet twenty-four seven via a chip implanted in their brain at a young age, known as the Feed. When teenager Titus and his friends go to the Moon for spring break, Titus meets the quiet, home-schooled Violet Durn. After an evening at a club leaves the teenagers hacked and Feedless for a few days, Titus tries to return to his normal life with Violet as his new girlfriend, but the hacking did much more damage than simply a few days without the Feed…
Why I wanted to revisit Anderson is the same thing that links him with Rowling; both writers capture teenage boys sympathetically without making them feel inauthentic. Titus could have been an easy character to hate; after all, it’s Violet who questions the system, not him. He’s a regular guy, not too bright, and he initially fights the dawning comprehension that something is wrong with the world. He is happy to settle, but still curious enough to make him a sympathetic protagonist in this oddly prophetic world. For instance, at one point, Violet points out that he’s the only one in his social circle that uses metaphors. It’s part of the reason she likes him.
I was a bit wary about revisiting Feed because I wasn’t sure if Violet would end up being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But Violet is not exactly upbeat; she can be cheerful, but she’s often more thoughtful. And she wants to be a normal teenage girl, having been homeschooled all her life and only having the Feed installed at age seven. She’s embarrassed by her willfully anachronistic father and her poverty, and acts like a normal teenager, especially when Titus’ female friends try and fail to get a read on her. She has her own problems to deal with, especially once we discover how the hacking has affected her. In short, she’s just as well-developed as Titus is. I was quite pleased to find that Titus’ trio of female friends were not dismissed in order to make Violet look better; it’s one of his female friends who tells him to go after Violet during one of their breaks. They’re good women—it’s just the system they operate in that’s completely messed up.
For instance, Titus’ parents’ response to the traumatic hacking is to buy him a car. (And it works.) Corporations run the world, everyone has a filthy mouth, and the environment has just been decimated in relentless materialism. There’s no mainstream intellectual curiosity or even human connection—when Violet, having an attack, contacts customer service for help, she’s faced with a chirpy AI who wants her to buy things so they can attract a corporate sponsor for her. Ultimately, you’re only worth what you buy; even spirituality has been denuded, given the brief glimpse into a Christian program we see. It even addresses the intersection between access to information and privilege; twenty-seven percent of the world’s population can’t even afford Feeds. And Feed is almost more relevant now than it was when it was published in 2004, with the rise of smartphones and doomsayers predicting the death of the printed word. (Did you know that major music labels may no longer produce CDs by the end of 2012, forcing a significant part of the industry to go digital?) With its strange, shallow world, Feed does what the best science fiction does—asks us to re-examine the world around us.
The audiobook is narrated by David Aaron Baker, and it is truly stunning. Baker creates a fantastic voice for Titus, combining the eternal teenage slouch with hints of intellectual curiosity and joy, and the other character voices sound more like Titus is impersonating his family and friends. I really like this device in audiobooks, which really only crops up in first-person narratives; the best example of this is Kristoffer Tabori’s work on the Middlesex audiobook, which is truly amazing. But Feed goes one step further by actually producing all the Feedcasts and interruptions in the novel, making the Feed feel real, as well as more and more inhuman over the course of the novel. I don’t think I’d ever recommend an audiobook over reading the actual print book, but Feed comes pretty close. In fact, it would be a fantastic introduction to the medium for any young adults.
Bottom line: M. T. Anderson’s Feed does what the best science fiction does—asks us to re-examine the world around us, as we’re led by the sympathetic but realistic Titus through his strange, shallow world. And the audiobook presentation is just fantastic.
I rented this audiobook from the public library.