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April 2001
 
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Teenocracy by Robert Shirley (1969)

In a huge stadium, before a bloodthirsty crowd of screaming adolescents, under the eye of network television cameras, the ex- popstar President of the United States forces his Cabinet members to risk their lives playing Russian Roulette in the ultimate test of their loyalty.

An episode from those Generation Gap thinkpieces, Logan's Run (1967) or Wild in the Streets (1968)? Perhaps one of the scenarios from DC Comics's short-lived 1973 title Prez, featuring the "first teen president"? No, this moment of alarmist hyperbole comes from Robert Shirley's Teenocracy, a campily compelling future history whose retrospective unlikelihood reveals just how wrong a linear sf projection can be.

In 1979 came the great Teen Strike, propelling a rocker known only as the Fab into the Presidency of the USA, hereafter renamed the United Teenocracy. Stripped of the vote, oldsters are not otherwise persecuted, and twelve years onward the ruling teens mainly indulge themselves in hedonism ("hepsi" is the artificial aphrodisiac of choice, which leads to "coiting") while the economy hums smoothly along. The Fab's Veep, Ken Catto---aka, King Cat--- is the real star of this novel, a conflicted ex-teen whose subtle rebellion against his power-mad friend forms the main narrative.

Shirley convincingly portrays home VCRs, a proto-internet, virtual reality, genetic engineering, and rampant American imperialism and consumerism (the "Secretary of Style" is an important office). But such antique riffs as "panty raids" and the secession of Mississippi, along with his reality-blindsided doomsaying, ultimately make us say, "Don't trust any novels over thirty."

—Paul Di Filippo

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