Textbooks The Illuminatus! Trilogy By Robert Shea – Andy-palmer.co.uk


  • Paperback
  • 805 pages
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy
  • Robert Shea
  • English
  • 17 June 2019
  • 0440539811

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The Illuminatus! TrilogyA sprawling, many faceted, satirical series, Illuminatus is difficult to rate anddifficult to review There are so many aspects which one could address, so many points of divergence, ideas, philosophies, and influences, but at it s heart, it s a rollicking adventure story that, despite its many political and social themes, rarely takes itself too seriously.I can certainly say I liked it, but it s hard to say how much Some parts were better than others, but there are many parts to be cons A sprawling, many faceted, satirical series, Illuminatus is difficult to rate anddifficult to review There are so many aspects which one could address, so many points of divergence, ideas, philosophies, and influences, but at it s heart, it s a rollicking adventure story that, despite its many political and social themes, rarely takes itself too seriously.I can certainly say I liked it, but it s hard to say how much Some parts were better than others, but there are many parts to be considered Unlike other reviewers, I did not find the numerous asides and allusions to be distracting If one piqued my interest, I looked it up andoften than not, learned something entirely new Some didn t intrigue me as much, and I was happy to let them be.I treated the book like I treat life following those threads which seemed, to me, to be the most fruitful, and refusing to become bogged down in the fact that I can t know everything If a reader tried to track down every reference, they d be going to wikipedia three and four times per page and likely lose the thread of the story entirely The sheer volume of research behind the book is an achievement in itself, sure to keep the attention of detail obsessed trivial pursuit players of the internet generation.Others have also complained about the structure of the book, switching as it does in place, time, and character with no forewarning, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph Certainly these switches can cause a moment s uncertainty, but they hardly make following the plot impossible The authors could have putline breaks in, it would be a minor change So minor, in fact, that I find it difficult to take seriously any claim that the lack of such breaks somehow ruined the story.It was a deliberate effect by the authors, meant to impart information realistically and force the reader to take aactive role In life, we are constantly inundated by information and it is up to us to decide what is important and where to make strict delineations Likewise, in this book, the authors want us to take responsibility for our own parsing of data, refusing to spoon feed it to us like so much propaganda.The authors, themselves went through huge amounts of data to combine all of these conspiracy theories into a grand ur conspiracy, too large and detailed to be believed and too ridiculous to be doubted I ve never had much interest in such theories, so it was nice to have them all in one place where I could enjoy them as part of a fun spy story.I also admit a lack of interest in the beat poets, psychedelic culture, and World War II, so I m glad to have gotten those all out of the way in the same fell swoop This book is, at its heart, a chronicle of a certain point in American history, a certain mindset, a baroquely detailed conglomeration of the writings and ideas of the raucous sixties.The book is at its least effective when it is taking itself seriously, particularly in the appendices When it seems to believe in its own conspiracies or Burroughs bizarre understanding of history, it becomes a victim of its own joke.It is at its best when it takes nothing seriously, least of all itself The authors were involved in the flowering of the Discordian Movement, which has been described as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion The movement plays a large role in the text and is analyzed from all sides, but basically boils down to religion as imagined by Mad Magazine.The revolutionary thing about Mad was not that it undermined authority, but that it simultaneously undermined itself Its humor lay in the insight that only a fool would believe any one thing to be the source of wisdom, but that you were perfectly justified in mistrusting everything.Rather like the remarkable Sixties BBC series The Prisoner , the final message is that you must decide for yourself what is important, what is real, and what is misdirection Also like The Prisoner , Illuminatus owes much to the spy genre of the sixties, from freewheeling sex to ultra modern undersea bases and high stakes secret missions There is even an overt parody of the Bond franchise running through the books.Unfortunately, it also seems to fall into the Boys Club atmosphere of spy stories Though it switches between narrators, all of them are men, and the focused sexuality of the book is usually aimed at women There are moments where bisexuality, homosexuality, and feminist sexual power dynamics are explored, but these tend to be mere intellectual exercises while the hot, sweaty moments are by and large men taking their pleasure from women I can enjoy porn, but I wish it were as balanced as the rhetoric to which the authors pay lip service.Many male authors have shied away from writing female characters from the inside, despite having no compunction about getting inside them in other ways I cannot reiterate enough the late Dan O Bannon s insistence that the secret to writing women was writing men and then leaving out the penis He scripted Alien without gender markers, all characters being referred to by last name, and Sigourney Weaver s portrayal of Ellen Ripley has proven one of the most realistic and unaffected of any woman in film It was a disappointment to see Shea and Wilson so fettered by gender while simultaneously spouting the latest feminist sound bites.In many ways, Illuminatus provides a bridge between the paranoid, conspiracy sci fi of Dick and the highly referential, multilayered stories of Cyberpunk Conceptually, it represents a transition from Dick s characters always unable to escape destruction at the hand of their vast, uncaring society and Cyberpunk agonists who are able to adapt to their distant, heartless society and thrive where they can The language of Illuminatus is flashier and cooler than Dick s, but has not yet reached the form as function linguistic data overload of Gibson or Stephenson.The writing is quite good crisp, witty, evocative and mobile Far from the accusations of being a text written on an acid trip , it is lucid and deliberate, even if it does take itself lightly There certainly are those aspects which are inspired by psychedelic culture, including the free wheeling structure The authors invite comparison between moments, events, and characters which, in most other books, would be separated by the strict delineation of the page break.But then, the surest sign of genius is the ability to synthesize new data from the confluence of apparently disparate parts, as Da Vinci did one day while studying the eddies in a stream for a painting, finding himself suddenly struck by the notion that the heart would pump bloodefficiently by forming such swirling eddies in its chamber instead of working as a simple pump In the the past decade, internal body scanners have proven the accuracy of his small corner sketch By inviting you to make such comparisons and synthesize your own conclusions, the book respects the potential intelligence of its reader But it is not all such conceptual exercises, and the lesson Cyberpunk authors learned was that a fast paced, flashy shell can sugar even bitter pills But what delighted me was the realization that at its heart, this is a story of Lovecraft s Cthulhu mythos Outside of Lovecraft and Howard, very few of the stories set in that universe are even passable, but this one comports itself ably, taking to heart the notion that an overabundance of data can break the human mind, which dovetails nicely with the cautionary lesson of conspiracy theory it seems vast, inexplicable beings of unimaginable power can also be human, and have cults just as Unaussprechlichen.Overall, the series is interesting, unique, informative, humorous, and entertaining There are moments where it bogs down, but overall, it is well structured and well written There aren t many books where you get a fun spy story, a harrowing Cthulhu tale, and a rundown of the zeitgeist of an American era all in one, but there is at least one.Unless you re a teenager looking for a counterculture to believe in, the conspiracy mish mash probably won t be a life changing revelation, but it might be food for thought Conspiracy fiction is big business these days with The Name of The Rose , Foucault s Pendulum and The Da Vinci Code , yet the originator of the genre gets insufficient credit.But this book is not designed to be easy to digest You are not meant to internalize its message thoughtlessly It s funny, contradictory, and self aware, and it s hard for people who take themselves seriously to get caught up in a book that, for the most part, doesn t I could say this book deserves to bethan a cult classic, but at its heart, this book is a cult classic, and its cultural influence will continue to seep with or without grander acclaim It was a deadly mistake Joseph Malik, editor of a radical magazine, had snooped into rumors about an ancient secret society that was still alive and kicking Now his offices have been bombed, he s missing, and the case has landed in the lap of a tough, cynical, streetwise New York detective Saul Goodman knows he s stumbled onto something big but even he can t guess how far into the pinnacles of power this conspiracy of evil has penetratedFilled with sex and violence in and out of time and space the three books of The Illuminatus Trilogy are only partly works of the imagination They tackle all the cover ups of our time from who really shot the Kennedys to why there s a pyramid on a one dollar bill and suggest a mind blowing truth I m re reading this now, and felt I should clarify my position on this book, as I often list it as one of my favorites.High Literature this is not It is campy sci fi, saturated with gratuitous sex scenes, psychedelia, conspiracy theories, counterculture etc When I recommend this book, it s usually with the caveat that the authors are sort of bumbling about and finding their feet for the first 80 or so pages.When it finally does start moving along, the reader finds his or her self bombarded wi I m re reading this now, and felt I should clarify my position on this book, as I often list it as one of my favorites.High Literature this is not It is campy sci fi, saturated with gratuitous sex scenes, psychedelia, conspiracy theories, counterculture etc When I recommend this book, it s usually with the caveat that the authors are sort of bumbling about and finding their feet for the first 80 or so pages.When it finally does start moving along, the reader finds his or her self bombarded with multiple, conflicting realities and extremist, revolutionary politics from all points of the spectrum The intended result is mind expansion This book invites the reader to becomeskeptical, but also to start thinking about what he or she thinks about the world and why.The narrative is experimental Wilson has an obvious admiration of Joyce that shows up not just here, but also in his lectures andautobiographical books As such, it jumps between characters, places, and times, sometimes mid paragraph, sometimes entering stream of consciousness This may make it difficult for readers who feel that whatever Wilson and Shea are getting at isn t worth the headache You need to be on your toes, but it s probably best to just roll with it and not spend overlong trying to tie every piece together In any case, re readings can consistently reveal new interrelationships.Early on, one of the main protagonists comes across a painting bearing the message, think for yourself, schmuck which probably sums it all up If James Joyce was a one man literary IRA, then Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea are the literary Al Qaeda As these groups can be viewed as either terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view, so it is with this book As is probably not ironic for a book considered to be the holy grail of conspiracy theory, it s definitely not difficult to perceive the Illuminatus Trilogy as an act of intellectual terrorism This is not an easy book to read Time, location, perspective, an If James Joyce was a one man literary IRA, then Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea are the literary Al Qaeda As these groups can be viewed as either terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view, so it is with this book As is probably not ironic for a book considered to be the holy grail of conspiracy theory, it s definitely not difficult to perceive the Illuminatus Trilogy as an act of intellectual terrorism This is not an easy book to read Time, location, perspective, and identity can and do shift without warning in mid paragraph, sometimes mid sentence making an interesting model for the idea of the collective unconscious The best analogy I can think of for this book is that it s like reading someone else s acid trip, and that someone else is criminally schizophrenic and watching 15 televisions at the same time It is definitely a product of it s generation The copious drug use, and underlying philosophies are very typical of most of the underground cult classics of the 70s that I ve read, but for the most part it s brilliantly insightful, and has many fantastic aphorisms that you ll probably want to repeat later It s also beautifully self satirical, which is probably a good thing because if this book took itself seriously it really might have been an act of intellectual terrorism You will probably either love this book, loathe it utterly, or possibly even think it s totally ridiculous If you re not up for a difficult read, you may not want to bother But if you do find you like it, you might be happy to know that it s a hell of a lot easier to read the second time through When I find myself in times of troubleThe counterculture speaks to me The whole damn world s gone nutty, Let it be. The Illuminatus Trilogy saved my life.It won t save yours.Since first reading it at age 13 the year it saved my life , I have dutifully re read the entire trilogy really, it s not that long every five years since But when I was 13, that was 1979 the jokes about Nixon, late 60s and early 70s rock bands, the coming of disco, the obscure neopagan nonsense that washed through every college campus in the late 1980s, bizarre alternative histories and conspiracies theories, were hilarious and fas The Illuminatus Trilogy saved my life.It won t save yours.Since first reading it at age 13 the year it saved my life , I have dutifully re read the entire trilogy really, it s not that long every five years since But when I was 13, that was 1979 the jokes about Nixon, late 60s and early 70s rock bands, the coming of disco, the obscure neopagan nonsense that washed through every college campus in the late 1980s, bizarre alternative histories and conspiracies theories, were hilarious and fascinating.There s even a page from the Principia Discordia mentioned, and that too was life changing, because in tiny print in one corner it contained this quote When I was 8 or 9 years old I acquired my first split beaver magazine You can imagine my disappointment when, upon examination with a microscope, I discovered all I could see was dots And I realized that, hey, I m not the only one who s tried that Being 13 and finding someone like Robert Anton Wilson, who wrote so irreverantly about sex, morality, religion, politics all the things that do not make up polite dinner conversation does change a life, especially when that life had been constrained by a middle class conventionality wherein parents seethed with their own furtive excesses and failed to understand their SF reading child.The Illuminatus Trilogy really is a beast of its own time, and that time has passed It is a historical oddity The wacky conspiracy theories of Illuminatus have become either the grist of Dan Brown s mill or the weirdly pessimistic thought experiments of Scott Adam s Dilbert Our culture now has its own bugaboos we are a highly pornographic culture, with nearly naked underage nymphs selling underwear on billboards and Disney promoting boy bands with lyrics about irresponsible lust and desire, yet at the same time we consider red lettering for life any and every man who had sex in a public park at midnight or chatted up just the wrong person at the wrong moment The Internet tightly wires our entire informational existence together which has had the effect of telling us what other people really think and feel and paradoxically led to the even stronger vehemence against those opposing worldviews because now we perceive just how many people hold to them These habits of thought, these expectations, just do not live in Illuminatus and we miss them Illuminatus is a historical oddity and a good one, but unless you have a grasp of that history, Illuminatus will be a hollow and unmemorable pleasure Honestly, the bury the needle rating on this is primarly from nostalgia and gratitude The thing is, the book saved my soul I say this because I read the Illuminatus trilogy the very first thing after stumbling into reading Ayn Rand s Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in high school, as a fairly bright and moderately creative geek, which qualities looked evenexaggerated by relative comparison to a very small class size That s like getting injected with concentrated live culture viruses af Honestly, the bury the needle rating on this is primarly from nostalgia and gratitude The thing is, the book saved my soul I say this because I read the Illuminatus trilogy the very first thing after stumbling into reading Ayn Rand s Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in high school, as a fairly bright and moderately creative geek, which qualities looked evenexaggerated by relative comparison to a very small class size That s like getting injected with concentrated live culture viruses after your immune system has been taken out by heavy radiation blasts.But the Illuminatus trilogy is like a gene tailored antidote to that Who knows what abyss I would ve fallen into otherwise It also was instrumental in priming me to get right with Bob later in life It couldn t fully open the Third Nostril, but it loosened things up in there for the eventual forceful blow The authors thought they were WAYclever and intellectual than they really were Mostly these books were pretentious and boring and a regurgitation of themes that had been explored numerous times in numerous other places Not to mention the fact that the whole trilogy pretends to be building up to some huge world altering event that never actually happens It s like the authors finally realized after 3 books that they didn t really know what they were trying to say or where they wanted the The authors thought they were WAYclever and intellectual than they really were Mostly these books were pretentious and boring and a regurgitation of themes that had been explored numerous times in numerous other places Not to mention the fact that the whole trilogy pretends to be building up to some huge world altering event that never actually happens It s like the authors finally realized after 3 books that they didn t really know what they were trying to say or where they wanted the plot to go, so they just decided to end it A huge, utter, complete waste of time Maybe I m destroying the integrity of my reading list and goals for the year by rating this along with the three individual novels I have thus only read either three books instead of four, or one instead of four if I want to think of the books I ve read as something closer to the books I ve bought, since I don t own old mass market copies of the three books, and thus only read from one book I think in the spirit of this book it s most appropriate to add four books to my reading list since Maybe I m destroying the integrity of my reading list and goals for the year by rating this along with the three individual novels I have thus only read either three books instead of four, or one instead of four if I want to think of the books I ve read as something closer to the books I ve bought, since I don t own old mass market copies of the three books, and thus only read from one book I think in the spirit of this book it s most appropriate to add four books to my reading list since I think it was Pythagoras who called four or a tetrad the perfect number, because contained in it is the number 10 1 2 3 4 , and ten is 5 two times I m trying my hardest to come up with some rationalization for all this that ends in the number 23 but I m failing, I m sure it s there somewhere though oh oh oh, I ve got it, by rating four books the tetrad becomes 5 and 23, 1 4 5 and 2 and 3 in the middle are obviously 23, thus this trilogy needs to be read rated in this manner, or at least now I can feel comfortable having done so and not feel like I m throwing off the whole how many books did I actually read number or feel like a total fake when December 31, 2017 comes around and I m reading some comic book just to get one last book to on to my read list for the year so I can earn yet another reading goal little image on my profile.Without having to use the crazy logic of this book to support this decision, the real reason I m rating this alongside the three books that make it up is that the whole here is greater than the parts Each individual book I only gave four stars to, but as a whole, it s definitely deserving of five stars It s right up there with Gravity s Rainbow for me I don t know if it s a good thing or not that it took me twenty years or so to finally getting around to reading this as a note I haven t owned the book for 20 years, I actually bought it right before I started reading it, but it had been something I had felt I should read on and off for the past two decades If I d read it twenty years ago I might be able to say that this book was a huge influence I didn t and it wasn t Instead, there is an awful lot in this book that politically, at least, and maybe ontologically felt like Oh My God this is how I think, and because it s so convoluted kind of insane sounding and often times seemingly contradictory it s also the reason why I don t talk about politics or almost anything actually with people and why if I were of a paranoid state of mind I would believe that the sound of goose stepping jackboots were still coming from the right and the left I have no idea what this says about me.Anyway, five stars, and now back to my regularly scheduled reading regiment, where I go and re read a book that I didn t enjoy the first time reading but which other people love, and which I m hoping to enjoythe second time around At 15 I found this psychedelic tour de force mind blowing Rereading it just now, 42 years later, I found it amusing, annoying, original, dated, clever, sophomoric, occasionally insightful, often boring, and very, very long Structurally, the books are a mess, with the narrative POVs shifting frequently, sometimes paragraph by paragraph or even sentence my sentence Adding to the confusion are numerous contradictory conspiracy theories and alternate histories If one doesn t try too hard to keep At 15 I found this psychedelic tour de force mind blowing Rereading it just now, 42 years later, I found it amusing, annoying, original, dated, clever, sophomoric, occasionally insightful, often boring, and very, very long Structurally, the books are a mess, with the narrative POVs shifting frequently, sometimes paragraph by paragraph or even sentence my sentence Adding to the confusion are numerous contradictory conspiracy theories and alternate histories If one doesn t try too hard to keep track of the storyline s , one can enjoy the book as a font of fun thought experiments and interesting conjectures I wouldn t recommend it to anyone who doesn t have a fascination with the New Left, occult mysticism, or the paranoid style in American politics


About the Author: Robert Shea

Robert Joseph Shea was a novelist and journalist best known as co author with Robert Anton Wilson of the science fantasy trilogy Illuminatus It became a cult success and was later turned into a marathon length stage show put on at the British National Theatre and elsewhere In 1986 it won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award Shea went on to write several action novels based in exotic historical settings.