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The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails and most haven't a clue how to survive.

There's a lot of really interesting material, here with Windo thinking through the implications of having instant mental access to a combination of Google, Facebook and cloud storage. People don't bother to learn to read and increasingly never interface directly with the ordinary world. They don't even speak. So when the Feed goes down permanently, their worlds are turned upside down, far more so than in a simple 'end of civilisation' tale.

To make matters worse, somehow people keep getting their minds swapped out by other entities while they sleep, leaving the original personality deleted and a new person in charge of their body. The explanation for this feels very far fetched (especially as it relies on a subset of the Feed, which somehow has been kept running despite the Feed (and power stations) totally collapsing - it's a bit like being able to use Facebook with no internet). However, after around page 220, as the explanation for this phenomenon is gradually revealed, it certainly does add interest, even if said explanation feels more like magic than technology.

Where it's good, The Feed very good - but there are an awful lot of drawn-out, descriptive pages, and huge swathes of tell-don't-show material, making big sections of this book unnecessarily hard work for the reader. Overall, though, I'm glad I persevered.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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