The Feed by Nick Clark Windo is set in a unique and vividly imagined post-apocalyptic world—a startling and timely debut that explores what it is to be human and what it truly means to be connected in the digital age (available March 13, 2018).
The one thing science fiction is dealing with better than any other genre right now is technological advances. The genre has always “lived” in the future, and now that the future is here, authors are pushing things further, exploring new possibilities, and walking a fine line between pure imagination and plausibility. Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed mixes the internet’s ubiquity with a post-apocalyptic scenario and a lot of emotion to create a hybrid novel that walks the line between an adventure narrative, a horror story, and a classic science fiction tale.
The Feed used to be accessible everywhere and at any time. It was inside the brain of most people and thus almost inescapable. The instant access to everything was addicting, and people started using it for everything. Every conversation, every memory, every moment at work, and every second dedicated to leisure was intricately tied to the Feed. Tom—whose father created the Feed—and Kate were no different, although Tom fought against the addiction and liked to have moments unplugged from it.
One day, their lives—along with those left alive after the end of everything they used to know—change forever when the Feed collapses, throwing everything into chaos and pushing the world into a new age of pure survival, hunger, and violence. With society a mere memory, people are forced to scavenge to survive and live ferreted away, miles from the remnants of cities. To make things even worse, now there is something happening to them in their sleep, something so strange and hideous that it’s hard to believe and forces them to watch over the sleep of their companions. Trust, already eroded, becomes even thinner and adds a layer of tension to an already hard existence.
While the couple has managed to protect themselves and their family, their luck ends when their six-year-old daughter, Bea, is abducted. What follows is a brutal narrative about two parents looking for their lost child in a world utterly devoid of comfort as things change around them and reality shifts from a bad place into one where the present collides with the history of how humanity came to an end.
The main premise of The Feed works well, and Windo is a talented author with a knack for anxiety and dialogue. The first act is set up in a way that helps readers become immersed in the post-apocalyptic world while getting familiarized with the characters, their backstory, and their current struggles. It also succeeds at showing how the world that used to be is remembered as survivors try to recapture some of what they had before the Feed was part of civilization:
Graham reminds them of the use of some words. He quivers between seriousness and glee as he describes how mem is to remember and how mundles are memories. Emotis are emotions. How to talk is to talk and not stream, which is a small river, like a brook.
Dealing with the collapse of civilization isn’t easy, but Windo handles it very well. The past is always there, the present is a nuance that must be survived, and the future is a big question mark that demands answers and a lot of work in order to be better than the present. Furthermore, the past here is one that bifurcates before the end of the book as readers learn of what brought about the end of the Feed. Here, again, Windo excels at creating an alternate reality and explaining what happened without bogging down the narrative. Throughout all of it, we are reminded of the current state of the world in a way that makes The Feed earn a place among great post-apocalyptic narratives:
Wind in their hair, touched by the faint smell of smoke. The village looks deserted. An ivy-choked sign asks them to drive carefully. A digital display telling them their speed stays blank. Advertising billboards line the road, naked now that there’s nothing to make the quickcodes anything but the reality of what they are: ink on weather-streaked paper, the augmented veil pulled away. The first house has been smashed. A curtain is sucked between window shards, in and out, like that for years. Dirt smears. There are haphazard cars in the streets. Tires flat. Windows crazed. Doors pulled from their hinges. There are old bones beside the hedgerows.
Despite everything it does well, there are some flaws in this novel that can’t be ignored. The first is the overuse of exclamation points, which is a problem in the first third of the book but disappears in the second and third parts. The second is a lack of clarity that comes from the multiple layers of the story. Without giving anything away, the story of those behind what happened is not explained as deeply and richly as everything else in the novel, which makes it pale in comparison to the rest of the elements that surround it. Lastly, while the descriptions are rich, they eventually become too much, giving the impression that the narrative would have worked just as well if it had been edited to come in at 250 pages instead of the 336 it currently has.
Despite those minor flaws, The Feed is a wild, entertaining read that brings together science fiction, adventure, literary fiction, and horror (the mutated dogs that appear throughout the book are an excellent, horrific touch that horror fans will undoubtedly enjoy). Also, Windo possesses great rhythm and picks up speed in every action passage, which makes every fight, Bea’s abduction, and even the finale a true pleasure to read. Ultimately, this is a novel for those who know what’s coming next but are curious about what comes after.
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Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. His reviews can be found in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Verbicide, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, HorrorTalk, The Brooklyn Rail, and other venues. Iglesias is PANK Magazine’s book reviews editor, Entropy Magazine’s film/television editor, and a columnist for LitReactor and Clash Media. His novels include Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter @Gabino_Iglesias