71 Candles Put Out a Lot of Illumination...

Hail Eris!Tomorrow marks the 71st birthday of one of my favorite authors, Robert Anton Wilson. A bit of a cult hero in the online and counterculture communities, Wilson is best known (to the general public) as the co-author of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which I am fond of quoting in bits and pieces. If ever there were a novel (and I really hesitate to label it as such, as it makes use of so much more than simple fiction) that epitomized the “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” philosophy of the ’60s, this is it. People either love it or hate it — there’s surprisingly little middle ground (Wilson joked that most reviewers claimed to have gotten to page 50 before being too offended to continue; he looked at page 50 but couldn’t find anything particularly significant about that page). I fall squarely into the former camp.

In addition to making regular speaking appearances (many of which have been released in audio or video format), he has written any number of books (both fiction and nonfiction — though again, the labels are misleading) based on or inspired by his best-known work. But no true sequel to the original had been produced until Wilson began work once again with original co-author Robert Shea on Bride of Illuminatus!, of which I’ve been able to read a few advance excerpts. If what I read was any indication, the book was able to capture much of the same wit, originality, and off-the-wall weirdness that made the original such a hit; I eagerly awaited its publication.

Unfortunately, Shea passed away in 1994, before the book was completed, and publication was halted. It’s likely that Wilson could complete the work himself — I believe most of it had been finished — but, to date, he hasn’t been inspired to do so. Also in the wings is book four of Wilson’s Historical Illuminatus Chronicles (long out of print, but being reissued this year), a series of historical fiction novels with a particularly off-kilter view of eighteenth-century world events (Masks of the Illuminati, a personal favorite, is sometimes grouped with this series, though it’s not directly connected to the others). Wilson has released the occasional nonfiction book (including his latest, the subversive TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution), and is the subject of the new independent documentary film Maybe Logic, but hasn’t released any new fiction since his 1992 screenplay Reality Is What You Can Get Away With.

Wilson has recently suspended his speaking engagements due to ill health, and his unusually frail appearance of late (particularly since the death of his wife Arlen in 1999) leads me to the realization that he’s not going to be around forever. Wilson has long been an avid supporter of so-called “life extension” programs and technologies — “I will live forever or die trying,” as he wrote in The Illuminati Papers — but it appears that this time that effort may not be enough.

Naturally, I send my sincerest wishes for a speedy (and full) recovery. But I can’t help but feel a little guilty in my reasoning. Am I really wishing him good health for his own sake? Or am I just greedily hoping he’ll recover so he can finish those books I’ve been waiting for these past several years? In either case, I take some consolation in the belief that, whatever my motivation, the end result is the same.

Happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for helping me see the fnords.


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