I don’t remember how I came across M T Anderson’s novel Feed, but I went into it thinking it was just science fiction, and not an extremely dark dystopia. That might be the ideal way to come at it, kind of like when I thought Never Let Me Go was about a boarding school. (Spoiler: It’s not.)
Titus is a perfectly teenager, taking a typical spring break trip to the moon, and getting annoyed that none of them can get into any bars. He’s fooling around in zero-gee with his friends and noticing a new girl, Violet, when a hacker destroys their implanted feeds, and they all awaken, disconnected, in the hospital. Without his usual feeds of entertainment, social media, and endless shopping, Titus has to find something to pass the time.
The kids are oddly un-curious about the hacker’s motivations, although they can’t wait to get their feeds working smoothly again so they can watch the latest installments of Oh? Wow? Thing! and see what’s new for them to want and to buy.
Everything in this world is perfectly believable. Of course corporations have taken over schools, and new classes are offered in decorating, shopping, and being a good consumer. Naturally, environmental contamination leads to health issues like lesions, and just as naturally, lesions are presented as stylish signs of the times. Hairstyles change a few times a day, and at one point the nostalgia feed glitches, causing everyone to be nostalgic for the time they’re living right now. News of environmental damage and political upheaval exists on the periphery of Titus’ consciousness, and the world is most definitely falling to pieces, but teenage Titus is more interested in spending time with his friends and falling in love with Violet.
Violet decides to mess with the shopper profiles being generated for everyone, all the time, by browsing for the oddest things she can think up, in a way that’s both the last gasp of artistry and creativity in a consumer culture, and a typical teenager’s eyeroll at everyone around her. Titus is observant but inarticulate, resulting in a Charlie Gordon kind of frustration when he discovers the lasting complications that the hacking incident is having for Violet. This story is both a scifi manners novel of a teenage subculture in a consumer dystopia, and an unsettling reminder of the intensity of teenage love.