The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction

You won’t be surprised I first heard about this book from a review in Fortean Times.

Review: The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction: Charles Fort and the Evolution of the Genre, Tanner F. Boyle, 2020.

The price for the Kindle edition — $27.99 – was ridiculous. (Evidently, McFarland and other academic publishers think there are no non-academics who want to read their books.)

I’ve known about Charles Fort and his relationship to science fiction for 40 years since encountering Brian Ash’s The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Robert Holdstock’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I’ve read Charles Forts four famous books. I’ve read Damon Knight’s and Jim Steinmeyer’s biographies of Charles Fort. I sought out the blatantly Fortean science fiction novels: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier and Dreadful Sanctuary and James Blish’s Jack of Eagles. I’ve long known about the Fortean influence on Arthur C. Clarke. I’ve subscribed to Fortean Times for decades.

Was Boyle going to tell me anything I didn’t know?


Charles Fort was the father of what Boyle calls “maybe fiction” – all those “occult” and paranormal studies and personal accounts, all the hidden (and usually ancient) histories, and UFO abduction stories we’ve heard of, authors like Graham Hancock, Richard Shaver, and Whitley Streiber whose accounts we either believe, judge as innocent mistakes, or regard as works of insanity. These are tales we are asked to believe whether couched as academic works or autobiography.

Continue reading

Cosmic Trigger III

The Robert Anton Wilson series concludes.

Raw Feed (2004): Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death, Robert Anton Wilson, 1995, 2004.Cosmic Trigger III

This book was as thought provoking and informative as its predecessor and used the same mélange of philosophy, observation, science, and autobiography (though less of that this time).

Here one of the central organizing idea is the championing of multivariant logic (which I was interested to learn predates fuzzy logic and goes back to at least John von Neumann) over true/false Aristotelian logic.

I see a couple of problems with this championing — not the first time I’ve seen this idea proposed, one of the developers of fuzzy logic technology wrote similar silly missionary tracts on its political value though Wilson does delve into the area of politics as deeply here — of multilogic. First, how do you assign value to the values between true and false though, of course, Wilson would argue the same about the values of true and false themselves and, second, in the realm of law and administration, multivalue logic has many problems and little value (though you could argue pardons are a form of multivariant logic in criminal justice).

Other ideas are the Holy Blood, Holy Grail/Priory of Sion conspiracy, the realness of fakes (as in art forgeries) and the fakeness of genuine (fiat money) as exemplified by the Orson Welles’ film F For Fake (Wilson is a fan of Welles), and the value of General Semantics in reorganizing our thinking into realizing there are many mental maps which have different amounts of utility given the context, a context, Wilson argues, that is often culturally induced.

Adherence to E-Prime in writing accounts for Wilson’s fast, effective prose dealing with complicated matters, and General Semantics probably has some useful utility in reminding us of the cognitive traps we can fall in though some of it is banal truth albeit truth that we need reminding of.

Wilson devotes a whole chapter that is somewhat convincing in showing Carl Sagan to being a sloppy, unfair hack in denouncing Immanuel Velikovsky. Even noted astronomer Robert Jastrow notes Velikovsky seems to have understood gravity more than Sagan. He even goes some ways to convincing me that Wilhelm Reich was unfairly libeled. Certainly, I would be against burning his books, which did happen after he was arrested, even if they were crank science. (Though Wilson is somewhat guilty of assuming that just because a person has done good scientific work in a number of areas means that work they were attacked for was valid.)

He does make some valid points about how some professional skeptics engage in bad thinking and name calling and are dogmatic. He is right to point out that science sometimes simply doesn’t even try to confirm outrageous new theories. However, I think there are reasons for that apart from scientific conservatism (a good thing) and government coercion and even fear of not gaining tenure. Time and money are limited. Why waste both disproving a pretty likely false theory? It won’t add to knowledge or your reputation.

Wilson defends Shakespeare against his modern detractors though he, typically for Wilson, refuses to endorse Harold Bloom’s idea that he is the greatest writer ever and only say that he appears to be so given his current mixture of literary knowledge and ignorance. He rightly point out that Shakespeare’s detractors simply hate him because of his race and sex and haven’t shown any heirs to his title.

Wilson seems to largely ignore the question of utility in his philosophy. He talks about it when discussing scientific theories of physics that contradict the world of our senses. He states we all see reality through different masks, masks determined by a variety of factors including culture and biology, and that different masks work in different contexts. Continue reading

Cosmic Trigger II

The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.

Raw Feed (2004): Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth, Robert Anton Wilson, 1991.cosmic-trigger-ii

I liked this book even more than the first Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati.

Whereas that book was built around Wilson’s speculation that he received messages from a source around the star Sirius, this book is more wide ranging though, like its predecessors, it mixes in plenty of autobiography which reveals Wilson to be well grounded in all sorts of areas from math and physics to myth and religion to literature.

It is not built around a central mystic revelation. Rather its philosophical crux is shown in to statements: “Never believe totally in somebody else’s BS. … Never believe totally in your own BS.” (BS here is pun on belief system and bullshit.)

Throughout the book, Wilson touches on the scientific (mostly relativity and quantum physics), linguistic (including General Semantics which seems to have something to recommend it though it might be restating banal truths already known — an impression which Wilson seems to validate when he mentions that much of Korzybski thoughts recapitulated earlier philosophers), and philosophy that supports his eternal rejection of either/or logic for maybe and variant maps, or, to use Timothy Leary’s phrase that he is fond of, “reality tunnels” of existence. Continue reading

Cosmic Trigger

While I work on some new review, I’m continuing with the Robert Anton Wilson series.

Raw Feed (2004): Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson, 1977.cosmic-trigger

This book provided some interesting autobiographical material on Wilson. I note confirmation of my theory that engineers seemed to be attracted to outré ideas more than scientists by the fact that Wilson started out training to be an electrical engineer before switching to mathematics (which may explain why he has such a good grasp of quantum physics).

He admits to being of an analytical mind and fascinated by puzzles. I would say, in his case, the analytical mind likes to create puzzles where none exist as well as solve them. In his mind, pattern seeking behavior is in overdrive, and that accounts for the sometimes delightful and interesting connections he makes between the occult and/or (a favorite connector of Wilson who eschews binary logic) science and/or conspiracy theories as well as his seeming encyclopedia knowledge of the occult and conspiracy theories.

I came away with more and less respect for Wilson. Continue reading

Nature’s God

The Robert Anton Wilson continues while I slowly work on getting some new stuff out.

Incidentally, the new cover design is a clue that Wilson burned through two publishers with this series before the third volume of the series was finally put out.

Raw Feed (1992): Nature’s God: Volume 3 of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Robert Anton Wilson, 1991.Nature's God.jpg

Each of the three novels in this series has a different emphasis, a different style.

The Earth Will Shake was pretty much a straightforward novel with an emphasis on the various warring Illuminati and the meaning of various occult symbols and initiations. That emphasis on symbology and initiation grew more in The Widow’s Son with less character development and a large element of philosophy and humor (in the footnotes especially).

Nature’s God has large dollops of philosophy, mysticism and humor.

I was bored by the ceremony where Maria Babcock and Sigismundo Celine mystically meet out of the body. I also was bored by Maria Babcock’s initiation into the craft of women.

The whole misanthropic and iconoclastic chapter called “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine” was interesting to read (and reminded me of Marcus Aurelius Meditations or Robert Heinlein’s The Notebook of Lazarus Long) and even had some things worth thinking about but plot and story screech to a halt during this long segment.  Continue reading

The Widow’s Son

The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.

Raw Feed (1992): The Widow’s Son: Volume 2 of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Robert Anton Wilson, 1985.widows-son

As I recall, when this series (at least the first two books) was published by Bluejay books, it was put out one book right after another. I wonder if this second book was written right after The Earth Will Shake but later revised to include all the footnoted references to books from 1983 and 1984 involving, amongst other things, violent Italian Freemasons and Vatican banking scandals. These facts are the best part of the book, particularly the fictitious philosopher and Wilson alter ego de Selby. De Selby, that strange philosopher of plenumary time (the belief that every nanosecond is the result of all the other nanoseconds before and after — obvious influenced by Wilson study of the implications of Bell’s Theorem in quantum mechanics), constantly bothered by mysterious rappings as he tries to build a time machine (De Selby seems to appear to Sigismundo Celine when he’s imprisoned in the Bastille), an unrequited lover of a lesbian, and a purveyor of strange whimsical statements like all reported sensations (be they ghosts, UFOS, whatever) are real (“patapsychology” that argues that perceptions show reality — objects do really shrink at a distance for instance), that all aesthetic statements (however contradictory) are true descriptors of the speaker’s neurological system, and that King Kong, the Holy Ghost, and photons are all real because the human mind has encountered and endured them — the rest of reality is created by gossip.

De Selby is attacked by critics (one who maintains he is a composite character created by Schrodinger, Einstein, and Groucho Marx amongst others). One critic may even be de Selby under a pen name. And there is the mysterious Dr. Hankopf (with ties to the Knights of Malta and CIA) who, out of Heidelberg, conducts murders and slurs against De Selby and his supporters and, just before his death, seems to have uncovered an even vaster conspiracy. Wilson does a delightful job playing with your mind. Continue reading

The Earth Will Shake

The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.
This book was a surprise after reading Wilson and Robert J Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy.
This book actually is closer to a regular novel, and Wilson proves he can do characters and plotting like everyone else. He does a nice job on Sigismundo Celine who we see come of age and develop as an illuminatus and a young man, and he’s an engaging character.
Wilson isn’t as raunchy or humorous as is in the Illuminatus Trilogy (though there is humor), and the conspiracy theories don’t come as fast and furious though we got Rossi, Mafia, Carbonari, Jacobites, Alumbrado, and Freemasons in a few pages.
Rather Wilson seems to be devoting himself to the real spiritual meaning behind various secret initiation rites, the psychology being intuitively practiced in them, the common links in the worldview behind many “secret” society philosophies.
And, of course, Wilson is doing his usual job of playing with your mind, driving you to be sceptical of everything: politics, religion, reality.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Masks of the Illuminati

I’m still working on some new reviews, so I thought I’d start another series of Raw Feeds.

I’m going a long way back on this one — to 1987, and the very first book I decided, mostly as a memory refresher, to write up notes on.

For some reason, Robert Anton Wilson came to mind as needing a series.

I read his Illuminatus Trilogy, co-authored with Robert Shea, but made no notes on it.

Wilson was an interesting figure and acclaimed in various circles including the Boomer counterculture, libertarians, science fiction, occult circles, and gaming since the Illuminatus Trilogy inspired Steve Jackson Games Illuminati game. His wiki page seems accurate given what I’ve read of him.

Wilson, a bit like a modern Charles Fort, preached a sort of “agnosticism about everything”.

Raw Feed (1987): Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson, 1981.masks-of-the-illuminati

Once again Wilson shows amazing erudition of occult/philosophical/conspiratorial/religious quantum matters. As he said, he structured this book like a detective novel.  I’m not sure I liked the final hallucinatory, Joyce-style ending, but it provided final (though there is really no such thing as finality given the philosophy of the book) illumination for Einstein, Joyce and their work. The comparison of Joyce’s writing, relativity theory, and occult systems was interesting.

The book’s main characters are Albert Einstein, James Joyce, and Allister Crowley. Continue reading