Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) was an author of 58 mindbending books, including The Illuminatus! Trilogy
(with Robert Shea), The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy
, Cosmic Trigger
, the stage play Wilhelm Reich in Hell
, and many more. He also wrote for a bewilderingly wide range of magazines, from Playboy
to Fortean Times
His books contain examples of:
- Anarchy as a positive force.
- Anarchy Is Chaos: Consistently inverted.
- Ancient Conspiracy: Aside from the titular Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria (AKA The Illuminati) of Illuminatus! and the various Discordian and Erisian groups which are their nominal opposites, his fiction includes nearly every other sort of conspiratorial group under the sun, often with punny names such as "Knights of Christ United in Faith" and filled with absurd characters (or caricatures) with equally bizarre names. Also, several of his non-fiction works (most notably Everything is Under Control, an encyclopedia of conspiracy theories) discuss such real-world conspiracies as Propaganda Due, as well as theories about groups such as the CIA, The Men in Black, the Freemasons, and the Jesuits. Finally, in the appendices of Illuminatus! he states that the book itself is a part of the Discordian conspiracy 'Operation Mindfuck', a notional conspiracy to open people's minds to which everything that any Discordian does is also a part of (whether intentionally or not).
- Ancient Tradition: what the Erisian Liberation Front turns out to actually be.
- Arc Number: Five, seventeen, and twenty-three. Ties in with the Discordian themes.
- Arc Words: The words "No wife, no horse, no mustache" echo in several of his novels.
- As Himself: Wilson is a major character in Philip K. Dick's VALIS. Dick and Wilson were friends in Real Life until Dick's paranoia got the better of him.
- Author Avatar: A character named Hans Zoesser appears in the Historical Illuminatus series; in the Cosmic Trigger series, Wilson mentions at one point being told that he is a reincarnation of one Hans Zoesser (Cosmic Trigger was written first).
- There is a character called Robert Anton Wilson in Schroedinger's Cat trilogy, but judging from his demeanour and profession (a professional big game hunter in Africa), he is not supposed to be an Author Avatar.
- Yet another character in the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy is a writer named Robert W. Anton, who provides the opportunity for a little authorial Self-Deprecation. (He's described as 'writing in a style as opulent as an Arabian palace', among other things.)
- Author Existence Failure: Only three of the planned five books in the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles series were published before his death (although, since the third book came out more than 15 years before his death, it's possible he never really intended to finish it anyway).
- Author Tract - his writing is mostly meant to promote the goals of 'Operation Mindfuck', a long-ranging (if somewhat notional rather than real) Discordian conspiracy to cause people to become more mindful and think more. As such, a lot of it involves either Wilson himself, or his characters, giving long explanations about the nature of anarchism, society, money, and a host of other social phenomena (often with the purpose of pointing out that they are social phenomena, rather than laws of nature).
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: He frequently makes use of historical - or in some cases, living (at the time of writing) - people, claiming they are or were members of this or that Ancient Conspiracy or Ancient Tradition. While this is mostly done in his fiction works, he had at times suggested that various historical figures were part of some secret group (though as always with tongue firmly planted in cheek).
- Specific note goes to John Dillinger, who not only is a member of the Justified Ancients of Mumu (an anarchist group which had joined forces with the Illuminati for a time only for Cecil Rhodes to 'kick out the JAMs'note after taking over the Illuminati in the 1880s), but was actually a group of quintuplets whose first names are all John.
- The stand-alone novel Masks of the Illuminati involves James Joyce and Albert Einstein accidentally meeting in a Zurich beer garden in May 1914note , only to get drawn into a conspiratorial mess which ends up with them both gaining the necessary insights to make the great breakthroughs of their later work. Both Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler make cameos as well.
- Belief Makes You Stupid: Bob's personal philosophy was "I don't believe in anything, but I have many suspicions." His novels often repeat the mantra: "Only the madman is absolutely sure." (Or "It isn't real unless it makes you laugh".) He was also rather fond of abbreviating the words Belief System to their initials.
- Bury Your Gays
- Many gay and transsexual characters do end up receiving happy endings as well, however.
- Brown Note: as children, US citizens are conditioned to be unable to consciously read the word 'fnord'note , while subconsciously reacting to it with fear and anxiety. The word is inserted into anything the Illuminati want people to react negatively to. Being able to 'see the fnords' by breaking this conditioning becomes a watchword for becoming aware of the way people are manipulated on a daily basis.
- Character Filibuster: Several, with Hagbard Celine, Simon Moon, and Sigismundo Celine getting the majority of them.
- Cool Boat: the Lief Ericsson, Hagbard Celine's gigantic yellow submarine.
- Footnote Fever: Most prominently in the second volume of The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles.
- Gender Bender: In the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy some recurring characters' genders vary depending on the universe. One major character is also a male-to-female transsexual who causes outrage by having her former, impressive sexual organs stuffed and displayed prominently over the mantle.
- Generation Xerox: The Historical Illuminatus books revolve around ancestors of Hagbard Celine, George Dorn, Simon Moon, and many others.
- Historical In-Joke: For instance his play on the Kennedy assassination, as a collision of five different conspiracies.
- Just for Pun: Many of the character names in the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy, such as Bertha Van Ation, Juan Tootrego, Hugh Crane, etc.
- Lampshade Hanging: Almost constantly in his novels.
- Magic Music: The AMA's performance at the Ingolstadt music festival, designed to open a doorway to the Other and liberate a Nazi army held in a bio-mystical protective field in the lake.
- Mind Screw: the concept of Operation Mind-Fuck (OM).
- No Fourth Wall: In particular when the narrator is revealed to be FUCKUP, Hagbard's fortune-telling computer, turning what had mostly been a Third Person Omniscient style into a form of The All-Concealing "I".
- Prison Rape: which may or may not have happened to George Dorn.
- Properly Paranoid: A theme throughout his writing, especially regarding both governments and corporations. However, he puts a lot more emphasis on the 'properly' part than your typical conspiracy theorist, trying to get people to look at actual, demonstrable threats rather than self-reinforcing delusions.
- The character Hagbard Celine deliberately tries to instill this in others at times; he has two sets of cards, one reading 'There is no enemy anywhere' and the other 'There is no friend anywhere', and claims that he can tell within five minutes of meeting someone which card to give them to shake them out of their current mindset. He also is endlessly dropping hints to others that he himself is not to be trusted.
- Punny Name: As noted above (under Just for Pun), there are loads and loads of these, with other examples including 'Stella Maris' (one of Celine's crew and the incarnation of Eris, with it strongly implied that she was also Marilyn Monroe), 'Eva Geblumenkraft' (a pun on the alleged Illuminati slogan 'ewige blumenkraft', meaning 'Eternal Flower Power'), 'Saul Goodman', 'Markoff Chaney' (AKA The Midget), 'Fission Chips' (a James Bond Expy; he was born on August 6th, 1945, and his father became obsessed with nuclear power), 'Indole Ringh' (a Hindu i.e., Indian, anthropologist who was studying Native American, i.e., 'American Indian', culture during the climax of Illuminatus!), Nkrumah Fubar (a Kikuyu shaman who had recently moved to Nairobi, and tried to give the US and Soviet leadership headaches in revenge for almost causing a nuclear war over the island nation of Fernando Poo), 'Sarsaparilla Godzilla', and 'Manuel Transmicion'.
- Unusual Chapter Numbers: "chapters" have names rather than numbers, drawn from the Germanic philosophy of Discordianism.
- Unusual Euphemism: In his sexually explicit Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy, Wilson used the names of prominent real-world Moral Guardians for sex acts and organs. The rationale for this was that some of these people claimed that the words were inherently offensive. Wilson reasoned that if it was the words, and not the acts, which were offensive, these same people could hardly find their own names offensive. Interestingly, his replacements include roughly equal numbers of conservative Supreme Court Justices and prominent feminists (who at the time had campaigned against pornography).