Neuromancer did not foretell the future. William Gibson’s novel, the work that brought “cyberpunk” out of the short stories and fringe elements of SF and into the limelight, it did not come true. It was not prophecy. What it captured, instead, was the feeling of a mostly young, angry, disaffected, hopeful, alienated segment of SF readers. If you were one of those young angry hopeful disaffected people when you read Neuromancer, it was a Damascus Road moment. (If you weren’t one of them, then you didn’t really get the big deal.) The skies opened and the holy blazing light of revelation fell upon you, and you were blinded by a truth too large to see. This., your heart raged from within you. This is mine.
I can’t tell for certain, but Mira Grant’s Feed might be some new generation’s Neuromancer.
I don’t say the new generation. I think the science fiction and fantasy reading world is too fragmented to have a universal truth dropped by a single book. But neither do I mean that Feed will be meaningful to A Few People simply because every book is meaningful to someone. I mean … I mean that Feed is going to be read by enough people who relate to the emotions in this book that they will integrate it, they will recognize it, they will adopt its messages and ways of thinking about the future as their own.
Feed is a story of hope the same way that Warren Ellis’s Global Frequency is one of the most profoundly hopeful humanist manifestos I have ever read in fiction. Hopeful the way James Alan Gardner’s Explorer Corps books are hopeful. Hopeful in a way that grabs you by the collar and slaps you a couple of times, shouting, “so what the holy fuck are you gonna do now?!” Feed does not condescend to the reader, it treats the reader like a grown-up who can by-god step up to the responsibilities of living honorably in a fucked-up world. This isn’t the hope-free individualism of Neuromancer, peering warily at the possibility of a world without nuclear holocaust. Nor is this the cynical opportunism of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, living off of pride when there’s nothing else left. Feed lunges at the reader demanding some frakking engagment. This isn’t a slouching sideways glance, a shrugged invitation to a cultural moment. Feed is bear-hugging you with the zeitgeist and doesn’t care much if you can’t catch your breath.
What is that zeitgeist? Zombies, certainly. The fear that, at any moment, the physical world will betray us and we will be revealed as our worst enemy. Take that for whatever metaphor you please — human destruction of the environment, antibiotic resistant diseases, GMO crops, hormone-addled food in our children, domestic terrorism, gays living next door, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you think might suddenly reveal itself to have been your enemy all along, that’s zombies. But zombies aren’t the only Thing Of The Moment in Feed. There’s a distrust bordering on disgust with top-down media. Yet there’s a yearning for, a search for a traditional institution in which one could place one’s trust. A Good Politician. The CDC. Feed also celebrates family of all sorts. Found family in the Mason siblings, found family in the bloggers. Traditional family in the Ryman’s. Family is interrogated, critiqued, and judged in Feed, with the conclusion that human connections are necessary and valuable and just as likely to get screwed up as any other thing — but that doesn’t make family something to abandon or throw away.
Feed is a book about hope. About trust and faith. It presents a world in which faith is perverted and trust is betrayed and good intention has caused global calamity, and that is no kind of reason to stop trusting or to lose faith.
This is not the cultural moment in which I came of age. I read Future on Fire in a train station in 1991 and I kept wiping the tears from my eyes because I could feel its alienation in every part of my being. (I was also eighteen years old and very melodramatic. These things happen.) That was a world of people completely unable to reach out to others around them, no matter how hard they tried. Feed presents a future in which alienation is completely justified, yet all the characters exist in a web of relationships that are at the core of their identities. The bloggers have no job or purpose without a world of people who care. The politicians have no votes without engaged people who care. Cynical or not, this is a world of people who are real because of their connections to each other.
I’m glad this is someone’s cultural moment. I’m glad that this is one possible zeitgeist, identified only in hindsight as we all glance back at it. Today is my daughter’s eighth birthday, and I would rather give her the future of Feed, zombies and imminent threat of death included, than the cold struggle for power and identity that belonged to Molly and Case.