By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger
I first read Robert Shea when I read Illuminatus! in 1982. Since I had already read Wilson’s Schroedinger’s Cat and then went on read all the Wilson I could find, I had a much better sense of Wilson’s literary personality than I did of Shea’s. In 1986 I saw volume 1 of Shea’s Shike in the fiction section of Books, Etc., in Tempe, Arizona, and I bought it, hoping the same Robert Shea had written it. I started reading it, and it seemed like a conventional historical novel, but early on it included an initiation and the number 23, so I decided it seemed like the same Shea. (Ah, those pre-internet days before we had Google for fact checking.) I loved the book. I had read that Shea considered himself an anarchist and that he practiced Zen meditation. I thought he did a great job presenting people with political power in the novel. I thought his anarchism had given him great insight into political power, and I loved the Zen material in the book (and the martial arts). I quickly bought and read book two as well, and my friend novelist Paul Chuey suggested perhaps Shea wrote even better than Wilson. We both entertained that idea for a while, basking in the experience of reading Shike. I returned to preferring Wilson’s writing, but I definitely appreciated Shea’s contributions to Illuminatus! even more.
I worked at Hunter’s Books in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1986, and I saw an announcement for a new Robert Shea book, All Things Are Lights. I got all excited, recognizing the reference to the Scotus Erigina quote in the title. I ordered it, and devoured it when it arrived. I enjoyed it a bit less than the Shike books, but perhaps I had hyped myself up too much. Once again I loved Shea’s insight into people in power. I also loved how Shea’s books painted a picture of a Eurasian conspiracy of adepts in the late Middle Ages, providing deep background for the conspiracies in Illuminatus! and in Wilson’s other books. If you haven’t read any of Shea’s solo books, I highly recommend you give them a try.
Eric Wagner is the author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, now available in a new revised and expanded edition.