To me, the strongest thing about the book is the way that it works as an allegory for today’s cultural...more[Here are some excerpts from my teacher notes:]
To me, the strongest thing about the book is the way that it works as an allegory for today’s cultural zeitgeist, both in a general sense, and even with some literal parallels. I will go into details presently, but let me start with a few quotations. One is from the book Don’t Believe It : How Lies Become News by Alexandra Kitty. Here it is:
No matter how old you are, being uninformed doesn’t only make you a desirable pigeon for scam artists—it can kill you, too. Not knowing what is going on around you is a dangerous and pathetic way of life… The Information Age is a minefield: unless you have the credible and up-to-date facts, your ignorance is likely to blow up in your face. Who do you trust and how do you know you can trust them? (17-8)
We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. No one thinks about the givens. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought. (72)
I think that between the two quote you’ve got the essence of Feed right there. Ignorance is dangerous and the proliferation of computer technology has bred ignorance on a wide scale. Of course, the feed is also a superb metaphor for the corporate zeitgeist of our time: buy this, and you’ll be sexy. Buy this, and you’ll be happy. Buy this, and you’ll be cool. By keeping us distracted, those in power—the major corporations that operate within the United States and their benefactors—can stay in power. As John Lennon put it in the song “Working Class Hero”:
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV And you think you're so clever and classless and free But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see A working-class hero is somethin’ to be A working-class hero is somethin’ to be
The similarities between Titus’s world and ours are many. The disturbing climax of the book, in which Violet lets Quendy know that she is “a monster… covered with cuts… a creature” (pg. 202), is by far the most disturbing scene we encounter, but it’s probably not too far off from what will eventually happen. Today, people engage in massive reconstructive surgeries on their faces, stomachs, and breasts, all in the interest of “staying young,” apparently oblivious of the fact that they will die, eventually, no matter what we look like. We inject our faces with certain military-developed toxins and then peel the skin off of them with different ones. Today, the interest is in defying mortality. But as more and more people start going to higher extremes of plastic “rejuvenation,” the logical culmination of it all is that the hideous visages of Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers, and the once-beautiful Elizabeth Taylor will become the norm. Procedures have become more and more depraved: vaginal rejuvenation, belly-button removal, rolling nails into one’s skin to produce collagen; one woman even had her legs removed, as she didn’t feel sexy with them. We’ve adjusted our definition of attractive, over the years, to switch from thinking pale is sexy to thinking tan is sexy and from thinking that plump is sexy to thinking that rail-thin is sexy. When the jet set starts cutting themselves, we’ll think that’s sexy too. When Anderson wrote about this, I felt about halfway between crying and vomiting.
Ursula K. LeGuin, in the introduction to her magnum opus The Left Hand of Darkness, states that the point of writing science fiction is to be extrapolative. An extrapolation, in writing, is basically a thought experiment—we take a trend we have observed and poetically exaggerate it to its probable conclusion, if left unchecked, over time. Anderson seems to agree, as Feed is almost entirely a work of extrapolation. Anything that separates the world of Feed from ours—Quendy’s lesions, upcars, the annexation of the moon, the President using the word “shithead” in official discourse, the complete trivialization of the music industry, even the feed itself, which we’ll get to in a moment—is, by nature, an extrapolative venture. Even the most disturbingly beautiful scene in the book, in which Titus and Violet canoodle near a vast “filet mignon farm” (pg. 144), draws from the current trend of food science, a fascinating discipline whose practitioners have bred meat in Petri dishes from cell cultures; it and similar dishes can be ordered in swank restaurants in the UK, US, and Japan. Of course, the most poignant extrapolation in Feed is the transformation of the figurative feed—constant bombardment from corporate America—into a literal feed, a computer chip embedded into the brain. If you believe the conspiracies, there are actual plans in the works, spearheaded by the wealthiest families in America, to eventually outfit all citizens with RDIF chip technology, for tracking, and to subdue—protest and they’ll just turn off the chip. Pets are commonly outfitted with similar chips, although just for ID purposes; some babies have them. Militant Christian groups believe that the references to the tattoos of the number 666 in Revelation are actually references to these chips. The film Zeitgeist explores the theories in more depth.
One of the most beautiful examples of irony in the book is that, while Violet is literally dying, she is more alive, in the sense of living life, than are any of Titus’s friends. When Titus says that being touched by Violet “feels like being felt up by a zombie,” my attention was immediately drawn to the phrase “consumer zombie.” There is a very intriguing parallel to be drawn here with the metaphorical imagery of George A. Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead, in which hordes of the undead flock toward a shopping mall, drawn by some latent memory of consumer comfort still in their brains.
[I skipped a few paragraphs here.:]
A few additional books I can think of to tie in are No Logo by Naomi Klein, which deals with brands and how teenagers and college students react to products and interact with marketing and the marketing strategies aimed at them. Other relevant books include Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, and several Disinformation books. AdBusters magazine is a fantastic publication that dissects the effects of media and mass consumerism on society—it even offers a Media Empowerment Kit for teachers who want to teach their students about big media. The editor of AdBusters, Kalle Lasn, is the founder of the culture jam movement, which parodies advertisements and raises media awareness. One of the culture jam’s movement’s most successful initiatives is Buy Nothing Day, which falls on Black Friday, the Friday after the US Thanksgiving and the busiest shopping day of the year. To participate, you simply buy nothing, conscientiously objecting to the consumer process. The magazine has also produced a Bill of Rights for Future Generations, which beautifully parallels the Mayan spell to preserve dying cultures in the book.
Here’s part of the the Mayan spell:
Spirit of the sky, spirit of the earth, grant us descendents for as long as the sun moves, for as long as there is dawn. Grant us green roads; grant us many green paths. May the people be peaceful, very peaceful, and let them not fall; let them not be wounded. Let there be no disgrace, no captivity. Let our people always have days, always have dawns. (187)
Here is the first part of the Bill:
We, the people of the future, like the multitudes who came before us, have the right to air that smells sweet, to water that tastes pure, and to land that is fertile, unsoiled and green.
Of course, this is very similar to Article 1 of marine biologist Jacques Coustea’s own Bill of Rights for Future Generations:
Future generations have a right to an uncontaminated and undamaged Earth and to its enjoyment as the ground of human history, of culture, and of the social bonds that make each generation and individual a member of one human family.
And all of these are reminiscent of the sentiment of the Lord’s Prayer:
Thy will be done Thy kingdom come on earth As it is in Heaven
[And I cut off the end about religion in the novel.:](less)
Most people know what the book is about and that it's great; suffice to say that it is great, and it is essential reading, in the sense that people co...moreMost people know what the book is about and that it's great; suffice to say that it is great, and it is essential reading, in the sense that people committed to comprehensive literacy should read this book. I'll just review this edition, then. It's worth every penny of its somewhere-near-one-hundred-dollars pricetag. The oversized hardcover format lends itself well to being held on a lap, and the art has been beautifully remastered (in some cases, re-inked from copies of the original pencils). If Watchmen were a film * , then this would be the four-disc, remastered, widescreen, anniversary extended director's cut.
* I guess it is a film. You get what I'm saying.(less)
This is a matchless book; part bold, if inaccurate, vision of the future, part allegory for Wild West politics, it stands as the single best sci-fi no...moreThis is a matchless book; part bold, if inaccurate, vision of the future, part allegory for Wild West politics, it stands as the single best sci-fi novel of all time. Better than Ender's Game, better than Dune, better than The Foundation Trilogy... name a book. I won't like it as much as this one, and I know my sci-fi. This collection of short stories, set in the same fictional universe as Fahrenheit 451, floors me every time I read it.
Criticized as being anti-science by the science fiction community of its time, this book's sense of childlike, awestruck wonder is nothing but the very essence of the scientific approach; Bradbury beholds the barren planet of his novel in such a way that you can feel it. It's as if you're there with them as each successive expedition fails. I think those other writers were just jealous of Bradbury's success outside their community. TMC was the first sci-fi novel accepted by the lit community at large, and for good reason.
This book drew on old science mythologies (think of Lowell's canals in the 1920s) and held a match up to whole new ones (it being amongst the first popular novels to really popularize the idea of Martian explorations). Today, its influence is everywhere, seen everywhere from music (the band The Rocket Summer took their name from the book) to modern sci-fi (Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars Trilogy).
It's required reading!
P.S. The best stories are "Usher II" and "The Million-Year Picnic."(less)
Why do people think of this as a mere adventure novel?
To be sure, it is gripping, and, as the kids are saying, "action-packed." But that's only skin...moreWhy do people think of this as a mere adventure novel?
To be sure, it is gripping, and, as the kids are saying, "action-packed." But that's only skin deep, only one level, this being the level that made up the massively popular film version. Just below the surface is a masterpiece, multifaceted and multidisciplinary, sincerely philosophical, and breathtaking in its pacing and scope. All the different capacities in which the novel functions are essential; without the action, the doomsday science would lack appreciable consequences; without the science, the action would be essentially without meaning. The brilliance of JP is that it mixes intelligence with entertainment. It makes you think, on the one hand—on the other, well, dinosaurs are freakin' sweet. Don't pretend you don't know it.
How many questions does this book pose? To the imaginative reader, probably a functionally endless number, but here are a few of those that anyone could catch: do we have the right to create life, metaphysically and otherwise? Is it acceptable to "own," and profit from, a life form? Is mankind really the pinnacle of creation, with the rest of life subjugated to us? Furthermore, in what ways is our perception of nature dependent on this notion? Can we comprehend nature if we see ourselves as outsiders? In what ways will life escape efforts to control it? Indeed, can life be controlled? What is the nature of history? What is the importance of meaningful coincidence (contingency) to history? Is the universe chaotic at heart? Were dinosaurs more successful than man, by certain criteria?—and so on.
Some day, this will be considered to be a part of the literary canon, Harold Bloom be damned. In his day, Shakespeare was considered bawdy and unfit. The Easton Press is already offering fine leatherbound editions. My edition, however, is a ratty, highlighted, plastic-tabbed paperback, one of millions on 25¢ tables in the backs of legion halls the world over. These yellow pages seem as old as the terrible lizards they bring to life, but, I can't see them becoming old-hat anytime within the next geologic era.(less)