I’ve even started lying myself…

Riley Silverman has a great piece on SyfyWire about atheism and faith in science fiction. She points out something that as a consumer of science fiction in all of its forms, I have noticed lately: that the worlds of science fiction are usually atheistic, but the authors cannot seem to avoid either god-like characters, or the situations which arise from faith.

While not acknowledging it, she seems to be implying (and I’d agree) that the authors of these works are atheist. I’ve been noticing lately that when characters of faith are introduced in science fiction, it is clear that the authors have no idea what they are writing about. They’re trying to paint a picture of a world that they can only imagine and when they imagine it, it is so foreign to someone such as myself (an insider on faith) that I don’t recognize it.

Take the Punisher season 2 for example The Punisher’s villain in Season 2 is a man who is portrayed as being deeply religious, but also deeply troubled and extremely violent. I actually have no problem with that–there is nothing new about that plot. You can easily find people in church history who were deeply devout but also did things that were very wrong out of either a mistaken sense of loyalty or a poor understanding of how such an action actually isn’t part of God’s will. The Crusades and Inquisition are the easy targets but there are ones on a smaller scale too.

The problem with the Punisher is the church scene. Clearly, the writers and directors (and anyone else who has any clout on the set) has never attended a church service.  Pastor’s don’t preach homilies on each song before and after they are sung. And they definitely, definitely, do not recognize someone in the congregation as being a major financial contributor to the congregation and then for that reason, let them come up and preach an off the cuff sermon. That never happens.  There are other details about the church service that are so wrong it is mind boggling but you get the point: they can’t imagine what an actual church service would be like.

While they may struggle with understanding and depicting formal religion they can’t escape the simple beauty of morality. That is, that there is some sort of deeply held absolute value system inherent in the structure of the universe and when we depart from it, things go wrong.

Watching The Tick season 2 really brought this to light. In a scene towards the end of the season, the Tick is lamenting how they have all strayed from the values they held at the start. Tick says, “It seems that we’re all wandering in the woods. You’re living a lie. Dot is secretly turning vigilante. I thought Arthur had been bending the truth to get us into the Five. And now that we have babies I’ve even started to lie myself. To be honest I don’t know what Destiny is trying to teach us in all of this.”

Agent John replies, “Maybe that the truth is precious?”

The truth is precious. And it would be really cool if scyfy could start exploring faith more seriously and intentionally than they currently do. Or maybe there are books out there like that which I’m not aware of? If so, please let me know!

Best laid plans something something

Well, no one is perfect, right?

I used to say I suffered delusions of grandeur. Mrs. Wine told me I used that phrase too often so I’ve stopped so I guess I’ll say sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. My mind is under the impression that my calendar is more clear than it really is. Or I underestimate my motivation. Whatever.

The point is simply this: my hopped cider has yet to be bottled. It should have been bottled a little while ago. I racked it to the secondary. Took a sample. It tasted amazing! I added the centennial hops. Or chinook–whatever the 2nd stage hops were. And then…forgot about it? So I have no update on that right now except to say that if things ever go the way I plan I probably won’t know how to handle it!

In other news, my reading plan IS going well. I read 5 1/2 books in January. If I can keep that pace I may just meet my 2019 goal. In case you are wondering I read:

The Thirteen Child, Beyond the Great Barrier, The Far West all by Patricia Wrede. These books were…good. She did a fantastic job imagining a new world. It was a very fresh take on magic. The character development was…pretty good. Although there was almost no physical descriptions of the characters. But the plot was…a snail. I read the entire trilogy and I’m still not sure there was much of a plot. It was a bit like Seinfeld: books about nothing. But the world she imagined was fantastic and that’s why I stuck with it. If you like westerns and magic and alternative history, I’d recommend the books.

I also read The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. This was a re-read which is something I rarely, ever do. But I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful book. If you’re a new Christian, a seasoned Christian, a burned out Christian, or a non-Christian I recommend this book. Philip and I have some significant theological differences but that doesn’t mean he can’t communicate truths about Jesus in a beautiful and accessible way.

I also read a graphic novel. Yup–what I wrote earlier about those still stands. This one was a Christmas present from Mrs. Wine. Dark Lord of the Sith Vol I: Imperial Machine. I’m really, really enjoying the graphic novels about Darth Vader. Kieron Gillen got it started and I devoured those. Charles Soule has picked up where he stopped and it is just as good.

The half book was Romans for You (1-7) by Timothy Keller. I read half of it last year, hence the 1/2 in 5 1/2 books. I can’t speak for the books in this series by other authors but every single one by Keller is outstanding. I’ve read Judges, Galatians and now part I of Romans and they are just…unbelievably good.

 

Stranger than Fiction

Becky Chambers has written three exceedingly excellent science fiction novels. I highly recommend them. This past year I read the latest installment in her series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, I had an insight into something that has been troubling me for a long time.

You see, I’m a member of the clergy. And it is hard. It is very hard. It is hard on me. And on my spouse. And on my children. Those are obvious reasons to wrestle with it. While many jobs are hard, not all jobs are hard on your family the way one such as this is hard on my family. But something else was bothering me.

The story focuses on the life of the humans living in the Exodan Fleet. One of the characters is named Eyas and she is a caretaker. Caretakers are functionally like clergy in our contemporary context.  During a conversation Eyas says this:

“‘ The caretaker I encountered that day, he was a …symbol to me. This symbol of fearlessness, of…harmony. He took a terrifying ting I barely understood and he showed me it was okay. It was normal. And that feeling was reinforced by the way adults treated him. They didn’t pull away. They weren’t repulsed. They embraced him- in both senses of the world. He was life and death walking as one, and they wrapped their arms around him and gave him gifts, and by extension, showed me I did not have to be afraid of our reality.’ She paused again. She’d never talked about this with someone outside of her profession, and certainly not to this degree. ‘I am that, now. I am that symbol to others. It’s exactly what I wanted, what I worked for. But there’s this other side to it I didn’t expect. I’m a symbol, yes, but a symbol wearing my face and my name. Myself, but also not. Mostly not. People know, when I walk through my district who I am, what I do. Doesn’t matter if I’ve got my wagon or am wearing my robes. they know. And so I always have to be Eyas the symbol, the good symbol, because I never know who’s looking at me, who needs to see that thing I saw in a caretaker when I was six. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, or if I’m tired, or if I’m feeling selfish. They look to me for comfort. I have to be that. And that is me, in a sense. That is a genuine part of me. But that’s just it–it’s a part. It’s not–‘

‘It’s not the whole,’ Sunny said.

Eyas nodded. ‘And that aspect of my work, I wasn’t ready for. I never thought about who my aunt’s caretaker was when he went home.’

Sunny held the bowl of his pipe in his palm. The smoke ascended as if he were conjuring it. ‘Sounds lonely.'”

And there is where my story and Eyas’ diverge. She didn’t feel lonely, just incomplete. I feel lonely and incomplete. I can’t have any real friends. I tried, it got messy and bad. And every person I encounter I’m supposed to be leading to Jesus/the church. And so if I can’t befriend people in the church, then anyone outside the church is a potential member and so I’m alone.

And incomplete. I’m a symbol that wears my face and lives my life and has my marriage and my children but I can’t be myself because you never know who is watching. That isn’t to say I would bathe in total depravity but simply that in my vocation, I am judged harshly by others. Fortunately, I’m not worried about God’s judgment.

But it makes this hard. Very hard. And it has me wondering how long I can last.

2018 Reading

So one of my resolutions for 2018 was to read more. A lot more. I don’t remember the total number of books I put in my reading list…something like 55. But that number is misleading because “one” of those was actually the entire Harry Potter series. I didn’t accomplish my goal…as of today I’ve read 44 books in 2018 (not counting the Bible which I read every year). And yes, some of those were graphic novels (more on that).

I’m okay with falling short because my overall goal was to start reading again like I used to. I used to read all the time. Then that slowly went away. And like brewing and writing, I missed it. I missed a quiet morning or rainy afternoon with nothing more than a book. I missed getting lost in worlds of fantasy, or far flung futures, or the unbelievable events of our own history.

So I approached this list with more flexibility than I normally do in the past. I found some new authors which I liked, and read other works by them that weren’t on their list. I also really struggled with history. I love history. But lately I can’t find a good work of history. I made it through 8 chapters of Potter’s biography of Zwingli and that is pretty much the most history I read. In case you are wondering, I didn’t count that book in my list since I didn’t complete it.

All that being said, I did want to give some awards out. The authors will never know. But maybe it’ll help you one rainy day when you’re trying to decide what to read.

Best Book (I read) in 2018: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor.

This was definitely NOT what I expected. I had the sequel, Do We Not Bleed on my list and so I read this when I discovered that well, it was the first book in the “series.” This book was written in the 1st person perspective, which is very challenging to do and remaining engaging. But what makes it even crazier, no pun intended, is the narrator is crazy. So as he describes things, you never actually know if it is real or not. He talks about the voices he hears, and then we hear them too. He occasionally will drop mention of a hallucination. For example, a giant catfish follows him around. He’ll casually mention it is there. Half a sentence. That’s all.

The author is also a thoughtful Christian. And he weaves his faith into the narrative so that crazy and faith become one some times. For example, “I wonder what Pratt would say about that catfish. Was it remembered or manufactured? Transubstantiation or consubstantiation or mere symbol?”

Daniel Taylor is a wordsmith. He writes sentences that make you just pause and wonder at the thoughtful beauty of it. I knew this from the first chapter. Look at how Taylor introduces the two main characters: “We live together now on a rented houseboat in the Mississippi, in the shadow of the Wabasha Bridge in downtown St. Paul. Kind of an oxymoronic place—out on the river, like Huck and Jim, but going nowhere, towered over by government and office buildings on the far bank. Illusory freedom. It’s not a big old tub, as houseboats go. Two tiny bedrooms up top over a fair-sized living room and galley kitchen below. Engineless, like me, neither houseboat nor occupant seaworthy.”

Taylor also did a great way of bringing his faith to bear on the novel. But most definitely not in a preachy way. In fact, much of it was obtuse enough that people who weren’t Christian may miss it. Such as a reference to a hot dog suspended before an open mouth and a reference to the “already but not yet” which every theologian uses to describe the kingdom of God. Or this, “There is a full moon low in the sky and its light splashes across the waters, squandering beauty on a sleeping town. I try to see riverboats paddling up the river, steam whistles screeching. I try to see women in hoop skirts, bales of cotton, and running boys, me and Huck among them. I am not successful. “Why … why are we stopping here, Jon?” “Oh, just to stretch our legs and look at the river.” “Yes, this is like the Jor … the Jordan River. There’s a picture of this in my … my very own Bible.” “I wish this was the Jordan, Jude. God knows I could use a Promised Land.”

His casual weaving of biblical references into the narrative challenged me with how integrated my worldview and knowledge of the Bible really are. I mean I like to say I have a biblical worldview, but do I? When a murder mystery that most definitely isn’t “christian” can make you ask those questions, you know it is a good book. And this was a very good book. In fact, I’d say it was my favorite book that I read in 2018.

Best Devotional of 2018. Letters to My Children by Daniel Taylor. So the first two books that made my awards list weren’t on my initial “to read” list at the start of the year. The joy of being flexible. After enjoying Death Comes for a Deconstructionist so much, I did some research on the author and found this book. Out of a fear of a too sudden death, the author decided to write letters to his children about a variety of things: suffering, vocation, marriage, friendships, etc. The wisdom contained in these letters is rich and worth dwelling upon for many years. As I peruse my highlights, this little gem speaks to me on this evening so I’ll share it with you: “So why when we prayed for Mr. Cuendet did he get well, but when we prayed for Uncle Clinton, God took him to heaven instead? I don’t know. God never promised to tell me why everything happens the way it does. But he did promise me that anytime I wanted to talk, he would be happy to listen. And in a world where so many people feel they are all alone, that’s a pretty great thing to know.” I’ve already quoted this book this year more than everything else I’ve read combined!

Best Science Fiction book I read in 2018: Roadside Picnic by Strugatsky Brothers. So…this one wasn’t on my original list either. Oops. Anyways, I love science fiction. It is, without a doubt, my favorite genre. And I’ve got oodles of “best science fiction books of the century” lists and somehow, this one was never on them. But then when I learned of it, it seemed like every Grand Master and Grand Madame of Science Fiction couldn’t stop talking about it. Funny how legends can hide in plain sight.

The premise is brilliant. And there seem to be no other books that have come up with anything like it or attempted to copy it sense.  Aliens visited earth. Several spots around the world. They were there briefly and then left. The places where they touched down have been profoundly changed.  And that doesn’t even begin to describe what I mean by profoundly changed. The dead are reanimated. Children of people who venture into the zones become inhuman as they age. Physics go bonkers in the zone. And people called Stalkers sneak into the Zones to steal technology and sell it on the black market while the governments of the world try to protect the zones and figure them out on their own. The story follows one Stalker in one zone who is a master at going in and finding new technology.

The title comes from the idea of a roadside picnic. Imagine a large family decides to have a picnic in an undisturbed area. Their bodies flatten the grass. The picnic blanket they lay down changes the ecology of the region. The build a fire ring and roast hotdogs. The heat of the fire, the left over stones, the ash from the fire change the landscape and are left behind. Then there’s the trash. Maybe a child’s toy was left behind. A watch fell off. An earring came lose and fell to the grass, lost forever. And we are….the ants who lived in that spot. That’s where the title came from and why the Zones are so profound. The aliens had a roadside picnic on planet earth and it changed everything forever.

Finally, the best graphic novel I read this year was Vision Vol I & II by Tom King. Ever since Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, the graphic novel has become a legitimate medium for not only some great stories, but for some great philosophical explorations. Tom King nailed it with his take on The Vision in Vol I: Little Worse than a Man and Vol II: Little Better than a Beast. The underlying question of Vision is this, “How far would you go to try to live a normal, American, life?” You just want to fit in. You want the two kids. The house in the suburbs. Even the dog. But you aren’t a white, middle class, American. You’re Vision, an android (or synthezoid) created by Ultron and capable of destroying the Avengers. But you just want to fit in. How far would you go, what would you compromise, to live the Suburban American dream? Dark, depressing, and eye opening on our quest for normalcy.

So there ya have it. My 2019 list is just about finished. I anticipate it being as fluid as this one. And hopefully I’ll read even more book in 2019 than I did in 2018.

 

American gods

I’m currently working my way through Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Though I have long been a fan of the cinematic adaptations of his books, this is the first time I have actually read Neil Gaiman. I wasn’t sure what I should expect but I didn’t expect this. The book is weird; not China Mieville weird, but weird nonetheless. The basic premise is that the gods people have believed in over the millenia do exist. But they somehow are brought into existence through our faith and when we no longer believe, they are left in this weird, immortal, limbo. America is filled with the old gods, like Odin, who immigrants brought with them. These old gods are now being squeezed out by the new gods of American culture.

But while the premise is interesting, it lends itself well to some introspective thought on what is America and what defines Americans. Gaiman explores this somewhat through his main character’s extensive traveling with Mr. Wednesday (Odin):

“It’s almost hard to believe that this is in the same country as Lakeside,” he said.

Wednesday glared at him. Then he said, “It’s not. San Francisco isn’t in the same country as Lakeside any more than New Orleans is in the same country as New York or Miami is in the same country as Minneapolis.”

“Is that so?” said Shadow, mildly.

“Indeed it is. They may share certain cultural signifiers—money, a federal government, entertainment; it’s the same land, obviously—but the only things that give it the illusion of being one country are the green-back, The Tonight Show, and McDonald’s.” 

Living in a Tri-State region, I’d have to agree. While there is much that unifies us, there is a tremendous difference in culture between the populace of the three states. In addition, being a transplant, I have an outsider’s perspective on where I live and it is very different from where I’m from.

So what does unite us? Gaiman makes the case that Americans are a very religious people: we worship lots of different gods. I’m always happy when I find something in pop culture echoing the Reformed faith. As John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory… Every one of us from our mothers womb is an expert in inventing idols”  We worship our government:

“As they passed their first signpost for Mount Rushmore, still several hundred miles away, Wednesday grunted. “Now that,” he said, “is a holy place.” Shadow had thought Wednesday was asleep. He said, “I know it used to be sacred to the Indians.” “It’s a holy place,” said Wednesday. “That’s the American Way—they need to give people an excuse to come and worship.”

We worship technology and television. Even Media is a goddess in Gaiman’s book. Shadow is confronted with the god of tv in a hotel room when Lucille Ball starts to talk to him out of the tv:

“It’s not Lucille Ball. It’s Lucy Ricardo. And you know something—I’m not even her. It’s just an easy way to look, given the context. That’s all.” She shifted uncomfortably on the sofa.

“Who are you?” asked Shadow.

“Okay,” she said. “Good question. I’m the idiot box. I’m the TV. I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.”

“You’re the television? Or someone in the television?”

“The TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing to.”

“What do they sacrifice?” asked Shadow.

“Their time, mostly,” said Lucy. “Sometimes each other.” She raised two fingers, blew imaginary gun smoke from the tips. Then she winked, a big old I Love Lucy wink.

“You’re a god?” said Shadow.

Lucy smirked, and took a lady-like puff of her cigarette. “You could say that,” she said.

So imagine my surprise when yesterday, while watching Anthony Bourdain’s show Part’s Unknown he made a keen observation. This observation came while visiting Las Vegas and it had to do with another god we have come to worship. His commentary starts at around the 1.05 minute mark. Truly, if anything shows it, this scene shows us what “the kingdom and the glory” we have come to worship as Americans.

All of this leads to a pertinent question: when we worship something that doesn’t give life, are we truly living? In American Gods, the main character Shadow is confronted with this conundrum by his dead wife. I’ll end with their exchange:

“I’m alive,” said Shadow. “I’m not dead. Remember?”

“You’re not dead,” she said. “But I’m not sure that you’re alive, either. Not really.”

This isn’t the way this conversation goes, thought Shadow. This isn’t the way anything goes.

“I love you,” she said, dispassionately. “You’re my puppy. But when you’re really dead you get to see things clearer. It’s like there isn’t anyone there. You know? You’re like this big, solid, man-shaped hole in the world.” She frowned. “Even when we were together. I loved being with you because you adored me, and you would do anything for me. But sometimes I’d go into a room and I wouldn’t think there was anybody in there. And I’d turn the light on, or I’d turn the light off, and I’d realize that you were in there, sitting on your own, not reading, not watching TV, not doing anything.” She hugged him then, as if to take the sting from her words, and she said, “The best thing about Robbie was that he was somebody. He was a jerk sometimes, and he could be a joke, and he loved to have mirrors around when we made love so he could watch himself fucking me, but he was alive, puppy. He wanted things. He filled the space.” She stopped, looked up at him, tipped her head a little to one side. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings?”

He did not trust his voice not to betray him, so he simply shook his head. “Good,” she said. “That’s good.” They were approaching the rest area where he had parked his car. Shadow felt that he needed to say something: I love you, or please don’t go, or I’m sorry. The kind of words you use to patch a conversation that had lurched, without warning, into the dark places. Instead he said, “I’m not dead.”

“Maybe not,” she said. “But are you sure you’re alive?”

Wrestling with Kierkegaard

Have I mentioned how brilliant The Hyperion Cantos is? I’m nearly finished with the Scholar’s tale. It is a retelling of Abraham and Isaac. Throughout the second half, the scholar is wrestling with the ethics of Kierkegaarde. Then it hit me: Kierkegaarde’s teleological suspension of ethics! Fear and Trembling! The Hyperion Cantos may be one of the most nuanced books I’ve ever read.  If you aren’t well read, you’ll miss so much!  I wonder how much I’ve already missed?

Best books of 2014

Tim Challies reads a lot of books. Probably the only person I know of who reads more books than Challies is this guy. So when I saw that Challies.com had posted the Best Books of 2014, I thought I’d share it with you. I must confess, I was a bit surprised by two things:

1) I haven’t read any of those books

2) I haven’t heard of many of them.

What about you? What are your best books of 2014?

The Hyperion Cantos

Well, I’ve finally got around to reading the Hyperion Cantos.  This is a brilliant work of literature. I rarely recommend a book before I have finished reading it but this time I will. If you appreciate a well crafted plot conveyed through beautiful words then read this book. Picture the Canterbury Tales set 1,000 years in the future. The book is full of references to other works. This quote just prompted this post:

…in the end, my friends, it is character which wins or loses immortality upon the vellum. Haven’t you ever harbored the secret thought that somewhere Huck and Jim are— at this instant— poling their raft down some river just beyond our reach, so much more real are they than the shoe clerk who fitted us just a forgotten day ago?”

So yeah…. go read it.

Reading Plan for 2015

Do you have a reading plan? That is, do you put some thought into what you read and when you read it or do you read like you eat at a buffet: because it is there and it looks good?

I try to have a reading plan. The one I currently follow I find hasn’t turned out to be as effective for me as I thought it would be. Right now, my reading plan is:

Devotional Reading

  1. This includes first and foremost reading the Bible. I read the Bible every day, following the ESV reading plan, whereby the end of the year I’ll have read the Old Testament once, the Psalms and New Testament twice.  I’ve been following that plan for a number of years. This will not be changing.
  2. I’ve started also reading D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God which is available on the Gospel Coalition. I just read Carson’s commentary on the Scripture that day. Probably only about 33% of the time do I even read the chapter he is referencing. I’m more interested in his thoughts on the Scripture. This will change.
  3. Finally, every day I try to read a short passage from some devotional work. For example, currently that is John Owen’s the Mortification of Sin. This is going to change.

Improvement Reading

  1. Every day I try to read a chapter from some book that encourages improvement in some area: fatherhood, being a husband, pastor, better listener, whatever. While this has led to me reading some very helpful books, and I hope some positive change in my life, this is going to change too!

Pleasure Reading

  1. What’s life without a little fun? Finally, I try to allow myself to read a “pleasure” book on a regular basis. This may be fiction or non-fiction–just so long as it is something that I want to read for the sake of reading it.

Last week, a friend shared this article by Eugene Peterson on his relationship with John Calvin’s theology. He shared the article with it because in an off-hand way, Peterson mentions that he reads Calvin’s Institutes every year. Now, this kind of fed my overactive guilt complex. For years I have been trying to read Calvin’s Institutes in a year. Shamefully, I have never actually read the entire Institutes. I’ve read Volume I or most of Volume I several times but I’ve never gone the distance and finished both volumes (the Ford Lewis Battles translation).  It is actually fairly manageable if you plan to read it over the course of an entire year. If you read approximately 5 pages a day, in a year you will have read both volumes. I’ve tried to do this for many years. I start well, but something always comes up and then suddenly I’m behind and before you know it a month has passed and the amount of reading I need to do to catch up is too daunting.

Just as Calvinism is more than the doctrines of grace, it is also more than Calvin’s Institutes. Nevertheless, it feels wrong to name myself Reformed and to not have read the second most important work of the Reformed faith (the first, of course, being the Bible). But, my goal for 2015 is to read the entire Institutes of the Christian Religion. To do so, I think I’m going to have to revamp my reading plan.

Here is my new plan:

Devotional

  1. I will continue to follow the ESV reading plan I currently use.

General Reading

  1. Rather than also trying to read a devotional work, improvement and pleasure reading I’m going to scrap that plan, at least for this coming year. Instead, I’m just going to focus my attention on one book, whatever it might be. I’ll try to put variety in it, a book of the Bible in-depth, some work of improvement, and also works of pleasure.
  2. Institutes of the Christian Religion. I’m going to embark on this quest yet again. 5 pages a day. If something happens, which it inevitably does, and I fall behind, my hope is to put then put aside whatever I’m currently reading at the moment until I’m caught up with the Institutes.

So, we’ll see what happens. Wish me luck. Keep me accountable.

Feed: A Review

I’ve been reading a number of books lately. Some had great potential and then fell apart so completely I could barely finish them. Of particular note in that category was Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro. Fortunately, I just finished a book that surpassed my expectations and proved to be not only very engaging and entertaining but thought provoking, and paradoxically, depressing. That book is Feed by M.T. Anderson. Feed First, a note on the genre. Feed is a science fiction novel classified as young adult literature. As a father of 3 girls, with one being a teenager, I wouldn’t want them reading this book. In the church, a young adult is someone who is post-high school, usually post-college age. But in literature, young adults start at Middle School. Were this book to be turned into a movie, it would be rated R for language, drug use, underage drinking (?) and sexual innuendos. So let me be clear: I do not think this is a book for young adults.

All of that to say, it is a very well written book. Feed takes place far in the future. The Moon, Venus and I think Jupiter are all colonized. The earth is falling apart. People live inside domes with each dome having its own climate system, including the sun, rain and Clouds(TM). Earth is dying: there are no forests, the oceans are filled with glowing advertisements you can see from the air; animals are nearly extinct and seemingly everyone is sick and dying. People have lesions (but it is fashionable so that is okay); as the story progresses most people go bald because their hair falls out. The health of everyone is so bad that by the time the characters are introduced, no one has been able to conceive a child naturally for generations. Everyone is grown in a conceptionarium.

Earth is divided between America and the Global Alliance who are in a perpetual state of near war. The background for the book seems to be some sort of conflict between America and the Global Alliance over South America and America’s annexing the moon to be the 51st state. However, the details of that conflict are never flushed out since the main characters don’t really care about much of anything. They are too busy being distracted by the Feed.

In M.T. Anderson’s world, everyone has a chip implanted into their body that interacts with their entire nervous system. This chip connects them to the Feed. The Feed is basically a future form of the internet. But it bombards your brain and senses. There are audio implants for music, advertisements, books, information, movies, television shows, shopping, all of this stuff projected directly into your brain. The companies that use the feed create a data-based consumer profile of each person based on their shopping preferences, conversations, mood swings, etc. So everyone, all the time, is constantly bombarded with suggested products to buy.

The main character, Titus, comes from a well-to-do family and is friends with a number of wealthy teenagers including one named Link. Link’s family have old money and Link is actually a clone of Abraham Lincoln! They head to the moon and there Titus meets Violet. Most of the story follows Titus and Violet’s romantic relationship. Violet’s father is a college professor of “dead languages” (which turns out to be computer code) and Violet is homeschooled because her father realizes that nearly everyone has become a braindead consumer. People cannot even write.It turns out that Violet’s feed chip is going bad and it is slowly killing her. Titus only learns of this after he falls in love with her. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot so I’ll stop there.

The book is written in the first person and Anderson did a great job of creating dialogue that is foreign enough to feel removed from my world, but easy enough to understand. The decadence of Titus’ social circle is conveyed extremely well. Consider the first few paragraphs of the book:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like, “I’m so null,” and Marty was all, “I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall. We were trying to ride shocks off them. So Marty told us that there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon. Lo-grav can be kind of stupid, but this was supposed to be good. It was called the Ricochet Lounge. We thought we’d go for a few days with some of the girls and stay at a hotel there and go dancing.

We flew up and our feeds were burbling all sorts of things about where to stay and what to eat. It sounded pretty fun, and at first there were lots of pictures of dancing and people with romper-gills and metal wings, and I was like, This will be big, really big, but then I guess I wasn’t so skip when we were flying over the surface of the moon itself, because the moon was just like it always is, after your first few times there, when you get over being like, Whoa, unit! The moon! The goddamn moon! and instead there’s just the rockiness, and the suckiness, and the craters all being full of old broken shit, like domes nobody’s using anymore and wrappers and claws.

The thing I hate about space is that you can feel how old and empty it is. I don’t know if the others felt like I felt, about space? But I think they did, because they all got louder. They all pointed more, and squeezed close to Link’s window.”

You only get glimpses of the world and thoughtlessness that is prevalent. But it is presented in chilling and clever ways. Perhaps, my favorite demonstration of this is when Titus and Violet go “out in the country.” They find a filet mignon farm and visit it for their date:

It smelled like the country. It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was like these huge hedges of red all around us, with these beautiful marble patterns running through them. They had these tubes, they were bringing the tissue blood, and we could see the blood running around, up and down. It was really interesting. I like to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from.”

This passage pretty much shows you both the world the characters inhabit and their way of thinking. Filet Mignon comes from a filet mignon farm and seeing it makes Titus feel good because he likes “to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from.” This passage reminded me of the documentary Food Inc. People don’t like to think about the fact that their steak comes from a part of an animal and that animal has other parts. The industrial food system we now exist in has sanitized eating. Meat comes from the supermarket where we can find it neatly packaged and sterilized. In my opinion, our factory farms are not that different from the filet mignon farm Violet and Titus visit.

And that is the depressing part of the novel. Written in 2001, Anderson frighteningly predicted a world where people would be constantly bombarded by advertisements; a world where corporations create profiles of individuals and then tailor their advertisements to fit the interests of the individual people. On the flip side, toward the end of the book, Titus seems to have a moment of clarity regarding the meaninglessness of consumerism:

It turned out that my upcar was not the kind of upcar my friends rode in. I don’t know why. It had enough room, but for some reason people didn’t think of it that way. Sometimes that made me feel kind of tired. It was like I kept buying these things to be cool, but cool was always flying just ahead of me, and I could never exactly catch up to it.

I felt like I’d been running toward it for a long time.

Ultimately, Feed is a commentary on society and our interaction with our environment. Our environment is increasingly digitally based and exploitative of the world around us. While we keep creating technology that is incredibly brilliant, we seem to becoming more thoughtless. I often say that if we are going to say that evolution is true, we need to then start considering a theory of de-volution. When you consider how ignorant people seem to be and when you consider how few people seem capable of rational thought–Feed is, in some ways, happening now. Which is what Anderson says in a blogpost he wrote about Feed years later. I really encourage you to go over to his website and read it. ‘

And then read the book.