More Bruce Sterling:
This poem, the “Mountain Wreath” [by 19th-century Montenegrin Serb Petar Njegoš], is mostly about tribal patriarchs flying into a righteous rage and cutting each other’s heads off. It’s very like the Iliad in that way; it’s full of noble perorations that are mostly along the line of, “Rascal, you’ve done something unbearable for years now, and I was constrained to get involved in this awful mess you’ve created; but this time it’s personal. So, prepare yourself: I’m taking your head, your pistols, your horses and all your women, and I may even burn your farm.” In the context of this artwork, it’s certainly the right thing to do. It’s the definitive thing to do; it’s how you know you’re alive.
Then you compare that artwork — written by an aristocrat, an authority figure in deadly moral earnest — to this kind of ontological-trickster writing, this kind of “What is Reality, Mr Njegos,” postmodern gendankenexperiment, of which me and my sci-fi colleagues are so enduringly fond… Well, keen as I am to write that stuff, it can seem like pretty thin soup.
There are mountain guys in Pakistan and Afghanistan who think just like Mr Njegos now. They’re not going away. They’re not even losing their wars, and they’ve got the highest birth-rates on Earth.