Here we have a neatly matched set of pop-culture compendia: the first a boring look backward, the other a shimmering glimpse of a weird new world. Jane and Michael Stern, ’60s hippies, behave like a character in their dull encyclopedia: Mr. Pigbristle (Bob Cummings), the nerdy anthropologist studying the teenagers’ folkways in the moronic flick Beach Party. He’s so intent on compiling his scholarly document that he misses out on all the fun. The Sterns do accumulate a few amusing factoids and glean some from better critics (their Star Trek entry is enlivened by massive quotation from Entertainment Weekly). But listen to their own numb prose: ”People love Bart Simpson because he’s an adorable mischief maker.” If you find this insight incisive, the Sterns should be your gurus.
Jane & Michael Stern’s Encyclopedia of Pop Culture: An A to Z Guide to Who’s Who and What’s What, from Aerobics and Bubble Gum to Valley of the Dolls and Moon Unit Zappa is a drag on a moldy old roach, but Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge is a gulp of roiling mad-scientist potation, a blast-off into next-century cyberspace that will squish your face into an accelerated grimace. Morphing and Eros and Chaos and fractals, shamans and robots and Sex Packet samplers — these are a few of their favorite things. In a cluttery computer-derived layout they zap you with the virtues of virtual reality, smart drugs, rave fashions, and blue-sky guys like Bill Gates, Bill Burroughs, and Bill Gibson (the respective creators of Microsoft, Naked Lunch, and cyberpunk fiction). Mondo is an ebulliently juvenile catalog, and bringing juveniles into your life is, as a pundit once put it, “like installing a bowling alley in your brain.” Encyclopedia: C Mondo 2000: A