Monday, February 11, 2013

Consumed

"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." Count this among this reader's best opening lines, except that it's not the first thing you hear in M.T. Anderson's Feed.  There's an epigraph from a poem by W.H. Auden first ("Anthem for St. Cecilia's Day").  Still, it works. Really well. You are immediately grabbed by that quote as Anderson takes you on a wild, oddly prescient (since it was published in 2002) look at our bleak future.

Titus is an average teen, his brain linked directly to the feed of hot trends, advertising, and communication with his friends and family. He doesn't actually have to speak or act -- since the feed does it for him -- which makes him oddly inarticulate for a first-person narrator (one of the many brilliant techniques from Anderson in this book). It's spring break and Titus and his friends head to the moon for some clubbing at the lo-grav Ricochet Lounge and maybe do some shopping. While they are at the club, someone hacks into their feeds (and those of everyone else there), destroying them. No noise, no input, no conversation. Titus is unnerved. He spends a few days in the hospital on the moon before he's connected back up and goes home to Earth. An Earth (or a United States) of flying cars, irreversibly polluted land, and unending consumption.

Titus meets a girl at the Ricochet Lounge, Violet. She has a harder time recovering from the hack, because her feed wasn't connected at birth; her parents (sort-of off-the-grid types) waited until she was seven so she could choose it for herself. While Titus is uncomfortable with her reluctance to succumb to the temptations of the feed, he's still drawn to her. But when the hack proves to be something that slowly disintegrates Violet's feed, the loss overwhelms Titus. He turns away from her when she most needs him, seemingly without guilt. The final image of Violet -- eyes open, brain dead -- is chilling.

I read this 10 years ago, and when I was first on YALSA's Amazing Audiobooks I received a copy of the audiobook from Listening Library that was signed by Tobin (may I call you Tobin?) himself (in my presence ... did I need to say that?). (For a little laugh down memory lane, check out the year Feed was recognized by this committee and note that only cassettes are mentioned -- I'm pretty confident even I was listening to CDs in 2003.)  He visited our library a few years later (here's the podcast of his talk); he's such a smart guy.  Despite these prompts, I never got around to listening to Feed until now. I really liked the book when I read it, but I really liked the book now, in 2013.  No doubt I'm getting my technological milestones in a twist, but I found it uncanny how Anderson knew that Google would be slinging advertising at me based on the email I send through my gmail.  How he knew that teens would become so connected to their "feed" that withdrawal occurs if they can't read texts in the middle of the night. How we may be losing our ability to effectively communicate face-to-face.

On top of that, this is a really terrific audiobook! It's narrated by David Aaron Baker, who (even though he was around 40 when he read this) beautifully channels a bored and overstimulated adolescent.  It's his reading of that first line that truly sets the tone for the book. The slang that Titus and his friends speak ("like ... I'm so null ... unit.") sounds like every teenager doing that acting out thing that they do in public. You know, when they really want to announce their presence through volume and too much laughter. The performance isn't perfect as Titus' friends sound just a bit too doofus-y in comparison to him, but Baker performance as Titus is so good that I can forgive that. When Titus is struggling with his fear and his love for the dying Violet, Baker sounds truly lost and alone.

And then there's the feed.  "... based on the true story of a clone fighting to save her own liver from the cruel and ruthless original who's farming her for organs ..." / "... the cola with the refreshing taste of citrus and butter ..." / "The Rumble Spot: An ocean of chaos in the Sea of Tranquility." The feed comes with annoying advertising jingles, that kind-of interference sound that means changing channels, and the overbright delivery of people trying to sell you something. There are four readers of the feed: John Beach, Josh Lebowitz, Tara Sands, and Anne Twomey.  Rightly so, they are interchangeable (although only the women were familiar to me.) This is the way to experience the feed, score for audiobooks!

The producer adds an echo-ish quality to the chats Titus and his friends have via the feed. Even though this kind of effect mostly annoys me (I hate it when it is used in a phone conversation), it is really necessary here as the teens will chat over the feed and then also speak (or think) "live" (as it were). The effect enables you to keep track of which is which.

So, the reason I finally put this is the ears is my 2013 resolution:  Read/listen to the books I own, rather than those I borrow. I made a good start with The Freedom Maze, but I seem to have bogged down in the print division. I'm trying to get all through the award books that I didn't read in 2012 and then I'll semi-retire my library card. And that gets me to my second reading resolution: No print books published for teens. I'll listen to them since I find that an easier way to consume, but the Morris really killed my appetite for teen lit.

[The image of the Co-op Feeds plant in the Sutherland Industrial subdivision in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada was taken by Drm310 and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Feed by M.T. Anderson
Narrated by David Aaron Baker, with John Beach, Josh Lebowitz, Tara Sands and Anne Twomey
Listening Library, 2003.  5:01

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