Breakthrough – Whitley Strieber

Picture this:
You enjoyed last night’s chili so much that you had two large bowls. Now it’s the morning after and you’re straddling the toilet, aware that an eruption of Vesuvian proportions is imminent. Whooosh! The intensity of the shitflow is equal parts relieving and violent – it takes about 6 seconds for your anus to dispel what took you 20 minutes to eat only hours earlier.

Now imagine a gigantic ass shitting with that intensity for a prolonged period of time. Somehow the being this ass belongs to has an infinite reservoir of rancid, hot, soupy crap feeding the flow of their disgustingly stretched and overworked anus. Their high pressure fountain of fluid feces is pointed directly at your mouth. Try as you might to avoid them, the diarrheic rapids find their way into your maw, rebounding against the back of your throat and sending squirts of wet shit out each of your nostrils. You are drowning in dysentery, yet you remain alive.

That’s what reading this book feels like.

breakthrough - whitley strieber

Breakthrough (The Next Step) – Whitley Strieber
Harper Collins – 1995
I reviewed the second entry in Strieber’s visitors series only 3 months after reviewing the first, but it took me almost 2 and a half years to pluck up the courage to move on to Breakthrough, the 3rd entry in the series. By no means did I think that Communion was a good book, but Transformation was definitely worse, and I knew that any further forays into Strieber’s silly nonsense would prove to be absolutely terrible. I was right.

This book really is difficult to read. Strieber included his most interesting abduction experiences in Communion, and Breakthrough is just the continued coming to terms with having had aliens probe his rotten shitbag that Whitley started in Transformation. There’s very little alien activity being described in here; it’s nearly all speculation on the nature of the relationship that Strieber thinks the aliens want to have with us. He thinks they want to open our eyes to new levels of consciousness and understanding. This is getting closer and closer to that new-agey garbage in books like You Are Becoming a Galactic Human.

Highlights of this book included the description of the smelly goblin that lived in Strieber’s house for a month, Strieber’s astral voyage to the literal Garden of Eden, and the sin spiders that appeared above his bed. I really doubt that Strieber believes his own bullshit. These are just bad dreams he had or ideas he came up with on the toilet. At one stage he describes an experience in which he and a friend drive through an alternate dimension, an idea that I am certain he plagiarized from Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, a short story by Stephen King. (If you’re interested in this comparison, the incident occurs in Chapter 11, page 139 in my edition, and King’s story is in Skeleton Crew.) Strieber puts little effort or care into making his story believable because his audience is mostly made up of low-grade-imbeciles.

All in all, this is a remarkably atrocious book.

whitley strieber visitors
I have The Secret School, the 4th book in Strieber’s visitors series, but after this, I don’t know if I’ll ever read it. This series is terrible, awful rubbish.

Bob Larson’s Book of Rock

bob larson book of rockLarson’s Book of Rock – Bob Larson
Tyndale House – 1987

I don’t think anyone gives a shit anymore, but pop music was a scary thing in the 80s.  Sure, conservative/religious types had been upset by Elvis and the Beatles before, but MTV and the popularization of music videos made it harder for parents to avoid the boldness that was popping up in the pop music of the day. While Lou Reed’s make-up and naughty lyrics might have been able to slip under some parents’ radars in the 70s, Twisted Sister’s music videos weren’t quite as subtle.

Bob Larson, evangelical preacher, talk show host, exorcist extraordinaire and all-round obnoxious cunt, was concerned. As a young man, his experiences playing guitar led him to become convinced that rock music could be used as a tool of destruction and evil. Larson’s Book of Rock is his 5th book on the subject. Written as a self help guide for good church-going parents of the 80s who were upset by their child’s interest in popular music, The Book of Rock offers insight into how this music can fill an impressionable youth’s head with homosexuality, violence, occultism, satanism, Eastern Mysticism and the desire to do drugs and alcohol.

bob larson ugly faceTwat.

Larson clearly has no concept of art or expression, and he seemed to view the music industry as a state institution that owed the general public respectable output. I suppose this attitude towards the music industry is probably confusing for people who have grown up with internet access. There would have been fewer sources of new music available to young people at the time when this book was being written, and the music industry probably looked like a unified whole to a person whose sole source of new music was MTV. The idea that people wrote songs to express how they were feeling never seems to have struck Larson. He views music as a means to tell other people how to think and how to act.

Most of his complaints about specific songs and artists are ridiculous. I don’t know much about Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, but I noticed quite a few untruths and mistakes in his depiction and description of heavy metal bands. On page 53 he mentions Rulan Danzig from Sam Hain, a rock band that got their name from the “Luciferian Lord of the Dead”. He presumably means Glenn Danzig from Samhain, the band that got their name from a traditional Gaelic harvest festival. He says of Anthrax, “Onstage, they dress in a sinister array of biker gear.” Anthrax are famous for introducing bermuda shorts into heavy metal attire. Here they are onstage in 1987, the year this book was written, looking far more like geeks on their way to the beach than a troop of bikers. He refers to Tony Iommi as the one-time lead singer of Black Sabbath. I suppose that could be true (Iommi is Sabbath’s guitarist and the only permanent member of the band), but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. At one point he mentions King Diamond’s ‘Metal Forces’ album. Metal Forces was actually a magazine that featured King on the front cover, not a King Diamond album.

0fb7d4bb5e1c67f123d110cc7afe1bacAnyone who would complain about something as cool as this deserves to be shot.

Judas Priest are one of my very favourite bands, so I was pretty excited when I came to the section on them in this book. After reading Larson’s description of Rob Halford’s habit of baring his ass on stage, I realised that I had heard of this book before. This is the book that Nardwuar was quoting from in his interview with Halford. One can only wonder about the kind of vitriol that Larson would have spewed about the Metal God if he had known that he was gay.

Most of Larson’s claims and the evidence he provides for them are pure nonsense, but his idea that listening to Heavy Metal leads youths away from Christ might well have something to it. I stopped going to mass a few months after buying my first Slayer album. It’s hard to tell if it was the heavy metal that led me away from the church or if it was the realization that Christianity is dumb that led me towards anti-Christian music, but there was definitely some correlation. Either way, any person who writes a book warning parents to prevent their children from listening to Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Dio, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Twisted Sister and WASP deserves to be swiftly executed. Heavy metal is one of the few things that makes life worth living.

In fairness to Larson, he does repeatedly point out that a parent’s relationship with their child has more influence on the child’s mind than their tastes in music. I would have thought that this would be obvious to any parent, but this book was obviously written for idiots. I’m quite serious about that – regardless of Larson’s own intelligence, his writing makes it entirely apparent that he was very deliberately and consciously writing for morons. His condescending, know-it-all attitude is embarrassing. There’s one chapter explaining in embarrassing detail why children like loud music and another where he scolds his braindead imbecile readers for listening to country songs about sex and booze and having the audacity to complain about their kids’ Madonna records. The only people who could stomach this nonsense would have to be lowest-of-the-low, seriously stupid rubes.

bob larson is a virgin Seriously, what a damn virgin.

I first encountered Bob Larson in a video of him interviewing Satanists in the 80s. Vice have done a documentary on him, and there’s loads of videos online showing him to be a con-man and a crook. He has a youtube channel that is updated quite frequently. I have another one of his books lined up to read soon.

A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Porn

The most exciting part of Francis King’s Sexuality, Magic and Perversion was doubtlessly a passage towards the end of the book where King is discussing how magic has been portrayed in works of pornography. He points out that most of the occult-themed porn that had appeared at the time that he was writing his book had been written by people who had no real knowledge of occultism. He mentions one exception to the rule, referring to a book titled Inpenetrable (the spelling mistake is neither mine nor King’s), a pornographic novel that features the Order of the Golden Dawn invoking demons, worshipping Satan, and indulging in buggery, rape and psychic murder. According to King, the author of this intriguing text actually seemed to have had a decent amount of occult insight.

francis king on inpenetrable
After reading this passage, I had to find the book it’s describing.

In a footnote, King claims to have traced 3 separate printings of this intriguing book. One printing credits a Joel Harris as the author, one credits an Aristotle Levi, and the last seems to have completely withheld the author’s name. King points out that the text in all three editions was produced by photo-lithography, suggesting that all three derived from a previous edition that he has never seen. He also believes that the texts he had seen were published in 1970 or 1971.

I spent a few days trying track down a copy of Inpenetrable, but I could only find one other reference to it. Ellic Howe briefly alludes to it in the penultimate paragraph of his 1972 book The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. He claims that this peculiar work of pornography had recently been brought to his attention by a friend. Judging by the details Howe gives (or lack thereof) and the year that his book was published (the year after Sexuality, Magic and Perversion), I’d be surprised if Howe’s friend hadn’t been Francis King. Howe provides no extra clues about the origin of this peculiar text.

ellic howe inpenetrable
The title of the book, Inpenetrable, didn’t yield any other results, so I decided to search up the name/s of the author. “Joel Harris” led to a dead end, but there are a few, scant mentions of Aristotle Levi online. It seemed as if this guy wrote two other books, Spawn of the Devil and In the Devil’s Power, but there was no other mention of Inpenetrable anywhere. It turns out though, that Spawn of the Devil was translated into Danish and published as I Djævlens Magt, which translates as “In the Devil’s Power” – the two titles were a result of my browser’s automatic translator. There was only one book. Spawn of the Devil (and its translation) came out as part of the Svea Book series, a pornographic series that was published in Denmark in the late 60s and early 70s by a porn company called Nordisk Bladcentral. Some sources credit the work of this Aristotle Levi to a woman named Erica Schoeb, but Erica holds the copyright for all of the books in the Svea series, so it seems likely that she was the series editor or publisher rather than the actual author of any of its texts.

After several hours of searching with these clues, I found an index of science-fiction pornography that gives the following summary of Spawn of the Devil; “Maureen Graille, a seventeenth century witch, is reincarnated in the present.” Bingo! King had mentioned “Maureen Graille, the heroine of the book” in his brief discussion of Inpenetrable. I realised that Spawn of the Devil and Inpenetrable could potentially be two entries in the same series, but judging by the genre I was dealing with, I assumed it more likely that they were just different titles for the same work.

Ok, so I hadn’t been able to find a copy of Inpenetrable, would Spawn of the Devil prove any easier to track down? Like I said, there were very few (maybe 5) mentions of Aristotle Levi or his work online. I don’t want to give away my book-finding techniques to my competitors, but I’ll say that after quite a bit of searching, wrangling, infiltrating strange facebook groups and google-translating, I managed to obtain a single copy of Spawn of the Devil from a dusty, second-hand bookshop somewhere in the Middle-East.

spawn of the devil - aristotle levi
Spawn of the Devil – Aristotle Levi

Svea Book – 1969

Let’s start off with the physical book itself. There’s a few scratches on the cover, but nothing you wouldn’t expect on a book published in 1969. There’s no cover image or blurb on the back. There’s nothing inside other than the story itself – no details on the author or advertisements for other books.

The text is peppered with typos, but the standard of the writing is pretty good. I imagine that the writer probably wrote other, less smutty, books under a different name. In fact, some of the sex scenes in this book seem so sudden and unnecessary that I would be surprised if the author hadn’t originally had loftier aims for this work. This might well have been intended as an occult thriller that was a little too sexy for respectable publishing houses. Maybe after a few refusals, the author took his manuscript to a smut house and was told that instead of being too sexy, the text wasn’t sexy enough. Perhaps he cried into his typewriter as he reedited his manuscript and filled it with “hot cock-sticks”, “quivering quims” and “tight little shitholes” as a last resort to get it published. I’ve read other occult based porn in which the standard procedure was one sex scene per chapter, but this isn’t quite the same. Spawn of the Devil frontloads the smut – once the story gets going, the sex takes a backseat. There’s a few chapters towards the end with barely any riding at all.

And some of the sex scenes are absolutely ludicrous. I’m by no means an expert on literary pornography, and I know that different people get off on different things, but many of the sex acts described in here come across as vulgar and hilarious rather than titillating and sexy. I can’t deny the fact that I greatly enjoy vulgarity though, and I will admit that the following two page description of a disgusting incestuous liaison made me laugh so hard that I cried.

spawn of devil erotica
Please read both pages (higher res image here). It gets better and better. LOL.

Looking back, one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was Francis King’s assessment of the author as a knowledgeable student of the occult. The occultism herein is largely of the Dennis Wheatley variety, but, like Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Levi clearly has a basic understanding of what he’s greatly exaggerating.

spawn devil inside coverI presume the pseudonym is a mix of the Greek fella and Eliphas Levi.

This book is super rare. If you plan on hunting down a copy, good luck to you. If you’re not pushed, here’s a summary of the story:

The story starts off with Maureen, a witch, observing an orgy in the forest. She isn’t partaking, just watching. When she leaves, she is apprehended by an angry mob of villagers who presume she had just finished up early and was heading home. The mob go on to capture all of the revelers.

All of the revelers are burned at the stake along with Maureen and her husband, Tom. Just before they are set alight, Maureen promises Tom that they will live again.

300 years later, a pair of twins that regularly have been having sex with each other since they were children both feel a sudden urge to go and dig a hole in a certain part of their village. They discover a strange ring. The sister, who is named Maureen, puts it on.

Soon thereafter, Maureen is having lunch in a fancy restaurant. By chance, she meets a lady called Celia Aston. It turns out that Celia is one of the leading members of a magical secret society called the Golden Dawn. She invites Maureen and her brother Tom to her house where she shows them her magical book collection and introduces them to her husband.

Maureen gets it into her head that she wants to be in Celia’s position. To put a curse on Celia, Maureen and Tom perform a gruesome black-magic sex ritual:

sex ritual curse
Yuck, but also Hahahaha.

The ritual is successful and Celia dies soon thereafter. Using mind control, Maureen convinces Celia’s grieving husband to marry her within a matter of months.

Later on, during a Golden Dawn orgy, Maureen manages to summon a spirit. It’s either Pan or Satan, or maybe both. Only Maureen and a crucified prostitute that Maureen had hired for the occasion actually see the spirit. The prostitute goes insane afterwards. While this is all happening, one of the other members of the Golden Dawn, a lady named Nona, simultaneously gets raped and senses that Maureen is a bad apple.

After this night of black magic and debauchery, Nona and her boyfriend visit a very powerful old witch named Kyleen to see if anything can be done about Maureen. They don’t know it, but Maureen was actually watching them do this by means of black magic.

Maureen summons the spirit of Pan to kill all three of them. She is successful in doing so, but unfortunately for her, Kyleen had been able to do some summoning of her own. Shortly afterwards, Maureen and Tom are killed when their ship sinks during a cruise. Just before they die, Maureen reassures Tom that they will meet again.

The book ends in the future. In the year 2236, a set of twins are born, a boy and a girl.

Spawn of the Devil isn’t the greatest occult-thriller in my collection, but it’s nowhere near the worst. Its combination of black magic and silly synonyms for genitalia pleased me immensely, and I can’t imagine a book more appropriate for this blog. Moreover, the process of reading about it in King’s book, researching it, tracking it down, waiting to see if it would ever actually arrive, and then reading and reviewing it a few months later has been rather exciting. When I started this blog and began reading books by people like Montague Summers, Timothy D’Arch Smith and even Francis King himself, I was jealous of the depths of their research and of the discoveries they had made in the realms of occult literature. It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I found it immensely satisfying to solve part of a mystery posed by one of these individuals 47 years ago.

francis king inpenetrable footnote

Inpenetrable was first published by Nordisk Bladcentral as as Spawn of the Devil, a novel by Aristotle Levi. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to know who Aristotle Levi (or Joel Harris) was. My reading suggests that he probably wrote other books (under a different name) in the late 60s/early 70s. He clearly had an interest in the occult. His repeated use of the word bollocks means that he was almost definitely British. This book was published in Copenhagen and translated into Danish, so it is possible that he had some other link to Denmark. Does this description sound familiar to anyone? I wonder if there’s anybody alive today who knows his true identity. If anyone has any further information on Aristotle Levi, Joel Harris, Inpenetrable or Spawn of the Devil, please, please, please, leave a comment or email me to let me know.

 

Sexuality, Magic and Perversion – Francis King

This post was originally intended for Saint Valentine’s day, but I made some startling discoveries whilst writing it and had to postpone its publication until things were sorted out.

sex magic and perversion francis kingSexuality, Magic and Perversion – Francis King
Citadel Press – 1974 (Originally published 1971)

I hadn’t read anything by King when I bought this book based on its title alone (I’ve since reviewed his Secret Rituals of the O.T.O.), and I was expecting something rather trashy when I made the purchase. This book, however, isn’t very trashy at all. It’s a relatively sensible overview of how sex has been used in magical practice throughout history. It’s pretty good.

I didn’t follow some of the stuff on tantricism at the beginning, but the chapters on the more modern occultists were very interesting. I’ve seen Charles Leadbeater’s name come up in loads of books that discuss Theosophy, but I didn’t know he was a dirty, boy-touching bastard until I read this one. The stuff on Crowley was entertaining too. Apparently ol’ Aleister liked getting bummed as crowds of his friends watched.
aleister crowley bugger

Sexuality, Magic and Perversion was insightful, well researched and it made me want to read more books. The writing was neither overly academic nor flagrant nonsense. I’m looking forward to reading more of Francis King’s work in the future.

Yes, this post is considerably shorter than my regular output, but don’t be dismayed. I’ve held back on the really interesting discovery that I made whilst reading this book. Said discovery is so exciting that I’m giving it its own separate post. (I’ll post it tomorrow!) If you’re at all interested in Sexuality, Magic and Perversion (the book) and/or sexuality, magic, perversion and the activities these concepts entail, I guarantee, you’ll want to read what’s coming up next.

 

The Books of Richard Bachman

Richard Bachman was an American fiction writer who died in 1985. His books were quite dystopian and unpleasant. From what I can figure out, he was a friend of Stephen King – both authors repeatedly reference each other in their works, and Stephen King wrote introductions to several posthumous editions of Bachman’s books. I’m a big Stephen King fan, so I decided to spend a few months reading every book that Bachman wrote. I’m reviewing them here in the order that I read them, not the order that they were published.

bachman rageRage – 1977
This is the only book by this author that’s out of print. It’s about a kid killing two of his teachers and then taking his class hostage. While being held hostage, the students start opening up and sharing their deepest secrets with eachother. I found it pretty hard to swallow the idea of the kids bonding in a situation like this. At the end, they gang up on a boy (not the shooter) and brutally attack him.

The shooter had a messed up home life, but it wasn’t nearly messed up enough to justify his behaviour. None of the victims in this novel deserve what they get. There’s no satisfaction when they die. School shootings have become a far more frequent occurence since this book was published too, and some actual school shooters’ lockers have been found to contain this book. I didn’t like this one much.

 

long walk bachmanThe Long Walk – 1979
This is the story of 100 teenagers in a competition to see who can walk the furthest without stopping. If they stop, they are shot dead. An interesting idea for a story, but it’s not an enjoyable read. A few months ago, I complained about how Henry James used frustrating language to make his readers feel the frustration that his characters are going through. In a similar way, Richard Bachman wrote a gruelling book about a gruelling experience. Like the road the characters are walking, this book goes on and on. While reading it, I kept wishing that it was a short story – it’s a straightforward concept that can only end one way, perfect for that format – but a short story wouldn’t bring out the true horror, the monotonous, inevitable, tortuous misery of the Long Walk.

I kept hoping that the walk would reach a point where the walkers started dropping off quickly, but that doesn’t really happen. The concept is quite brilliant in that way – the further the walkers go and the fewer of them that are alive, the better each individual’s chances become, spurring them on to continue. It’s a really clever, yet absolutely horrible, idea. The book is succesful in making the reader feel uncomfortable – for a book set on the open road, it’s strangely claustrophobic – but I can’t really say I enjoyed the journey. It reminded me of sitting through the 5th hour of a 10 hour flight. A rotten book that will make you feel lousy.

 

bachman roadworkRoadwork – 1981
I’m still not sure if this was a good book. While its ending is only marginally less obvious than The Long Walk, I found getting to that point to be more entertaining. (There’s only one potential destination for the characters in both novels, but the protagonist of Roadwork has several potential ways of getting there.) This is the story of a man’s life falling apart. It was clearly written by a person who was upset. No real surprises, but entertaining all the same.

 

bachman blazeBlaze – 2006
Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork and The Running Man used to be published together as a collection called The Bachman Books. I can’t remember why, but I took a break from that collection after Roadwork and read this 2007 book. Blaze was written in the 70s and revised for publication 30+ years later. Essentially the author has taken the 2 main characters from a famous Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and put them into very different circumstances. Instead of ranch workers, they’re now small time criminals, and once George is murdered, Lenny (or Blaze, as he’s called here) comes up with a plan to make a million dollars. If you’re familiar with Steinbeck’s work, you’ll have an idea of how things are going to end here, but that doesn’t ruin this story. There is only the slightest hint of supernatural activity towards the end of the novel, and I think it’s quite a push to describe this as a ghost story. It’s not a bad read though.

 

bachman running manThe Running Man – 1982
Honestly, this felt like a much improved version of the Long Walk. It’s the same basic idea (a government that kills people for entertainment), but this one has more of a futuristic, sci-fi vibe to it. Again, there’s only a few ways this story could possibly end, and by the time you get to the last quarter of the book, there is absolutely no question of where this is going. The chapters are numbered backwards too, and the whole countdown thing is pretty cool. I tried watching the movie, but I only got 40 mins into it before giving up.

 

stephen king desperationDesperation – 1996
Ok, so I know you’re probably surprised to see a Stephen King novel in this post, but let me explain. In 1994, Richard Bachman’s widow found a manuscript of an unpublished novel called The Regulators in her cellar. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somehow the manuscript managed to find its way into the hands of Stephen King. There is a brief reference to the Overlook Hotel (from King’s The Shining) in The Regulators, and King has name-dropped Bachman in several of his works since Bachman’s death, so I assume the two authors had become friends at a literary party or writing convention or something in the 80s. If Bachman’s wife or agent had stayed in touch with King, they might well have sent the manuscript to him to help get it published – by the mid 90s, King was the most popular author in the world. Before exerting his influence to have the book published, King seems to have decided to pay homage to his fallen comrade by writing a companion text to Bachman’s unpublished novel.

This post is about Bachman’s books though, so I’ll explain that in more detail in reference to his text later. As for King’s book, this is definitely one of his less brilliant novels. The concept is decent, the story is super gory, and there are some genuinely creepy ideas in here, but I reckon this would have worked better as a novella. At 700+ pages, Desperation is needlessly long. It’s also surprisingly religious. King was going through some difficult stuff in his life and used writing this book to work things out for himself. There’s a lot of discussion about the nature of God. This book has weird sex things, underground monsters, blood and guts, but it’s actually quite shit.

bachman the regulatorsThe Regulators – 1996
This book features the same characters as Stephen King’s novel Desperation, but instead of them fighting against the demonic Tak in a ghost town filled with corpses and scorpions, they get to battle him without leaving their neighbourhood. The Regulators is set in an alternate universe where the characters from Desperation are neighbours rather than drifters in the desert. Realistically though, most of the characters share only a name with their counterpart in Desperation. (David and Ralph Carver switch places as father and son.) Tak, the antagonist, is quite different too.

The Regulators was fairly shit, but I don’t think I noticed how shit it was until I was finished. It was exactly like a Goosebumps book for grown-ups. The plot was quite dumb. If a person was determined to finish all of Bachman’s books, I would suggest reading King’s Desperation before The Regulators. I know that sounds a bit strange given that The Regulators has to have been written before Desperation, but let me explain: The Regulators is quite short, and I think that Desperation’s mammoth size was King’s attempt to flesh out Bachman’s concept without editing the original text. Both books are shit though, so you’d be better off just leaving them alone.

 

bachman thinnerThinner – 1984
Out of all of Bachman’s books, Thinner was the one that I wanted to read most, so I saved it for last. Somehow my friend Damo and I managed to rent a VHS copy of the movie version when we were kids, and while I remembered very little of the plot, I knew that this one was going to be a fairly straightforward horror story. Reading through a story that I had seen in a movie almost 20 years previously was a bit strange. I’d realise what was going to happen just before the book revealed it.

A fat man gets cursed by a gypsy and starts losing weight. The story is quite Bachmany in its inevitability – horror stories about curses can’t have happy endings. From the very beginning, you know that the protagonist is either going to waste away to nothing or have the curse lifted only to suffer an even more miserable death. The drawn out misery of the first two thirds of the book reminded me of The Long Walk. Things definitely pick up towards the end, but I think that this would have been more enjoyable as a short story than as a novel.

There’s a reference to Stephen King in here too, strengthening my belief that the two authors were friends.

richard bachmanThe only known photograph of Bachman

Well, that’s it for Richard Bachman. Apparently his wife still has some unpublished manuscripts, so it’s possible that another one will come out in the future. In honesty though, I’m happy enough waiting. These books weren’t anything special. Bachman’s friend, Stephen King, writes more enjoyable books.

Robert Anton Wilson, the Last Great Irish Modernist?

James Joyce and Albert Einstein are drinking in a pub together when a panicked man rushes into the bar. Jimmy, Albert and Sir John Babcock, the man claiming that he’s being pursued by a devil, leave the bar and go to Einstein’s apartment where Babcock recounts the mysterious occurrences that have led him to this point. His narrative is interspersed with questions, observations and pontifications from Joyce and Einstein. This is Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson’s 8th novel.

robert anton wilson masks illuminatiMasks of the Illuminati – Robert Anton Wilson
Dell Trade Paperback – 1981

The story is full of ideas that fans of Wilson will be familiar with, and there are references to half the authors that have been featured on this site. Not only do the names and works of writers like Lovecraft, Wilde, Charles Maturin and Philip Jose Farmer pop up throughout, but the story itself directly borrows from and repeatedly references Robert W. Chamber’s King in Yellow, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Vril. Oh, and Aleister Crowley turns out to be behind most of the plot’s mischief, so a basic understanding of his work, life story and personality is probably necessary for readers of this book. I felt pretty cool reading through and patting myself on the back every time I came across a reference that I recognized.

James Joyce is not only one of the main characters in this book; he’s also a huge stylistic influence on the writing. Lots of the people following this blog are probably just here for the Satanism and aliens, and these unfortunates might not have much of a background in Irish modernism, so I’ll just briefly state that James Joyce was a genius writer whose books about life in Dublin city got progressively more mental and complicated as he got older. His final novel, the infamous Finnegan’s Wake, is 600 pages of dense, indecipherable nonsense. (I watched a lecture by RAW on youtube a few years ago in which he described a means of using Finnegan’s Wake as a form of telling the future. Masks of the Illuminati is set pre Ulysses though, so there’s no overt discussion of FW in here.) For most of Masks of the Illuminati, the Joycean influence is mild, and only the sections describing characters’ dreams are truly loopy.

finnegans wake nonsenseI got about 6 pages into Finnegan’s Wake before giving up.

While Joyce is clearly an important influence on the writing of Masks, it’s hard to tell how much of the Joyciness in here is direct Joyciness and how much is Joyciness à la O’Brien. Some might think that Samuel Beckett is the next greatest Irish modernist after Joyce, but for my money, that title goes to Brian O’Nolan, better known as Flann O’Brien. (Beckett worked as a translator for Joyce as he was composing Finnegan’s Wake, and while his own writing was clearly influenced by the avant-garde nature of his master’s, O’Brien’s work is more overtly Dubliny than Beckett’s and so its weirdness is a bit more noticeably Joycean.) While the literary techniques in Joyce’s Ulysses vary from chapter to chapter, At Swim-Two-Birds, O’Brien’s equivalent masterpiece (and crucial companion to Ulysses in my opinion) tells its story through the repeated use of a selection of literary gimmicks.

Nature of gimmicks: various modes of information presentation: notes, poems, lists, etc.

Descriptions of things within the narrative of At Swim are labelled as if they part of a medical or judicial report. In a very similar manner, much of the description of characters and events in Masks of the Illuminati is presented in the form of questions and answers. Several portions of the narrative are also presented in the form of a screenplay. Joyce had done similar things in Ulysses, writing one chapter entirely as question and answers and one as a closet drama, but the way Wilson goes back and forth with these methods throughout the novel instead of keeping them in separate chapters makes his book read more like an O’Brien novel than one of Joyce’s.

That Wilson was a fan of O’Brien is common knowledge. He not only described O’Brien’s The Third Policeman as one of the greatest Irish novels; he also included De Selby, a recurrent character in O’Brien’s work, as a character in some of his own fiction. This recycling of fictional characters is distinctly Flannish; most of the characters in At Swim-Two-Birds are borrowed from other stories due to the narrator/author’s belief that there are already too many characters in the canon of literature.

flann o'brien einstein

So the ways in which Wilson tells his story and chooses his characters are undoubtedly similar to those of O’Brien, but it is his choice of characters that most clearly highlights the Flannish influence on Masks of the Illuminati. James Joyce appeared as an important character in O’Brien’s Dalkey Archive 17 years before Masks was published. Dalkey Archive was also heavily influenced by O’Brien’s interest in Einstein’s work (Alana Gillespie wrote a doctoral thesis addressing this influence), and at one point in the narrative, DeSelby (the character to later appear in Wilson’s fiction) directly critiques Einstein’s theory of relativity. Much like the fnords, Flann O’Brien’s influence on Masks of the Illuminati may not be immediately obvious, but it is present on every page.

I find it hard to imagine enjoying the work of either Joyce or O’Brien without having visited Dublin at least once. That might sound obnoxious, but if you’ve read the books, you’ll know what I mean. Soon after Masks of the Illuminati was published, Wilson and his wife moved to Ireland for six years. He later claimed that, “Dublin, to me, is a James Joyce theme park.”

james joyce statue

In a way it’s slightly ironic that Wilson was so inspired by the likes of Joyce. Ulysses, Joyce’s masterpiece, is a mock-epic. It takes the banal, vulgar events of an ordinary day in Dublin city and fits them into the structure of Homer’s Odyssey while simultaneously threading the narrative through every literary technique imaginable. A huge part of the appeal of Joyce’s writing is his ability to see and depict the fantastic in the ordinary. While Joyce wrote about everyday life, Robert Anton Wilson is most famous for his books about absolutely insane conspiracy theories. I love Robert Anton Wilson, but his approach of using bizarre writing techniques to write about bizarre topics is probably responsible for how relatively unpopular his writing is. He was clearly a very intelligent man with a passion for literature, but his fiction (or at least 4 out of the 5 of his novels that I have read) is remarkably inaccessible. The deliberate esotericism doubtlessly prevents squares from reading his books, but it gets nerdy, Irish weirdoes like me hot, bothered and horny for more.

That being said, I didn’t actually like how this book ended. I get that it’s supposed to be a mental book about mental topics, but the last chapter both goes and stays off the rails for a little too long. Showing a Joycean influence is cool, but going full on Finneganean is a bit embarrassing. The last 30 pages or so felt like watching a modern punk singer trying to pull a GG Allin – watching a copycat punch themself in the face and then roll around in their own feces isn’t shocking or transgressive anymore; it’s just a lad making a smelly mess of himself.

Overall though, Masks of the Illuminati is quite an interesting book. My review has focused on its Irish influences, but there’s lots more to the book. I’m sure that twice as much could be written about the Crowleyean influence and content, but I’ll leave that to somebody else. While Robert Anton Wilson was undeniably an American writer, it’s worth pointing that he spent almost one third the amount of time living in Ireland that James Joyce did, and so I can think that Ireland can take at least partial credit for his genius.

masks of the illuminati robert anton wilson

July 23rd is International Robert Anton Wilson day, so if you haven’t read any of his books, today would be a great time to start. If you’re already a fan, you should check out my RAW day post from last year, a review of his first novel, the Sex Magicians. It’s definitely one of the better posts on this blog.

Are We Alone? We Are Not Alone.

are we alone we are not alone
These books are a little different to the books about aliens that I have previously reviewed. They are not books by/about alien abductees, books about people that can channel messages from alien entities, books about ancient aliens nor books about the UFO phenomenon. No, these two books attempt to use science and mathematics to work out if there is other life in the universe and if we will ever encounter it. BORING!

Are We Alone? – Robert T. Rood & James S. Trefil
Scribners – 1981

trefil and roodProfessors Rood and Trefil, two handsome hunks.

Are We Alone? focuses on the Drake Equation and its variables. I’m not much of a math/science guy, so I’m just going to quote directly from the Drake Equation’s wikipedia entry to explain it.

The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The number of such civilizations N, is assumed to be equal to the mathematical product of

  1. R, the average rate of star formations, in our galaxy,
  2. fp, the fraction of formed stars that have planets,
  3. ne for stars that have planets, the average number of planets that can potentially support life,
  4. fl, the fraction of those planets that actually develop life,
  5. fi, the fraction of planets bearing life on which intelligent, civilized life, has developed,
  6. fc, the fraction of these civilizations that have developed communications, i.e., technologies that release detectable signs into space, and
  7. L, the length of time over which such civilizations release detectable signals,

for a combined expression of:

N = R x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

The authors devote a chapter to calculate the range (from optimistic to pessimistic) of values for each variable. This book was far more academic than I wanted it to be, and I didn’t understand a lot of what the authors were talking about. I found myself skimming through large sections. Rood and Trefil conclude that while not impossible, it is highly, highly unlikely that our galaxy houses other forms of intelligent life. This book was boring as hell, but I don’t think it was bullshit.

we are not aloneWe Are Not Alone – Walter Sullivan
Laffont Special Edition – 1970? (originally published 1964)

Despite its title, We Are Not Alone was written before Are We Alone? It’s a little broader in its scope, providing a fairly detailed history of astronomy and discussing potential implications of contact with an alien race, but the focus here is largely the same. Written before man walked on the moon, the science in this one is probably quite dated – I’m assuming that there have since been breakthroughs in astronomy that affect the calculations and speculation herein, but the author was a well respected science journalist, and he doesn’t seem like a huge bullshitter. He concludes that it is very likely that intelligent alien life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Sullivan discusses some interesting points about religion and contact with aliens. Could other planets be home to creatures that never fell from grace with God? Is there Gardens of Eden on strange distant lands? Did God separate us because one race had fallen further than another? Can we use technology to spread the word of Christ through the Cosmos? What if visitors to Earth are religious missionaries, spreading a bizarre alien faith? All pretty interesting ideas. There was also a chapter on meteorites, and it made me think of Jordy Verrell.

Sullivan reckoned that aliens are out there. Rood and Trefil say that we’re probably alone. Neither provides any definitive conclusions, and as far as I know, as of 2018, we’re not much closer to determining whether we are alone in the universe or not. Personally, I still have my fingers crossed that an Independence Day style invasion is approaching. I assume that tyrannical Alien overlords would do a better job of running this planet than the idiots we’ve chosen for the job.

independence day

Both of these books were a little sciencey for my tastes. I’ll try to stick with books about aliens written by/for gullible idiots in the future.