Saturday, February 03, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007)

Sometimes you get a bit lazy surfing the web, and today I've discovered that such laziness can result in grim consequences. I visited one of my favorite sites, the Robert Anton Wilson web site for the first time in a while to play a little catch-up, only to have discovered that Mr. Wilson had passed away on January 11th. The following is the Yahoo News Canadian Press excerpt of his obituary:

CAPITOLA, Calif. (AP) - Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the cult classic "The Illuminatus! Trilogy," a science-fiction series about a secret global society, has died. He was 74.

Wilson died peacefully of natural causes at his home Thursday in Capitola in Santa Cruz County, his daughter Christina Pearson said Saturday. Post-polio syndrome had severely weakened Wilson's legs, leading to a fall seven months ago that left him bedridden until his death, Pearson said.

Wilson wrote 35 books on subjects such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, metaphysics, paranormal experiences, conspiracy theory, sex, drugs and what he called quantum psychology. He wrote the "Illuminatus" trilogy with his friend Robert Shea in the late 1960s, when they were both editors at Playboy.

The books "The Eye in the Pyramid," "The Golden Apple" and "Leviathan" were all published in 1975. They never hit the best-seller lists but have never gone out of print. Shea died in 1994.

Perhaps his most famous is "Cosmic Trigger" (Pocket Books, 1977), a bizarre autobiography in which, among many other tales, he describes episodes when he believed he had communicated with extraterrestrials while admitting he was experimenting with peyote and mescaline.

Wilson contended people should never rule out any possibility, including that lasagna might fly. On Jan. 6, in his last post on his personal blog, he wrote: "I don't see how to take death seriously. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread."

"I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., 1932, Wilson attended Brooklyn Polytechnical College and New York University. He worked as an engineering aide, a salesman and a copywriter and was an associate editor at Playboy from 1965 to 1971.

Wilson was a terrific writer. His books were full of humor and offbeat insight. My first encounter with his work was when I purchased a copy of Prometheus Rising. I was immediately hooked and began to scour the offbeat book stores for as many of his books as I could find.

I met the man in the summer of 1996 at a convention in upstate New York. His keynote lecture was entitled "How To Tell Your Friends From The Apes". Mr. Wilson seemed more subdued than I had expected him to have been, but he was a close friend of Dr. Timothy Leary, who had passed away just before the convention, so I put that down to his still being in mourning for his friend. But that didn't stop me from being insolent enough to present him with a short story I'd penned about time travel and the Roswell Alien conspiracy. He was kind in his praise of my style, while at the same time having taken the time to point out some logical inconsistencies that had gotten by me.

For my money, his best works were the aforementioned Prometheus Rising, Cosmic Trigger and the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles (The Earth Will Shake, The Widow's Son and Nature's God). Wilson embraced the obscure and the offbeat, and seemed to tackle his subject matter with a healthy dose of agnosticism. I will miss his irreverent and independent spirit.

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