Back to the tedious future

What’s more annoying than the magazine Mondo 2000? Mondo 2000, the book.

The Globe and Mail, February 3, 1993   

The Mondo 2000 User’s Guide To The New Edge

by Rudy Rucker, R.U. Sirius and Queen Mu

(HarperCollins, 317 pages, $26.75)


We’re standing right on the edge of a brave new world. The authors of The Mondo 2000 Guide to the New Edge live out there already, and now they’ve cranked out a book explaining it all for you, the latent Luddite.


By their lights, the brave new world is comprised of computers, second-hand music, computers, drugs, computers, robots, drugs, French literary theory, drugs, conspiracy theories, computers and more computers.


This brave new world is post-everything. In mondo 2000, there is no literature except for science fiction and “appropriation” by people like postmodern “author” Kathy Acker. William Burroughs is deemed a god-like figure because he manages to be a drug-sucking literary provocateur who writes science fiction, thereby scoring some kind of New Edge stand-up triple. Tomorrow’s soundtrack is a collage of other, older music, sampled and reprocessed and pre-masticated for your listening enjoyment. There is no art — only montages of found images scanned into graphics programs.


There is no reality. There is plenty of virtual reality, which is almost the same as plain old reality, but a lot less trouble, since you don’t have to leave the house.


The authors bravely contend that this is the information age, which it is, to a degree. Unfortunately, they have failed to notice that information is not always automatically good. Sometimes it’s dumb and making an effort to digest it is a waste of time. But these people see information as an end in and of itself. If information is good, then more of the same information is, naturally, better. And that helps explain why this book is so tedious. The same severely limited range of topics gets chewed over endlessly, though under slightly different names.


The only bad information is anything that is disseminated by The Media, which, as we all know, is a vast, monolithic, single-minded conspiracy bent on infecting everyone with its own decidedly non-groovy version of consensus reality. And opposing consensus reality is what this authorial triumvirate says its life and the New Edge are all about.


Calling them authors is overly generous. They did scribble some of the passages here. Mostly what they did was chop up back issues of the magazine they run — Mondo 2000 — and arrange them in this book.


Computers, we’re assured repeatedly, will save us all from consensus reality and its attendant evils. And if our computers should become momentarily boring, well, psychotropic drugs work almost as well.


There’s a cheery, maddeningly naïve optimism glinting through every sentence. Much of this book is reminiscent of 1948 editions of Popular Mechanics magazine wherein it was fearlessly predicted that by 1960 we would all the taking the transatlantic undersea train to Paris in two hours and using our personal atomic gyrocopters to zap off to Moscow for lunch on weekdays.


The book is laid out in a fractured way. Being non-linear is very much a point of pride out on the Frontier of Tomorrow. It’s also convenient, because it renders any demand for coherence, intellectual rigor or reasoning pointless. The principal factoids and info-nuggets run down the left side of each page. The right side of the page contains explanatory blurbs meant to help the uninitiated figure out what’s being talked about in the verbiage on the left. The cumulative effect is like trying to watch a documentary on videotape while somebody else hits the pause button every 15 seconds to explain what you’re looking at.


There you are, zapping along in the amoral, postmodern ether of tomorrow, or just rapping in the airless confines of the Cyberspace Mindless Fellowship Pavilion when suddenly one of the authors starts talking like a stoned high school student circa 1973.


In this case, Mr. Sirius: “It’s an article of faith among denizens of the New Edge that we are living in media saturation, where simulations of the real have utterly replaced the real. For us, the media — both the one-way broadcasting media and the interactive media — are a playground and battleground for competing fantasies. Media pranksters use the mass media’s appetite for the sensational, and its inevitable reduction of experience and information to lowest-common-denominator clichés, as a way of getting attention for our own activities, and as a way of exposing the utter fraud of modern politics.” On the heavy profundity scale, that statement — like countless others throughout the book — is distressingly close to “No man, rully . . . have you ever, like, rully looked at your hands, man?”


Every page of this book contains one person or another putting a frighteningly inordinate amount of faith in what is, after all, only a tool. And the fact that psychoactive drugs alter one’s perceptions by briefly jiggering one’s brain chemistry does not alter certain stubbornly consistent facts about bad old consensus reality. Plenty of people are convinced they can fly as a result of swallowing a lot of LSD, just as they may believe they can fly as a result of spending too much time locked in the virtual-reality mode of some computer. But when they hit ground at 120 feet per second it becomes obvious that sometimes consensus reality just won’t be made to understand how darned old-fashioned and outmoded it is.