The Big Idea: R.W.W. Greene
Author R.W.W. Greene has someone he wants you to meet. It’s a person — well, entity — you’ve met before. And for Greene’s new novel Twenty Five to Life, it’s someone who was very important in setting the stage for the events detailed therein.
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb! – Allen Ginsberg, Howl, Part II
Moloch – be he a god, a demon, or a method of human sacrifice (claims vary) – is an asshole. Ginsberg used Moloch as a metaphor for consumerism; Karl Marx pegged him as a stand-in for capital. No matter how he’s invoked, the big guy represents our willingness to borrow against the future to make our present more comfortable… throw the kids (preferably not our own but, ya know, The Other Kids) right on the fire so we can have a bigger flatscreen and a vacation home. Note: Our own kids will do just fine if no one else’s are handy.
Moloch has his fingers all over human nature, which is why we’re living and writing about him ALL. THE. TIME. Twenty years of illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our kids will never stop paying for? Check. Coughing up kidneys and lungs to keep senior citizens alive in the short story, Caught in the Organ Draft? Yep. Underfunding public schools to keep our taxes low? Hells, yeah! Two kids from every district volunteered yearly as tribute in The Hunger Games? You betcha. Mainlining petrol in spite of scientists warning us about climate change for fifty fucking years? Right there, pal! Taking a hard pass on gun-law reform in wake of school shootings? Moloch, baby!
Our simmering, half-chuckling fear of robots and AI stems partly from him, too. We want our electronic children to do all the work that’s too dirty, dull, and dangerous for our soft hands, and the idea they might want something else scares the hell out of us. But screw ’em, right? We’ll be dead by then, after a long happy life of padded toilet seats, home ownership, and cheap electricity.
This reverence for Mighty Morphin’ Moloch is the motor behind Twenty-Five to Life, a book I banged out over the past decade and that Angry Robot kindly offered to publish. The number in the title refers to the new age of majority in the world of the book. To protect the economic and political power of the longer-and-longer-lived older generations, The Kids can’t vote or even move out of their parents’ houses until they are twenty-five years old. There’s some science behind it – adolescent brains don’t really set firm until that age – and, besides, who cares what the kids want? Youth is wasted on the young. Give them agency, and they’ll spend it all on avocado toast and earbuds.
The ‘fictional’ years leading up to the events of Twenty-Five to Life reek of Moloch. Climate change! Protagonist Julie’s ancestors could have raced to address it one-hundred and fifty years before but kept kicking the can down the road in the name of convenience and the economy. Instead, they lived through a slow apocalypse that kept Greta Thunberg up all night instead of doing things that kids ought to be doing. (Necking behind the windmill farm, maybe. Smoking pot under the solar array.) Post-Gen Y generations moved inland and rewrote the Farmer’s Almanac because their elders and Moloch were too busy K-I-S-S-I-N-G the future away to care.
A big chunk of post-apocalyptic sci-fi came true in 2020. We peered over our masks at a world that looked all too familiar because we’d read it or watched it in a film a dozen times or more. Isaac Asimov, a problematic creator but a creator nonetheless, and an icon of the sci-fi genre said (or wrote), “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable.” Steven Spielberg, less an icon, maybe, but also less problematic, said of the genre, “Every science fiction movie I have ever seen, any one that’s worth its weight in celluloid, warns us about things that ultimately come true.”
Good sci-fi comes true. I won’t bestow the title of ‘good’ on myself, but here’s the Big Idea behind Twenty-Five to Life: If you are under forty right now, today, Moloch is drinking your milkshake and grinning his ass off. Sorry ’bout that.