The addiction of information, the need to be connected, the nagging demand of that surging torrent of data tinged with the fear of being excluded should you not participate; the only thing worse than the Feed itself is being without it, of being cut off from the safety of the herd, but in the debut novel of Nick Clark Windo things are much worse than that, the loss of the Feed just one facet of the wider collapse of society which would not have occurred had the technology not existed.
Caught in the downfall are Tom and Kate; six years later they and their young daughter Bea live in a small struggling commune in what remains of the countryside, scrabbling for resources as the last canned goods are used up and forced to travel farther in hopes they will be able to find suitable cabling to fix their generator, all the while watching each other while they sleep to watch for signs.
They all have nightmares about the past, but sometimes they are more, heralds of an intrusion into the brains of those who used the Feed by the unknown forces who brought down the world, their first act the assassination of the President on live television when they possessed his bodyguard. The only way to protect against the Taken is to kill them immediately upon detection, as Tom knows too well, having killed what was left of his brother.
The ubiquity of social media and its impact upon society, deeper and greater than anyone could ever have predicted, cannot be denied, yet Windo’s book takes that for granted, never exploring how ingrained it has become in his society before vaulting into the future where the collapse has already taken place with a rapidity and completeness which would shock even those who ardently follow in the steps of The Walking Dead.
The idea of implants direct into the brain allowing access to communication networks is not new; Chris Brookmyre recently built a murder mystery around such an experimental system in Places in the Darkness while Sir Arthur C Clarke described the BrainCap over twenty years ago in 3001: The Final Odyssey; while he did not witness the social media revolution his customary foresight long ago led him to comment that allowing a fax machine in his home was the biggest mistake he ever made, and that technology did not lessen the demands on his time, it just made them more insistent.
How the world became so utterly reliant on the Feed to the point that many are functionally illiterate without it or how long it has existed is unexamined by Windo, his world building as thin as the survivors who forage for nuts in the undergrowth, and crucially neither is the technology underpinning the Feed addressed in any satisfactory fashion.
The ability to receive and transmit data within a strong wi-fi network may taken for granted, but with diminishing conviction the reader is expected to accept that within such a short time span that a trendy bistro in pre-collapse society remains recognisable as such that direct brain interface has been developed and perfected, that rather than a surgically implanted device it is biological and inheritable, that it is able to transmit copies of the brain state of the user, error free, using only power drawn from the body, and that it continues to do so without any network to carry the data the distance to the backup centre.
The Planet People of Quatermass mediated through the imprinting of Dollhouse‘s Epitaphs, the takeovers occurring while the individual sleeps brings Invasion of the Body Snatchers to mind, but while the situation Tom, Kate and their cohort endure might be expected to reflect the back-to-basics ethic of Survivors or the horror of The Girl With All the Gifts, Windo’s prose drones rather than evokes as he micromanages every movement and gesture of his barely drawn characters.
The son of the creator of the Feed, Tom was born to such privilege his brother’s wedding is described as “fireworks and a banquet and helicopters and musicians,” while former social media darling Kate is a nagging ungrateful shrew whose contribution is constant complaints and threats to leave if things do not improve, though quite where she will go is unclear, and without emotional context there is no reason to care about the child of strangers when she is kidnapped.
The supporting characters even less developed than the narrators, neither does a close encounter with one of the Taken enlighten, shrugging her shoulders as she spouts vacuous propaganda to justify the actions of her people, their destruction of the world acceptable as their intention had been noble. Dragged across three hundred and fifty pages devoid of urgency, the end of the world has never been so disappointing.