Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why wasn't Bride finished?

So, have you all read the excerpt from Robert Anton Wilson's unfinished sequel to ILLUMINATUS!, Bride of Illuminatus? It was published in "Trajectories 14," and you can get the PDF to read it yourself here. (Look on page 16).

I have to admit, I wasn't blown away when I read it. I expected it to be a little better. The jokes about feminists, e.g. "You will just have to make a few mental adjustments — as the sultan said the feminist" got a little old for me, and in general it did not seem very inspired.

Could it be that Wilson himself didn't think Bride was very inspired? Could that be why he didn't finish it? Or did everyone else love the excerpt more than I did?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Robert Anton Wilson: An influence on Dan Brown?

From SF book editor Jim Frenkel:

"I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Dan Brown, and movies like National Treasure were inspired by the Illuminatus! trilogy and other books that were inspired by some of the same earlier source material."

And Lance Bauscher, director of the "Maybe Logic" movie, says, "This whole DaVinci Code thing with Dan Brown, I mean, that's all Bob's material."

Some background: Dan Brown is of course the enormously successful author of The Da Vinci Code and other books. The Da Vinci Code, which came out in 2003, draws heavily on Holy Blood. Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Robert Anton Wilson referenced Holy Blood, Holy Grail long before The Da Vinci Code; for example, the book is quoted at the beginning of RAW's 1982 novel, The Earth Will Shake.

Brown's Angels and Demons includes the Illuminati in the plot. The Lost Symbol involves the freemasons. There is a general tone in Brown's works of dealing with secret societies.

Brown was sued for plagiarism by Baigent and Leigh, but not Lincoln. Brown, who had been quite open and honest about the influence of Holy Blood on his own book, won the suit. (The people who sued him can only be described as ingrates, because Brown's book gave a big boost to their own.) I would guess this experience would make it even less likely that Brown would acknowledge Robert Anton Wilson's influence, if there was one.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More on RAW and Buddhism

As I mentioned recently, Robert Anton Wilson's essay "Left and Right: A Non-Euclidean Perspective" (reprinted in Email to the Universe) is a particularly interesting guide to Wilson's thought.

Wilson writes that after experimenting with psychedelics during the 1960s, "I began serious study of other conciousness-altering systems, including techniques of yoga, Zen, Sufism and Cabala. I, alas, became a 'mystic' of some sort, although still within the framework of existentialism-phenomology-operationalism. But, then, Buddhism -- the organized mystic movement I find least objectionable -- is also existentialist, phenomenologist and operationalist ... "

Earlier in the essay, Wilson cites existentialsm, phenomelogy and operational logic as important influences upon him, along with Nietzsche and General Semantics.

I could not find a Wikipedia article that explains operational logic, but in his essay, Wilson explains that "Operational logic (as formulated by the American physicist Percy Bridgman and recreated by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr as the Copenhagen interpretation of science) seemed the approach to modern science that appealed to me ... The Bridgman-Bohr meta-modern rejects as 'meaningless' any statements that do not refer to concrete experiences of human beings. (Bridgman was influenced by Pragmatism, Bohr by Existentialism). Operationalism also regards all proposed 'laws' only as maps or models that are useful for a certain time. Thus, Operationalism seems the one 'philosophy of science' that warns us, like Nietzsche and Husserl, only to use models where they're useful and never to elevate them into Idols or dogmas."

Compare Wilson's warning to "only use models where they're useful" to the Buddhist parable, which I referenced here, that a raft is for "getting across," not for carrying on one's back.

Here is the Buddhist Parable of the Raft:

13. “I shall show you, monks, the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose ofcrossing over, not the purpose of being clung to. Listen, monks, and heed well what I shallsay”—“Yes, Lord,” replied the monks. And the Blessed One spoke thus:

“Suppose, monks, there is a man journeying on a road and he sees a vast expanse of water, ofwhich this shore is perilous and fearful, while the other shore is safe and free from danger. Butthere is no boat for crossing nor is there a bridge for going over from this side to the other. Sothe man thinks: ‘This is a vast expanse of water; and this shore is perilous and fearful, but theother shore is safe and free from danger. There is, however, no boat here for crossing, nor abridge for going over from this side to the other. Suppose I gather reeds, sticks, branches andfoliage, and bind them into a raft.’ Now, that man collects reeds, sticks, branches and foliage,and binds them into a raft. Carried by that raft, laboring with hands and feet, he safely crossesover to the other shore. Having crossed and arrived at the other shore, he thinks: ‘This raft,indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, laboring with hands and feet, I got safelyacross to the other shore. Should I not lift this raft on my head or put it on my shoulders, and gowhere I like?’

“What do you think about it, O monks? Will this man by acting thus, do what should be donewith a raft?”—“No, Lord”—“How then, monks, would he be doing what should be done with araft? Here, monks, having got across and arrived at the other shore, the man thinks: ‘This raft,indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, and laboring with hands and feet, I got safelyacross to the other shore. Should I not pull it up now to the dry land or let it float in the water,and then go as I please?’ By acting thus, monks, would that man do what should be done with a raft?

“In the same way, monks, have I shown to you the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as havingthe purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to."

Citation: Nyanaponika Thera's translation of the Alagaddūpama Sutta.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Falcon is on Facebook

New Falcon Publications, which has done such a nice job of keeping Robert Anton Wilson and many of his allies in print, has a Facebook page. I've signed up as a follower, because I hope that will help me keep up with the publisher's announcements.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ken MacLeod on RAW

Ken MacLeod, the brilliant Scottish science fiction writer, posted about Robert Anton Wilson after Wilson died.

MacLeod wrote that when he first read ILLUMINATUS! 30 years ago, he couldn't put it down, and was surprised to find he couldn't get into it when he had tried to re-read it recently. (This has not been my experience; it always seems fresh to me.)

But what I mainly wanted to record here is MacLeod's observations about two of Wilson's concepts.

I've read bits and pieces of RAW's non-fiction, mainly the pamphlet Natural Law and the book Prometheus Rising. What stuck in my memory were two concepts: the reality tunnel, and the SNAFU principle. The 'reality tunnel' refers to the tendency to notice only what confirms our beliefs. The SNAFU principle points out that in a hierarchy, each person tends to tell their superior what the superior wants to hear, i.e. what confirms their beliefs. By the time information reaches the top of a hierarchy it may be degraded beyond recognition. These two ideas explain much that is otherwise incomprehensible. We tend to assume that, whatever else may be said about them, our leaders are better informed than we are. If RAW's insight is correct, they are likely to be far worse informed than the average citizen. (See? Suddenly, it all makes sense!)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A wonderful quote from RAW

The other day as I was going through EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSE, I ran across this sentence:

Everything I write, in one way or another, is intended to undermine the metaphysical and linguistic systems which seem to justify some Authorities in limiting the freedom of the human mind or initiating coercion against the non-coercive.

As a one sentence summary of Wilson's political and philosophical beliefs, this seems hard to beat. (From "Left and Right: A Non-Euclidian Perspective," an essay which repays careful reading.) EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSE is one of my favorite RAW books

According to this posting from Dan Clore, the essay was first published in "Critique: A Journal of Conspiracies and Metaphysics, #27" in 1988. The original version of the essay says it was written after an invitation from the journal's editor, Bob Banner; for some reason, the reference to Banner is removed from the reprint in EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSE (perhaps to make the point that Wilson is writing for everyone, and not just the readers of one particular journal?)

Friday, September 24, 2010

True facts about the evil Illuminati!

Steve Jackson Games, run by folks who seem to be ILLUMINATUS! fans, has a list of "50 Awful Things about the Illuminati." A couple of items on the list: "5. They control the schools in order to make sure that young people learn to enjoy strange tuneless music and weird outlandish games, and that they dress oddly." And: "26. They keep everyone -- yes, everyone -- under constant surveillance. Every time you fill out another questionnaire, you're weaving another strand of the net that binds the world."

It might seem almost impossible that anyone could take this list seriously, but maybe you just love America less than right wing radio broadcaster named Robert A. Hender Jr. Here is his blog posting solemnly linking to the Steve Jackson Games expose, and here is his autobiography, where Mr. Hender reveals that he can "see or recognize things that most people miss."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A RAW quote from Wales

I've wanted for years to visit Wales, so I was pleased to run across a blog written by a Welsh librarian who is a big Robert Anton Wilson fan. (The header of Anon the Librarian's unattributed ideas blog refers to Wilson's Snafu principle that "Accurate communication is only possible between equals," so I don't think I'm going out on a limb here.)

Anyway, Anon's latest posting has a particularly choice Wilson quote:

"When I was working on my historical novels, my wife used to collect old encyclopedias. Every time she was at a bookstore they had an old set of encyclopedias and she’d buy it. And so we had about eight different sets of encyclopedias in the house. So every time I wanted to look up a historical detail, I’d look it up in three or four of the encyclopedias and always—it didn’t take as much as three—usually only two I’d find a disagreement.

"If I went through all eight encyclopedias, I’d find eight different answers. Like how old was Mozart when he wrote his first symphony? – he was either 7 or 8 depending on which encyclopedia you’re looking in. This is what provoked me to what I call “Wilson’s 22nd Law: Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only own one encyclopedia. If you own more than one you’d be thoroughly encountering a certain amount of doubt and a certainty about things in general.” There is no one reliable source; there are a dozen different sources all claiming to be reliable. You got to use your own ingenious mind, and your own talent for analysis and skepticism to try and figure out “Which one of these guys really sounds like he might know what he’s talking about?” or “Which one should I bet on?”

"Every act of perception should be regarded as a gamble. From the experiments I’ve done and the experiments I’ve led and in my workshops and seminars, that has become overwhelmingly obvious and true to me. Every perception is a gamble.The major problem with the US is that about fifty percent of the population who at least thinks The Bible has all the answers. And then there are libertarians who think Ludwig van Mises has all the answers—except for all the ones who thinks Ayn Rand has all the answers. If you think there’s one book that has the answers, you’re never really going to discover anything and you’re never going to think an original thought. If you find out there’s twelve books with different answers you’re almost forced to start thinking. So I feel the internet is forcing more and more people to do something they have never done in their lives before and just try to make an independent judgment and how to judge between alternatives."

The provenance of the quote unfortunately isn't clear, as you can see from the discussion in the comments between Anon and myself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Campbell announces new Maybe Logic course

Bobby Campbell announces Maybe Logic course called The Global Village. "An 8 week adventure in understanding media via theory and practice," he explains. "This flabbergasting journey through the information age will explore and experiment with the state of the art in communication, culture and commerce." More information here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

John Clute's RAW obituary

Until Monday, as I was researching another blog posting, I did not realize that John Clute, the prominent English critic of science fiction, had written an obituary for Robert Anton Wilson.

The obit, which you can read here, combines what I've noticed in other Clute efforts: Penetrating insight, with a certain carelessness about facts. The obituary states that Robert Shea died in 1983, a serious error that wipes out Shea's post-Illuminatus! literary career, and something that could be easily fact-checked in the age of the Internet. (Shea died in 1994, at age 61.)

But let's concentrate, rather, on Clute's appreciation for Wilson's writings, including this lucid explanation of fnords: "The term "fnord", which he coined, is all about this. A fnord is a subliminal message that causes anxiety in those who encounter it embedded in stories or other material our masters want us to avoid or deny. The best way to allay this anxiety is not to think about these matters. In joke treatises and tales, into which slyly he infiltrates perfectly serious concerns, Wilson argued for decades that it was necessary for all of us to "see the fnords" that entangle our lives, and to cut free of them."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Discussions of ILLUMINATUS!

At the Science Fiction Books site, ILLUMINATUS! sparks a discussion among several readers. I'm with Jennifer Kephart, who says, "It was this book that led me to other works by Wilson, which then led me to read literature on subjects ranging from quantum physics to mass psychology. Wilson in general, and The Illuminatus! Trilogy in particular, are in and of themselves singular methods of expanding one’s mind."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rocking along with Bob

Although Robert Anton Wilson's published statements on music mostly expressed interest in classical music and jazz, he once collaborated with a punk rock band in Ireland, the Golden Horde, on the band's second recording project. "The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy!" released in 1985, had six songs (or eight, depending on whether one bought the version with cassette bonus tracks), and is usually described as an "album," although to me it seems short enough to qualify as an EP. notes, "Co-credited to Robert Anton Wilson, who supplied both vocals and lyrics. The UK edition entered the UK indie charts on 12 April 1986 and spent four weeks on the charts, peaking at the highly appropriate number 23." The web site describes the band as "Dublin's leading garage/trash punk band."

Songs from the album may be downloaded here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More RAW material from The Realist

"Bandito" (aka Mike Gathers) has been working hard to make more Robert Anton Wilson material, via the pages of The Realist (see this and this), and he has just published an update at

Here's the latest, from a posting at a couple of days ago:

"The Anatomy of Schlock" by A Nonymous Hack
This article was published the in _The Best of The Realist_ by RAW
without the pseudonym.

Also: a longer version of the Ellis interview by Wilson & Krassner:
From Ethan, the one who maintains The Realist Archive:
"JUMPING IMMEDIATELY to the rare RAW item: We're aware of the good
Robert Anton Wilson community interest in this archive. So here, for
you, is a complete scan off the very rare booklet: "An Impolite
Interview Interview with Albert Ellis" which expands the material
from Realist #16 into a full 32 page document, and was only
distributed via mail order. Also includes Alan Watts and Lenny Bruce
pages, and a surprising list of upcoming Realist interviews. Some of
these interviews happened, some did not. The list is interesting."

Friday, September 17, 2010

And Insight Meditation, too, perhaps?

PROMETHEUS RISING, a must-read for Wilson fans, has a final chapter that shows have various forms of brain change and/or meditative practices are similar to each other. Throughout the book, Wilson makes references to traditions as diverse as Zen Buddhism, Christian Science, Hinduism and Sufi Islam.

He doesn't mention the school of Buddhism I am most familiar with, known as Theravada in southern Asian and generally referred to as Insight Meditation in the U.S. In a sense, that fits with the fact that Insight Meditation is almost an "underground" school of Buddhism. It doesn't get the endless press inspired by Tibetan Buddhism or Zen Buddhism, although it is home to a rich collection of Buddhist scriptures and philosophy. But when I read the book, I related many of its teachings to what I have learned through Buddhism. In fact, the book has helped inspire me to resume my practice.

Information about Insight Meditation is available here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

RAW's recommended reading list

Following up on yesterday's post, here is Robert Anton Wilson's recommended book list, as taken from the Books section of the official Web site. Again, Wilson says, "Not the 'best' or even my favorites, exactly: Just the bare minimum of what everybody needs to chew and digest before they can converse intelligently about the 21st Century. In cases where it is possible, I have linked to free versions on the Internet

3. FINNEGAN'S WAKE, James Joyce.
4. THE CANTOS, Ezra Pound.
5. MACHINE ART, Ezra Pound.
6. SELECTED PROSE, Ezra Pound.
7. HARLOT'S GHOST, Norman Mailer.
8. GO DOWN, MOSES, William Faulkner.
10. THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES, Karl Popper (two volumes).
13. CHAOS AND CYBERCULTURE, Timothy Leary, Ph.D.
14. CRITICAL PATH, R. Buckminster Fuller.
16. DIGITAL McLUHAN, Paul Levinson.
17. SAHARASIA, James DeMeo, Ph.D.
18. SCIENCE AND SANITY, Alfred Korzybski.

See also Eric Wagner's chapter, "Appendix Resh, Brain Books," in his AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO ROBERT ANTON WILSON.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Join the Reich reading session

Devoted Robert Anton Wilson scholar Michael Johnson has organized an effort to read and discuss THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM by Wilhelm Reich. Johnson started this week and plans to average a chapter a week. (The book is on Robert Anton Wilson's "recommended book list" at the official Web site. Wilson explained, "Not the "best" or even my favorites exactly: just the bare minimum of what everybody really needs to chew and digest before they can converse intelligently about the 21st Century.")

Discussion of the Reich book at is here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Robert Shea on Kindle -- and ILLUMINATUS! too

Via the official Robert Shea web site, maintained by his son Mike Shea, comes the news that many of Shea's novels are available for Kindle from Amazon. (Follow the links from the site.) Note that many of Shea's novels are still available free (for private reading) from the Robert Shea site, under the Creative Commons novel. (I plan to read ALL THINGS ARE LIGHTS soon; I understand it is the Shea solo novel most closely connected to ILLUMINATUS!) And, by the way, I learned via the site that the Kindle version of ILLUMINATUS! is available for only $9.99. (Note that Kindle files can work on a variety of devices, not just the Kindle itself.)

A search for "Robert Anton Wilson" in the Kindle store turns up ILLUMINATUS!, the "Cat" trilogy, MASKS OF THE ILLUMINATI and EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL. Why not make the New Falcon books available there, too?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fly Agaric 23 announces online RAW course

Steve "Fly Agaric" 23 has announced a new online course, "email to the tribe," which will run from Sept. 20 through Nov. 5 and will feature weekly doses of multimedia; participants are asked to donate what they can.

Agaric explains, "Each week fly will provide a spread of multimedia for you to process, generally keeping in step with the program, encouraging a wide variety of conversation and focused feedback. Feel free to drop in and drop out, as you like."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

PROMETHEUS RISING: The key to Wilson's novels?

I am almost finished with PROMETHEUS RISING, and it's fascinating. While I am dubious about some of Wilson's theories, it's book that has a great deal of interesting material, and it seems to put a great many of Wilson's ideas together in one place. I would argue that if someone became interested in Wilson through his fiction, and wanted to know where to go next, it would be logical to read PROMETHEUS and the three "Cosmic Trigger" books.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

So are we pagans?

I've never thought of myself as a pagan, or thought of Robert Anton Wilson as a pagan. But some Internet humor that's been making the rounds, "The Field Guide to Neo-Paganism," posted by The Mad Angry Pagan, name checks RAW.

The satiric guide attempts to describe different kinds of neo-pagans. This is the entry for "Discordian Neo-Anarchist":

"Argumentative. Infuriating. Goes on philosophical tangents for hours, only to lead the discussion into obsurdities that make your brain hurt to think about them. Smiles too much. Laughs too much, especially at things that are *NOT* funny. Makes fun of everyone's sacred cows, especially yours. Is iconoclastic to the point of cliche'. Rants and raves about huge conspiracies and secret centuries-old organizations.
Distinguishing Signs: Yin/yang pendant with a pentacle and big yellow apple inside. Carries around any books by Douglas Adams or Robert Anton Wilson. Refuses to take themselves - or anyone else - seriously."

A couple of the other categories also mention RAW and/or Discordianism. Hail Eris!

Friday, September 10, 2010

ILLUMINATUS! and synchronicities

On their Synchonicity blog, Trish and Rob MacGregor post about a letter they received from a writer friend, Peter Levenda, who explains that he recently re-read the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy and then ran across a New York Times crossword puzzle which included an entry about Ingolstadt. Scroll down the comments for the blog postings to read the entries by "cj," who discusses Freemasonry and the Illuminati as a self-described "insider."

I had never heard of Trish and Rob MacGregor until I ran across their blog, but they are quite successful writers (each of them has won an Edgar award). Their Synchronicity blog is tied to their latest book, THE SEVEN SECRETS OF SYNCHRONICITY. A few hours after spotting their blog posting, my wife and I visited Quarter Moon Books and Gifts, a small bookstore on Topsail Island, N.C., with a small selection of books, and I almost immediately found their book. After I glanced at it, I put it back on the shelf. Then I thought for some reason that I ought to look at it again, so I opened it up and looked at the acknowledgements, which thank their agent, Al Zuckerman. Zuckerman was also Robert Anton Wilson's literary agent; I tried to call him last week to ask for an interview and left him a message on his voicemail.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Martin Gardner and Robert Anton Wilson

Over at, Michael Johnson has started a thread about the late science writer Martin Gardner, who died this year, and what Robert Anton Wilson thought of him. Johnson reposts a tribute to Gardner by Howard Schneider, which includes this paragraph:

While Gardner could be very funny in print, I don't recall his ever
cracking a joke in any of my conversations with him. Nevertheless, he
had what I think of as a heartland earnestness (he was born and raised
in Oklahoma) that I found endearing. He once, very kindly, agreed to
read part of a novel I was working on. (He praised what I showed him,
which I'm still proud of.) To tease him, I situated one of the book's
more outre episodes in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he was
then living. He wrote back and resolutely explained why Hendersonville
was the wrong site for the shenanigans I depicted because it was a
really nice, sophisticated place inhabited by many intelligent
Northerners. Another time, when I was chatting with Gardner on the
phone, I said that I had recently been present at a lecture by Robert
Anton Wilson (the writer and somewhat eccentric science and societal
pundit) and when I had asked a question and mentioned Gardner's name,
Wilson had drubbed him with some snarlingly bilious remarks. "He hates
me!" Gardner exclaimed, but he seemed more upset that I had to endure
Wilson's bad manners than with his petulant comments.

There follows a discussion by various Wilson scholars. "Psmith" writes, "I don't think Bob Wilson hated Gardner. Bob wrote positive comments about Gardner's intellectual puzzles. Bob disliked Gardner's advocacy of censorship and Gardner's unscientific attitudes towards Reich and
other unconvential thinkers."

The name of the novelist "Marvin Gardens" in the "Cat" trilogy seems pretty similar to Gardner's name.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why no citations for Prometheus Rising?

I'm on vacation in North Carolina, and I've been spending part of my time reading PROMETHEUS RISING, a fascinating book (I'd never read it before).

In his "Preface to the Second Edition," Wilson writes that the book began as a Ph.D. dissertation for Paideia University. "I decided to rewrite the manuscript in a more commercial form," he says. "The first change consisted of removing all of the footnotes (about two of them per sentence) which gave the original a truly academic stink but would annoy the average reader."

The final version of the book, or at least my copy, lacks any sort of notes at all. Isn't that a missed opportunity? I get the point of removing the footnotes, but many of the nonfiction books I read (such as THE INHERITANCE OF ROME by Chris Wickam, one of the other books I brought along on vacation) have no footnotes, but detailed notes in the back, tied to page numbers. That way a reader has an uninterrupted text but can explore more deeply if he bothers to turn to the back of the book. An index for PROMETHEUS RISING would have been nice, too.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Catalog of Robert Anton Wilson rarities

Weiser Antiquarian Books has an entire online catalog devoted to rarities by Robert Anton Wilson. "The books in this catalog demonstrate the diversity of Wilson's interests, and his long career," the catalog notes.

Hat tip to Bobby Campbell for pointing this out to me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Maybe Logic": The movie

For many people who take the time to read this blog, it will not be news that a documentary about Robert Anton Wilson was released in 2003. It's called "Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson." I finally saw it a few days ago, when I checked it out of the local library. I enjoyed it, and recognized some familiar names in the credits. DVDs of the movie are still available via Amazon, and Netflix offers it for rent. The official site is here.

IMDB links to only two reviews. At Variety, Dennis Harvey wrote: "A crash course in one influential thinker's wide-ranging concepts, "Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson" is neither an ideal introduction nor a particularly skilful piece of filmmaking. Still, docu by Lance Bauscher retains interest through the liveliness of subject's personality and musings -- even if they're captured in what amounts to 82 minutes of talking-head interviews and old lecture footage. Home-format sales are logical outlet." Film Threat's Daniel Wible called it "well worth a look, especially if you’ve never even heard of the guy."

The movie was written and directed by Lance Bauscher. His interesting interview with RAW is here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dedications in the SCHROEDINGER'S CAT trilogy

Can anyone give me some context for the dedications of the individual volumes of the "Cat" trilogy?

"The Universe Next Door" is dedicated "to the real Miss Portinari." Who is that?

"The Trick Top Hat" is dedicated "to my Immortal Beloved. Denn vor Liebskklang entweichet Jeder Raum and Jeder Zeit." This is a Beethoven reference, of course, one of many in the "Cat" books. I'm going to assume the dedication is for Arlen Wilson, the author's wife, but I'll note a possible ambiguity: No one knows who Beethoven's Immortal Beloved was.

"The Homing Pigeons" is dedicated "to Harold Garfinkle, Carlos Casteneda and Richard de Mille. 'Greetings on all three points of the triangle' " A couple of notes: RAW gets Harold Garfinkel's name wrong, de Mille wrote a book alleging that Casteneda was a charlatan and a plagiarist, Garfinkel is an important sociologist. But why is the book dedicated to them?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Korzybski comic

Serious Robert Anton Wilson fans know that he was influenced by the writings of Alfred Korzybski. Sure, you've read "Science and Sanity," but have you read the comic? Now you can. Underground comics artist Steve Bellitt has posted his "Korzybski Poetry Reading" comic. I followed a link from Bellitt's posting to an article by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan fame) which discusses science fiction and Korzybski and name-checks Robert Anton Wilson as an example of a science fiction writer "influenced by General Semantics and/or A.E. Van Vogt."

While you're at it, check out Bellitt's "23" sketches.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Legendary editor Jim Frenkel: How I helped save ILLUMINATUS!

While the main credit for the ongoing success of ILLUMINATUS!, still in print more than 30 years after it was published, must go to authors Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, credit also is due to editors at Dell who fought for the work.

One of those editors is prominent editor Jim Frenkel, who worked at Dell for several years, starting in 1976. He later founded a Bluejay Books, a science fiction publishing house that reprinted "The Earth Will Shake" and then published the second book of Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus trilogy, "The Widow's Son," which Wilson later described as his favorite book. (Frenkel did not play a role in the third published novel, "Nature's God." Wilson never completed the projected fourth book, "The World Turned Upside Down.")

Frenkel has worked with many famous science fiction writers including Philip K. Dick, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Dan Simmons, Frederik Pohl, Theodore Sturgeon, Spider Robinson and so on. Note that in my interview with Frenkel, he discusses ILLUMINATUS! as a work of science fiction, and says that some of the book's difficulties at Dell stemmed from the fact that many of its editors did not understand the publishing realities of dealing with science fiction novels.

Frenkel was born in the Borough of Queens, in New York City. He has devoted his career to editing quality fiction of all sorts, but he is best known for, and confesses that his first love was science fiction books. He currently is a Senior Editor for Tom Doherty Associates. Their Tor Books imprint is a prominent publisher of science fiction and fantasy. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin., and is married to science fiction author Joan Vinge, author of the Hugo Award-winning novel, THE SNOW QUEEN.

I interviewed Frenkel on the telephone for about an hour on August 5. My transcription here is a small part of that interview, which also will be quoted in subsequent articles. Frenkel answered all of my questions and spoke very rapidly, at times answering me before I could finish the question. He knew Wilson fairly well, and the interview turned out to be a gold mine of information and observations.

Veteran science fiction book editor and Robert Anton Wilson fan Jim Frenkel helped keep the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy in print and later published THE WIDOW'S SON, which Wilson has described as his favorite book.

When I wrote to Frenkel via e-mail and asked him for an interview, Frenkel wrote back and explained that he was not the editor at Dell who made the decision to publish ILLUMINATUS. "What I _did_ do was help save the series," he wrote. "After it was published, it was constantly in danger of being abandoned, because of the fitful way in which it was distributed. There is little question in my mind that if it hadn't been for my stubbornness, Dell would have dropped the trilogy before they finally did the smart thing and put it into a single volume."

This seemed like an interesting statement, so I began by asking Frenkel to explain it.

Q. What did you mean in your e-mail when you said that you saved the [Illuminatus!] series, and if it hadn’t been for your stubbornness, Dell would have dropped the trilogy?

A. Basically, what happened was, they published it in three separate volumes. One of the three would go out of stock, and they wouldn’t reprint it. When that happened, the other two volumes would start being returned by booksellers, because without all three available, demand for the ones that were still available would slacken. When booksellers started sending them back, the sales would start to look worse, because of all those books being returned. After a few months at Dell, I could see the pattern that was developing, and and by showing them that the books, when all available, had sold a fair number of copies, I was able to say, ‘Look, when they are all available, it sells just fine. Why don’t you just reprint the ones that are unavailable?’ So they would do that, and it would sell fine for another few months or a year, and then one of them would go out of stock again, and they wouldn't put it back in print again, and it would start to take heavier returns again.

And so I would have to remind them that when they are all available -- you know, the same drill; after two or three years of this, they were losing patience with the series, and I was losing patience a little with their inability to understand that this was not your run-of-the-mill book or series.

Al Zuckerman was a great advocate for the books. He was the agent on the books, and he was also the agent for the collaborators as a team and for each of them separately. He and I talked about the trilogy, and the problems Dell had with it, and if I remember correctly, he and I agreed that it might make sense for him to actually come in and meet with the sales and marketing people at Dell, with me there, too.

So we had a meeting with other people at Dell. Al, knowing even more about Bob Wilson's books than I knew, was basically was saying what I was saying.

But the sales management that was really running Dell at that time -- they are all long gone from Dell now -- didn't really care what Al -- or any agent -- wanted to say or do. Dell, in the late 1970s was a very confrontational kind of place. We would have print-and-bind meetings which sometimes seemed like battles of will between the sales department and the editorial department, with the advertising and promotion manager often being a mediator between what were sometimes two hostile camps.

Publishing was changing at that point, as it is still changing. And the sales management was very old school. The people at the top of sales remembered the good old days when the wholesale marketplace was king; when Dell could command enormous attention for a book they wanted to make a bestseller, put a million copies or sometimes several millions into stores, sell all but perhaps three or four percent of them, and then not worry about books coming back, or backlist sales.

But those days were long gone by 1976, when I got to Dell, and I'm sure that is part of why there was so much friction between sales and editorial. The people in editorial were trying to compete with other publishers that were changing the model of how to sell mass-market paperbacks. It was difficult in that atmosphere, and a lot of very good people worked very hard to make that go well ... editors, people in sales and marketing, the promotion people, publicity ... there were a lot of extremely talented people at Dell, both before I was there, during my time there, and after. But this problem of THE ILLUMINATUS! trilogy was different, because it wasn't a series that had sold hundreds of thousands of copies, yet there was demonstrable demand.

When we had the meeting was about the time that I started thinking that maybe the best thing to do would be -- and I cannot remember whether it was my idea originally or Al Zuckerman's, but I know he and I completely agreed -- to put the trilogy into an omnibus volume in Dell's then trade paperback imprint, Delta. It just seemed like a good idea.

It would be easier to keep in print. You wouldn't have to worry about one of them going out of stock, and the others starting to take heavier returns.

But the powers that be didn't really know what to do about Delta. For years, they would look at other publishers' trade paperback imprints and think--aha! That's a smart idea ... but Delta had been neglected for a long while, and though they had some very good books that sold very well and for a long time, the upper management in sales was not ready to treat Delta like the independent imprint it should have been, with its own distinct editorial identity. It may have had one before this time, but by 1976, Delta was a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And there was always the question of who would sell Delta books. The wholesale sales force felt they should be the ones to sell it. After all, they had been there the longest, and they dealt with all sorts of booksellers. But there was also a trade sales force -- not fully developed, with some fulltime sales people, but also some who worked for us and for a lot of other companies. So upper management didn't trust these people to devote enough energy to Delta.

The general response from management about putting the trilogy into a single trade paperback volume was, "We'll think about it, we'll think about it,we'll think about it."

People came and went. Different editors at Delta thought it was a good idea, a bad idea. Editors came and went at Delta. I was there for five years. I can't swear it, but I think it was Chris Kuppig who was the editor at Delta who was there, when we finally convinced them to put the trilogy into a one-volume omnibus.

That’s why I say I helped to save it from being dropped by Dell. Because they kept on saying, 'Ahhhhhhh, I don't know, it sold pretty well, but look at all those returns." [I have truncated Frenkel's answer here, but he explains that some key people in Dell's management did not understand that science fiction books can sell steadily and for a long time if the publisher keeps a backlist available. "This is why they don't do science fiction anymore at Dell, because they just never understood," Frenkel said.]

Q. Do you think if you hadn't been stubborn, and kept insisting on getting the individual volumes reprinted and pushing for the trade paperback, do you think that the book would have gone out of print?

A. It would have gone out of print from Dell. Sooner or later, I think somebody would have picked it up, but it would have been gone for sure from Dell, I have no doubt. They wanted to get rid of it. They really did. It was, to the old-school people, more trouble than it was worth. They just didn't understand the kind of book it was. They just didn't understand it.

Q. Why did you fight so hard to save the book?

A. Because I could see what was happening. I didn't have their tunnel vision about well, a book either works the way we want our mass market books to work, or it doesn't work at all. There are other possibilities ... I've always been a science fiction reader and fan, and I knew that science ficition was not like everything else.It was not like big thrillers or big historical novels. You could have a science fiction book that sold a million copies over a period of 25 years, because it would be kept in print for a long time,even though it never sold an enormous number of copies to begin with. There was no such thing as a science fiction best seller until the mid-1970s. Dell didn't have one for awhile

Q. But what I meant was, were you a fan of the book?

A. Oh, yeah, I thought it was really cool. Gee whiz!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

THE TRICK TOP HAT, a "science fiction novel"

I have been re-reading the second book in the "Cat" series, THE TRICK TOP HAT, which to me seems particularly radical among the three books (or, if you prefer, particularly self-indulgent.) (I am reading the original Pocket Books Edition.) There are so many sex scenes it almost seems aimed at the "adult books" market. (One wonders if the cover illustration and the references to sex on the back cover are meant as marketing -- buy this book! it has lots of sex! -- or a truth-in-labelling warning -- don't buy this book! It has lots of sex!. The latter would make sense if the purpose was to forestall outraged letters from the parents of 14-year-olds.) It contains an interview with the author in the middle of the text. It is a book which seems to consist almost entire of arcane digressions, with little semblance of a plot. And so on.

Of course, I love every word, but it still seems amazing to me that it was published as a science fiction paperback. On one side of the back page is an advertisement for fantasy novels from Pocket Books, with endorsements from the likes of Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley. The other side of that page is a listing of then-current Pocket SF books by the likes of George R.R. Martin, Ben Bova, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and so on. Yup, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ben Bova and Robert Anton Wilson ...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More on Wilson the "science fiction writer"

ILLUMINATUS! became labeled as a work of science fiction very early, apparently when it was acquired by Dell. How this label affected reception of the work, for good and ill, is an interesting question. Neither Robert Anton Wilson nor Robert Shea thought of ILLUMINATUS! as a science fiction novel when they were working on it. (See Wilson's article, here.) Was Kurt Vonnegut Jr. a "science fiction writer"?

See also my interview with former Dell editor David Harris, where Harris says that Wilson resisted dividing the book into three volumes, because Wilson apparently did not understand how works of genre science fiction and fantasy, such as trilogies by Jack Vance or Lin Carter, normally are published. Shea gave a speech at the World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta, while accepting the Prometheus Hall of Fame award, which is only given to works of science fiction. I met Shea once at another worldcon, one that was held in Boston. Wilson also attended at least some science fiction conventions. According to copyeditor Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Wilson once was booked to serve as the guest of honor for a science fiction convention in San Francisco. The event had to be cancelled because of difficulties with the hotel.