The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

The Blurb On The Back:

Your knowledge.

Your memories.

Your dreams.

If all that you are is on the Feed, who are you when the Feed goes down?

The Feed is everywhere.  It can be accessed by anyone, at any time.  Every interaction, every emotion, every image can be shared through it.

Tom and Kate use The Feed, but they have resisted addiction to it.  And this will serve them well when The Feed collapses.

Until their six-year-old-daughter, Bea, goes missing.

Because how do you find someone in a world devoid of technology?  And what happens when you can no longer trust your loved ones are really who they claim to be?

You can order THE FEED by Nick Clark Windo from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the future.  The vast majority of people use The Feed, a sort of internet connection inserted into people’s brains that allows them instant access to information and lets people share emotions, memories and images at will.  Tom Hatfield’s father invented it and Tom was the first person to be connected to it while a child.  Now Tom’s family runs the company that controls and manages The Feed for the world’s population, but Tom has concerns about the technology and how his father and younger brother, Ben, intend to use it.  Although Tom is no Resister (people who refused to have the technology implanted), he dropped out of the family business to retrain as a psychotherapist and tries to limit his use of the Feed, encouraging his wife, Kate (pregnant with their first baby) to do the same.  Kate, however, finds it difficult to give up – keen to chase the hits that come from posting popular surveys and convinced that she can change attitudes to social issues such as the environment through her activities on The Feed.

Then there’s a terrorist attack on the United States. The President is assassinated by one of his advisers.  People witness it worldwide on The Feed and the world is instantly thrown into confusion as to what is going on and who is responsible. Soon there are reports of people being taken over through their Feed connections, literally disappearing as they sleep, replaced by homicidal entities that must be killed before they can murder you.  People grow afraid to sleep and as the paranoia and fear grows, The Feed is suddenly taken off line, plunging the entire world into chaos …

6 years later, Tom, Kate and their 6-year-old daughter, Bea, live in a small rural community with Resisters Graham and Jane, electrician Guy, Danny and security expert Sean and his son Jack.  They survive by scavenging the area for food, tools, fuel and cabling.  They’re trying to work out how to rebuild some of the technology and equipment that would make survival easier – such as electricity, plough parts – but it’s difficult when their memories and intrinsic knowledge are so poor (The Feed having meant that they never had to learn how to do anything because it was instantly available).  Kate thinks that her family should move on and seek another commune but Tom wants to stay and try to work it through but the decision is taken away from both of them when the community is suddenly attacked and Bea and Jack are kidnapped. Tom and Kate are desperate to find their daughter, but how do you do that when you don’t know where to start and when society is so fragmented that you don’t know who you can trust?

Nick Clark Windo’s debut SF dystopia has some fascinating ideas about memory, knowledge and the dangers posed by over-reliance on technology and I really enjoyed how integral The Feed is to people’s lives but a twist half way through the book, while intriguing, also raised more questions than answers and I felt that the introduction of a time-travel element caused the story to lose its way and my interest waned, although I’d read his next book.

I thought that Tom was a solidly drawn character and Windo does a good job at showing how he’s troubled by his father’s invention almost as much as he’s resentful of how he was a guinea pig for it. I don’t think that his interest in psychotherapy was drawn as well as it could have been in terms of relevance to the plot (certainly I never got a feeling that he actually had much empathy for people and he certainly doesn’t seem to understand their motivations or thought processes) but seen as a two-fingers action to his parents, it makes sense.  His antagonistic relationship with his family, and especially his brother, was a little bald for me and I would have liked to see a bit more depth there – especially a conversation with his father who remains a distant figure for the purposes of the story.  Equally I can’t say that I was particularly convinced by his relationship with Kate and I did wonder at points what was keeping them together other than necessity and Bea.  This is partly because I didn’t find Kate to be as well drawn a character as Tom – she came across as quite flat on the page and apart from her devotion to her daughter and her earlier social concerns, I didn’t get a sense of who she was as an individual.

The introduction of Sylene later in the book was very well done with Windo showing a deft touch but like Kate, she is largely drawn by reference to her children and her need to find them so she seems a little flat at times.  This is offset to a degree by the way she is able to manipulate those around her but her relationship with Tom never really convinced me, not least because her attitude to him seems at odds with what she tells him about her backstory, so I found her inconsistent.  The main problem, though, is that with Sylene’s introduction also sees Windo trying to explain what’s happened to create the situation and that’s where I found myself having more questions than answers. For example, he introduces a time travel element but doing so suggests the generation of a multiverse, split timeline component that never gets explored.  Equally, Windo suggests that time travel is haphazard and scattergun with some people never arriving, which begs the question of what happened to them. For me, it was as if Windo was trying to introduce too many ideas into the story and the fact that some of them are unexplored and undeveloped, meant that my interest started to fade in the second half of the book and I stopped caring about what happened to Tom, Kate and Sylene.

This is a shame because there was some great ideas in the book – I thought that Windo makes some interesting points about the difference between access to information and personal knowledge and the way he demonstrates the dependency that people have on The Feed is very well done. Also good is how plausible the take-up of The Feed is and how corporations can use people’s desire for convenience and entertainment for their own needs and how quickly society falls apart when all of that convenience suddenly disappears.

The dystopian elements are okay.  If you’re a fan of the genre anyway then there are no great surprises here in terms of how society has broken down and people try to survive – but it’s believable enough and the lack of The Feed give it some depth. I was frustrated that Bea’s kidnapping is never more than a plot device and I wanted more explanation or postulation of why she was taken and where to.  This is, to be fair, part of the point of the book – that without The Feed it’s impossible to know this – but even without it the investigation and tracking lacks coherence or rationale and while I had no issue with the idea of a nihilistic pay off, the way it was done was offhand and a little pointless.

Ultimately, although this book didn’t fully come together for me, I would definitely check out Windo’s next work on the strength of it.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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