Monday, August 16, 2010

Robert Anton Wilson the "science fiction writer"

Robert Anton Wilson wrote that he and Robert Shea never thought of ILLUMINATUS! as science fiction. Yet, it's interesting to note that every one of his novels were published as part of some publisher or another's science fiction line, and produced by editors in the science fiction world.

ILLUMINATUS! was published as part of Dell's science fiction line and edited by science fiction editors such as David Harris. Jim Frenkel, a well-known science fiction editor, worked to keep the books in print. (More about that soon.)

The three books in the SCHROEDINGER'S CAT trilogy were published as science fiction by Pocket Books. The editor was David Hartwell, a well-known science fiction editor. I am re-reading the cat trilogy now, and I do notice that Wilson referred to it as a "science fiction comedy" and refers to himself as a science fiction writer. MASKS OF THE ILLUMINATI also was published as Pocket science fiction. It's been years since I read it, but at the time, it did not strike me as a science fiction novel.

Even the "historical Illuminatus" books were put out by science fiction publishers. Frenkel was the editor of THE WIDOW'S SON, and the copyeditor was Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a prominent science fiction copyeditor (and a well-known science fiction fan.)

Whatever one thinks of the science fiction genre in general, it is undeniable that science fiction provided RAW with a literary home. It's interesting to compare his career with that of his friend Philip K. Dick, who for many years could only get his novels published because science fiction publishers were willing to publish them.

Can anyone tell me how Wilson reacted, in his later years, when the "science fiction writer" label was put upon him?

71 comments:

michael said...

This appears to me as a heady topic. First off, there's those bits in Illuminatus! and other places about labeling being akin to killing in some psycholinguistical-metaphysical sense. RAW told me he thought only SCT was SF. There were other interviews and times when he was happily SF. He also remarked that his non-fic found its way into some SF sections in bookstores. When once he noted he had been in "New Age" then noted he'd been found in "Philosophy" he thought it a definite upgrade from being shelved next to Wittgenstein and not Von Daniken...I think PKD's injection of phenomenological sociological themes sort of inadvertently caught RAW up on PKD's coat-tails, and dragged into SF. But then RAW LOVED SF, esp Stapledon. (RAW credits Stapledon for coining "mystical agnostic," a term RAW later applied to himself.) And he was definitely infl by Heinlein. (see Wagner's Insider's Guide!)RAW has tried to claim that SCT was the "first cyberpunk novel." SF has been commonly referred to as the "golden ghetto" by some publishers (sorry to get too didactic here), illustrating the ambivalence some Intellectuals felt toward this "genre." (see Cosmic Trigger 2, 159-160: RAW sez SF and "fantasy" as "merchandising labels." He adds "I would call my books 'gonzo ontology' and 'postmodernist slapstick.'") At a very young age RAW gave a talk and asserted that Finnegans Wake and science fiction were the only "modern" literature! (<---the young provocateur RAW) But all-in-all, I see RAW as more of a Surrealist, but that's only my weirdo opinion, as of this day, 16 Aug, '10.

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