Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence: apocalypse in a young girl's diary


Once upon a time, I had an audiobook version of this novel. I can’t remember who read it, just that I picked it up at the same time I bought some Henry Rollins stuff at this weird bookstore back in the 1990s. It was amazing, because you didn’t notice until the very end how much her voice changed, the shift in cadence and emphasis and language.

I should read this again.

It’s a fun story of the collapse of civilization as we know it, but it is clearly an artifact of its time. As society is collapsing, the protagonist’s dad works at a bookstore. Pretty sure the few that remain would be the first to go as society collapses, not the last.

That’s it? Plot-wise, it’s not that big of a deal, it could be basically anywhere. If that’s the worst of it, and I think it is, I would say it’s weathered pretty well for a science-fiction book about the apocalypse.

Symbolically as well, it ties into the meta-epistolary (ugh) nature of the book. Her dad sells books, she’s inadvertently writing one. They’re both doomed. Toward the end of the book, Lola writes that the D-Cons were not named for being convicts who camped out on the D line of the subway, but that no one remembers anymore where their name actually came from.

I’ve been wondering about this for a while. My current theory is that it’s referring to literary deconstruction (de-cons), and that Womack is making some kind of allegorical point about the end of the novel. I have absolutely nothing to support this theory apart from matching two syllables, but if it’s true, the bookstore would be symbolically important.

Well, I suppose – but it wasn’t just the bookstore, it was more that Womack didn’t seem to know about the electronic world at all (which did exist at the time he wrote the book if not as common as today) – his supposedly near-future characters rely solely on books, tv, and newspapers for info. Not entirely his fault, I suppose, but nearly as jarring as encountering characters in Asimov plotting starship courses with a slide rule. Although your idea of it being possibly intentional is interesting.

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Also, it’s not clear that this is actually happening in the future. If you read the rest of the series, to which Random Acts… is a prequel despite being the fifth(?) entry, you find that the timeline has basically been completely screwed over by Dryco’s (Walmart but more evil) failed efforts to pillage history in a desperate attempt to revitalize the dying American Dream of consumerism. It’s a very surreal and bleak series which very much indulges in being a parallel universe to ours.

Anyway, I actually imagined Random Acts… taking place “today” (i.e. in the 90s) when I first read it, before reading the rest of the series. I don’t remember if there’s anything futuristic at all; no flying cars or anything. Just social inequality, feds, and meds.

It’s a shame that, even with William Gibson stumping for him, Jack Womack doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.

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Anti-anachronisms be damned. Womack’s universe is absurd in a variety of ways, yet intact and compelling.

The transformative aspects of this story are what make it so gripping. Imagine Anne Frank given the avenue of gang violence as a way “out”. Another absurdity, but desperation pins hope to all manner of insanity. The impact on Lola is credible an masterfully explored.

All the friends I’ve leant RASV to have cursed my name for what happened to their sleep cycle. Its so compelling sleep just won’t happen until all the pages have turned and the drama played out. Womack definitely deserves more recognition and you should read this book.

I actually rather love thinking up reasons why characters might have to plot starship courses with slide rules. “Hyperdrive makes computers fail due to EMP” is an obvious starting point.

This is a fucking great book. I use and endorse this product.

Yeah, Womack is sadly, sadly under-appreciated. I try to remedy this at all turns, but it’s a rough world.

If you read the rest of the series, to which Random Acts… is a prequel

Wait- WHAT? Hold the phone. What are the other books?!? Loved RAoSV, would love to read the rest.

Totally! I read Acts in middle school and didn’t learn about the series (purely out of chance) until college!

On the plus side, the rest of the series is just as weird and freaky as Acts; on the downside, they’re not nearly as well-written. In particular, Ambient, the first in the series, is pretty awful. Personally, I suggest Elvissey and Terraplane, in that order.

And make time to read them. I made the mistake of reading them during a business trip to Washington DC, and was terrified to step outside…

For the record, the series is (in publication order): Ambient; Terraplane; Heathern; Elvissey; Random Acts of Senseless Violence; Going, Going, Gone.

Fan-f-ing-tastic! Library, first thing tomorrow.

Thank you so much for that!

Y’all will be glad to know that there are now 7 holds on 2 copies at the PDX library; I have a feeling there were none before this article. :smile:

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Hello all,

Cory, the ID approval system at BB should drive 97 percent of trolls away through sheer tedium. But it worked! So tonight just wanted to drop in direct.

retchdog, I’m with you 100 percent on Ambient in most ways, though I know others disagree (the Manhattan into which Neuromancer’s characters could be dropped, pace William, is in fact Ambient’s Manhattan). It did afford me the opportunity to spin off from there into the rest of the series, which began coming to me as soon as I’d finished Ambient (whose original ending, I should note, was different, and in fact began setting up a couple things for later on. But I was told it was “too unbelievable” for the “boys’ adventure story” it was, as the Senior Editor thought. So I rewrote the last one-fourth or so, I can’t remember, in about two months and they were happy. It isn’t a good book, but it was definitely worsened).

(These were the same editors who, with Terraplane, told me I had to change a reference from “rap” to “blues,” as even in the future white college students would never listen to rap).

But the thing is lively, and gives a good idea of the Lower East Side in New York in 1977 but about twenty times worse – that was the rule of thumb I went by, the notional editor in me preventing me from ever conceiving what was obvious to some, NYC might get better(but see: Regooding). And, had I not written it, the concept of doing the police in different voices may not have occurred to me, at least in the way it did.

At its base, though, Ambient still provides the essential first glimpse of a conceivable future in which, for a while, every possible thing that could go wrong save for nuclear apocalypse does, and in which at every turn the response is wrong – often horribly wrong. That doesn’t happen in real life of course, and that’s why nobody can predict anything. The general shape of things down the road are always there for those who know how to look.

Thanks for all these sandwiches lately,

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