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Review: Feed by MT Anderson

MT Anderson's dystopian 2002 novel Feed takes place in a future where most of the people of the world are connected to a global network through brain implantation, the technology actually taking over many of the processes of the limbic system to the point where once installed it cannot be removed without killing the host. Those plugged into this "Feed" are bombarded by a constant barrage of entertainment and advertisement customized to their own tastes, which the Feed learns by monitoring everything they do. (Privacy is a thing of the past.) Schools are completely privatized and more concerned with teaching you how to shop than teaching you arithmetic, reading and writing are forgotten arts known only by university professors, and a criminally irresponsible government covers up any corporate wrong-doing. When people start getting lesions all over their bodies, the president goes on the Feed to insist that all rumors that this is caused by corporate activities are absurd. Meanwhile, characters in a popular Feed show get lesions, and suddenly lesions are cool; teenagers start having artificial lesions cut into them. The planet is dying—there are almost no fish left in the sea, and oxygen factories have replaced the world's wild plant life. And no one seems to care; in fact no one seems to be paying any attention at all, intent as they are on distracting themselves with Feed shows and movies and shopping and advertisements, all of which are dumbed-down to the point of inanity.

A review by Eric Rosenfield

Criticism vs. Reviewing

Back in April, I recommended people read Cynthia Ozick's article "Literary Entrails" in the April edition of Harper's Magazine. In that article Ozick differentiates between "literary critcism" and "reviewing" as two distinct activities. Ozick is not alone in making this distinction; The Reading Experience, for instance, recently pointed out the frequent conflation of the two, calling reviewing a "genre of arts journalism." He even accuses the National Book Critics Circle of "deliberately (dishonestly?) blurring the lines between book reviews and criticism." Yet he doesn't quite give a definition of criticism, or tell us how, exactly, to recognize the one from the other. On our own website I once called New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani a "major critic" and had one of our readers comment "Kakutani is not a major critic -- Kakutani is a major reviewer. There's a big difference." At the time I thought this was a good point, but then the more I thought about it the more confused I became.

The Duck

This story was originally published in Writer Online, January 31, 2001

A light bulb salesman fell in love with a duck.

He followed the duck to Canada in his little red van, the light bulbs rattling and clicking in their cases.

Past trout, moose, and grizzly bears, and into the tundra, he drove the van, calling to his duck beloved, "Sarah, my darling, will you come to me, will you lay your small head against my knees?"

Driving, sleeping, he dreamt of the duck, of kissing her webbed feet, of laughing together by the lakeside, of holding a can of beer for her to drink from in the summer night.

The duck felt charmed but harassed, the duck felt pity: her name was not Sarah anyway, and she had another lover: the cold and resolute magnetic North Pole, female, indissoluble, old as earth.

The duck flew on, admiring the showy dress her lover put on, the Aurora Borealis.

The salesman drove his van onto an ice floe, took all his light bulbs out and connected them with wires to his car battery; and, floating in the Arctic sea, revving his engine, he competed with the Aurora Borealis, as long as his gas tank held out.

The Future of the Fantastic: Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists

After being thoroughly blown away by Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, it was with great anticipation that I picked up Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists, it's corollary across the aisles, as it were. And indeed, The New Wave Fabulists should be the more notable effort, since Feeling Very Strange pleas for SF's legitimacy from within the SF section of the bookstore itself, which strikes one as preaching to the choir, while Conjunctions places SF writers in the "Literary Fiction" category and tries to get the attention of those people not already reading it, people who might have never heard of Gene Wolfe or Neil Gaiman. This is the harder sell, and the work presented needs to be really compelling. Some of it is, but a distressing amount of it is not, is in fact not even particularly well written, especially compared to the stellar level of work presented in Feeling Very Strange.

Still Rising: On the Deathless Relevance of Earnest Hemingway

The possibility that becoming the most distinctive American prose writer of the twentieth century would have its considerable drawbacks probably did not occur to the twenty-seven-year-old author of The Sun Also Rises when it was published in 1926. Despite some powerful literary advocates, Hemingway's first two books had flopped; copies were not even available in Hemingway's hometown of Oak Park, Illinois. His third book—a cocky, strutting, elliptical novel about British and American expatriates behaving as badly as their times (and Hemingway's censors) allowed them—changed all that. As Lionel Trilling wrote only thirteen years after Sun's publication, Hemingway,"more than any writer of our time... has been under glass, watched, checked up on, predicted, suspected, warned." The book's much-heralded style, as liberating as a magic spell for its author, eventually became a kind of aesthetic stockade. By 1961 serial shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic had left the arch mage depressed,unable to write,needlessly lecturing his wife about her "expenses," and convinced that the FBI was reading his mail and wiretapping his phone. Hemingway's suicide of that year was not only an act of escape from the various furies, real and imagined, in steady pursuit of him; it was the explosive period to the only sentence he could bring himself to compose. For this reason any writer who has been compared to Hemingway feels a certain clammy shudder: as it turned out, not even Hemingway could survive the comparison.

After I Stopped Screaming

The blonde in the big ape's hand. Long before you had Rita Hayworth on that bed in a negligée or Marilyn standing over that grate with her skirt billowing up, there were all those pictures and posters and billboards of me, the blonde in the big ape's hand.

Fiction by Pamela Sargent

Three True Stories Begging to Be Fictionalized

History is full of great stories begging to be fictionalized. Here's three that I've come across that paint something of a portrait of the early Americas.

Where for Art Thou Foetry?

While I think it's important to note that Cordle and his crew of followers often make connections between poets on the foetry discussion forums that are so tenuous they aren't far from claiming that poetry publishing is controlled by the Rothschild family in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Ancient Order of Free and Accepted Masons and the Trilateral Commission, what gets lost in the hubbub is the fact that they actually make a good point: poetry publishing is rife with cronyism, gladhanding and pettiness.

Stockwell

He told again the story of Bates, and then the one about himself—Jansen — and then about Gerhardie. Stacks just sat as always with his chin resting on the head of his cane, listening, sometimes grunting a bit. He told like beads Bates with that leg and rest of him you could put a knife right into and not feel a thing. He told of himself, Jansen, who had crept up to slit a disloyal throat mostly out of curiosity, damn the risk. And he told Gerhardie, goddam handsome bastard who had done fine, not a flicker of doubt through the whole struggle. The handsome, in Jansen's opinion, tended to be like that.

Fiction by Brian Evenson

The Future of the Fantastic: Feeling Very Strange

Unevenness is a problem endemic to anthologies. With most of them, when I come to each new story, even one by a name I know and enjoy, I often feel like I'm rolling the dice, and I turn the page with my fingers crossed praying I don't get snake eyes. Thankfully, in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology even the worst of the stories are merely an entertaining sort of mediocre, and the best are truly astonishing. I found myself actually getting excited at the prospect of the next tale, which is, I think, the mark of a really good collection.