2018 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year for fiction. The Feed by Nick Clark Windo (review copy from Headline) is a thought-provoking post-apocalyptic tale about social media, climate change and identity. It masterfully blends themes with a lightness of touch and real emotional punch.
In Clark Windo’s near-future, we are all permanently connected to each other through brain implants and the Feed: a lightning fast social media link that connects us all at the speed of thought. Privacy is no more as people increasingly live their lives digitally, storing their knowledge, memories and experiences on servers and backing themselves up each day. But that safe, complex world collapses suddenly when the Feed goes down, shortly after the assassination of the President. The shock kills many, leaving only a few left, trying to eke out life in the ruins.
Tom, Kate and their young daughter Bea are among their number, living in a small community on a farm. Relying on the Feed has left them with little or no knowledge of how to survive. They don’t know how to grow food, cook, build or repair things. But with the help of a couple of older people who remember life pre-Feed, they are trying to rebuild knowledge and a life. Until Bea is kidnapped one day, triggering Tom and Kate to search for her. A search that inevitably takes them on a journey of understanding that reveals the real cause of the collapse.
Clark Windo plays with some of the tropes of genre fiction, giving them a contemporary update. This is a novel that nods towards classic horror staples with a Survivors-style post-apocalyptic vibe and a distinctly literary fiction interiority. The immediate aftermath of the Feed collapsing creates zombies unable to function and unused to having to speak. And pervasive throughout the novel is a body-snatchers horror of a person’s implant being used to have them taken over by an alien consciousness. In a post-collapse world without the intimacy of directly-shared thoughts and where the ability to read body language and facial expressions is a skill that has ossified, people are forced to ask themselves how they know who a person close to them really is.
Tom is particularly well-drawn. As a son of the family responsible for the creation of the Feed technology, he has chosen to reject his place. He is characterised by the desire to forget the past, to find ways to live on and to be self-sufficient. The oblivion of forgetting and being forgotten is his first response to any trauma. Yet he cherishes his memories of his relationship with Kate, clinging on to them through adversity.
There is a climate change undertone to all this too. The Feed consumes huge amounts of energy. Our social media habits are putting increasing pressures on power supplies. (All so we can share cat videos and photos of our lunch.) Clark Windo asks if this is really worth the eventual price.
Goodreads rating: 5*