Book Review: The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: William Morrow (March 13, 2018)
Length: 336 pages
We’ve all heard the cautionary tales involving social media, about the dangers of being constantly plugged in. Nick Clark Windo’s dark thriller debut takes this idea even further, imagining a future where people are permanently connected via implants so that access to everything is instantaneous as well as continuous. This is “the Feed” that the novel’s title is referring to—a new tech that humans have become so dependent on, and so addicted to, that society can no longer function without it. And so, when the Feed collapses one day, the results are predictably catastrophic. Some of the most basic skills and knowledge are lost to the digital abyss as everyone must now learn how to survive offline and fend for themselves in this Feed-less new world.
For couple Kate and Tom, the adjustment has not been easy. But they have managed to keep going the past few years, living with a group of survivors as they raised their daughter Bea, who was born post-collapse. But then one day, Bea goes missing, snatched away by raiders, and so Kate and Tom must embark on a treacherous journey to bring her back.
It’s said that things have to get bad before they can get better, and likewise, some books make you go through some really rough patches before you can get to the good parts of the story. The Feed was a book like that. For most of the first half, I struggled with nearly everything—the characters, the plot, the world-building. From the moment the story opened, my patience was put to the test. I found both protagonists horribly off-putting. Kate was especially annoying, as a heavy user of the Feed before its collapse. She was an attention monger, self-absorbed and totally oblivious. To be fair, she was probably written this way by design, but in this case the author might have overplayed her personality. Tom, on the other hand, struck me as bland and lacking in any spirit or agency. I didn’t feel like I could connect to either of them at all, which made the first part of this book a difficult slog. I also struggled with the world-building and the exaggerated side effects of the Feed. Humans are biologically hard-wired for curiosity, and I found it hard to believe that almost the entire population would simply surrender themselves to the Feed unquestioningly and let themselves become so helpless.
And then the collapse happened, and subsequently, Bea’s disappearance really turned things around. Not to the point where I suddenly loved the book, mind you, but the story did become immensely more enjoyable once Tom and Kate finally had something to fight for. The second half of The Feed unfolded a lot more like a traditional dystopian novel, following our protagonists as they traversed the post-apocalyptic landscape, encountering violence and suffering. However, there is also a unique element to this world, which comes in the form of a very specialized threat. Even after the collapse, the sinister legacy of the Feed remains as those who possess the biological implants live in fear of being “taken”, a term to describe the process of being hacked and having your consciousness along with your personality and memories wiped clean and replaced. The result is a lot of chaos, mistrust, and panic, along with an “us vs. them” mentality among the survivors. While The Feed is not a zombie story, you can see how the overall tone and some of its themes can sometimes make it feel like one.
There is also a monumental twist near the end that changed nearly everything, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it simply because it was so out of left field. Did it make this book more interesting? Yes. But in terms of whether it made the story more coherent or feasible, probably not. That said, I’m impressed with how Windo handled the challenges that came about because of this surprising development. Everything could have fallen apart, but ultimately he was able to keep the threads of the story together and saw things through to the end.
I won’t lie, there were a lot of issues with this novel, particularly with the pacing and balance of the story’s numerous concepts. Still, there were plenty of fascinating ideas in here that I appreciated for their originality, especially once I got past the initial hurdles. There’s an almost sputtering, sporadic feel to the plot; in some ways, it’s like an engine that needs to be primed several times before it catches, but once it starts running, the ride smooths out and becomes a lot more enjoyable. The journey was certainly not boring, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about a novel in a saturated market like the dystopian genre.