Alis Franklin's Reviews > The Illuminatus! Trilogy

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea
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did not like it
bookshelves: sci-fi, cw-sexual-violence-or-rape, read-2014
Recommended for: NO ONE EVER

This is a book of failed ideology.

I don't just mean dated ideology, though it's that, too. (I mean, seriously, does anyone under 50 know who Timothy Leary or the Weather Underground are any more? And no, they're not the "Asshole" song guy and the forecast website, either.)

I mean this is a book of failed ideologies. To understand that you need to understand the influence The Illuminatus! Trilogy: The Eye in the Pyramid/The Golden Apple/Leviathan had on early hacker culture. The exact trackback isn't really relevant but, to get some idea, any time anyone in this book talks about "flaxscript" or "hempscript", replace those words with "Bitcoin" and "Litecoin". In fact, go read the entire appendix on private currencies and tell me that isn't the spiritual predecessor of the modern cryptocurrency.

I'm still waiting for my libertarian utopia. "Anarcho capitalism", indeed. Please.

Believe it or not, I really wanted to like this book. I really like some of its modern day successors (Funcom's MMO The Secret World comes to mind), and I also have a fondness for postmodern literature. Great combo, right? And, actually, I was tossing up giving the book two or three stars. Because, when it works, it's a riot. I actually think the cut-up nature of the narrative will be less alien to modern readers than those at the time of the book's original publication, given it feels very much like scrolling down a Tumblr dashboard filled with conspiracy theory posts, song snippets, and rambling stream-of-consciousness nightblogging. That part of the prose is enjoyable, jumping between one outlandish theory to another, not really caring the world is populated by a combination of thinly-drawn cardboard cut-outs, authorial self-inserts, and one of the most obnoxious Gary Stus I've ever had the misfortune of reading. It's okay, because the conspiracies are fun.

Then, somewhere around the half-way mark, the authors decide they need A Plot. And things just go downhill from there. Very, very slowly and ponderously so. Which is a shame, because in another context--one, say, populated with more enjoyable characters and less sophomoric pseudo-intellectual gibberish--the plot would actually be kinda fun. Yeah, it jumps around a lot and some of the plot threads are confusing... but, like, have you ever tried to read Homestuck? And most of that comic's fans are under 20. This book ain't got nothing on Homestuck in the complexity stakes, man. Plus it has magic and undersea oceans and zombie Nazis and world-wide conspiracies and all that good stuff. So what's not to love, right?

Oh. The sophomoric pseudo-intellectual gibberish. Right. That.

See, here's the thing: this book very, very obviously thinks it's being very, very clever.

It is not. It is being the sort of "clever" that seems Deep and Thoughtful to a particular breed of eighteen-to-twentysomething middle class white male. The sort that ends in, "... lulz w/e!" in order to hide the fact you did not, in fact, seem impressed by its self-important tedium. And make no mistake, I use the words "white" and "male" there very deliberately. Because for all this book obviously thinks of itself as radical and "progressive"--and, for whatever the rest of its politics, it very definitely does--for all that, it is the biggest steaming heap of racist, sexist, homophobic trash I've had the misfortune of reading.


Yes, it's and old book and it's dated... but even for its time its gender- and racial politics would've been bad. The latter shines through in every sentence of Orientalist appropriation and every paragraph referencing Atlantis ("Brown people didn't invent civilisation and humans don't come from Africa! That's ridiculous! Obviously a sunken magical city is a much more reasonable explanation!"). The former...

Jesus. Okay.

So, like, let's talk about this book's sexism for a second. Because women in this book aren't people. At best, they're ciphers and status symbols and tools for men to use on their way to doing all the narrative's heavy lifting. At worst, they're literally brainwashed, identity-free interchangeable sex dolls only defined by which male character can make them achieve screaming orgasm in some of the most unsexy sex scenes every written. And if that wasn't bad enough, then the book gets around to explaining Eris and... oo-oo-oo-oh boy. There were not enough caps on my keyboard to handle my annotations in iBooks, let me tell you.

And, like. I could deal with the book just being straight-up sexist. I live in the world. I've dealt with that before; ho hum SSDD and all that. But my problem with this sexism in particular is that it dresses itself up in the clothes of feminism. Basically, this is the fauxminism of two men working as editors for Playboy, with their ability to write compelling female characters about on par with what you'd expect from employees of said media empire.

So... yeah. This got kind of long but I suppose that's payback for the length of time it took me to get through The Illuminatus! Trilogy: The Eye in the Pyramid/The Golden Apple/Leviathan in the first place. I've had a lot of time to think about this stuff, in other words.

Ultimately, I guess I'm glad I read this in a "I'm glad I read it" sort of way, and it is (a-har) illuminating regarding some currently in vogue social and political ideals.

But I really couldn't recommend anyone else do the same.

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Reading Progress

May 26, 2014 – Started Reading
May 26, 2014 – Shelved
May 26, 2014 –
1.0% "I ran out of new items in my RSS feed. Yeah. IDEK either."
May 28, 2014 –
6.0% "Gods. This is so incredibly dated now. The gimmick reads like deliberate badfic (so just sort of pretentious and trying too hard), the conspiracies are trite, it's INCREDIBLY bigoted (while obviously thinking it isn't), and the cultural references are deader than the Weathermen they reference. I can see how people thought it was cool or whatever in its day, but... yeah. Meh."
May 31, 2014 –
10.0% "Oh Jesus gross. 70s Libertarian "sexual liberation" based on a woman telling the protag to think of her "like a doll". I've had too much wine for this..."
June 3, 2014 –
14.0% "I think the saddest (most enraging?) part of this book is the realisation that, for all the Big Talk of 1960s counterculture, these pretentious beige men achieved. Fuck. All. Yes, some change came in the 60s and 70s, but these sad little white cis boys weren't it. Everything they touched--the economy, politics, drug culture--they broke."
June 3, 2014 –
15.0% "Also: this book has possibly THE most unerotic sex scenes I've ever read. I think they're trying to be sexy, but the author's just too much of a self-deluding misogynist and it really, really shows. Icky and boring and not even very "subversive" or whatever they're supposed to be (all focused as they are on male sexual agency and female submission/objectification)."
June 4, 2014 –
22.0% "This book uses a lot of words to say nothing particularly insightful."
June 6, 2014 –
27.0% "I can't decide whether the author's abject lack of comprehension re. female sexuality is sad, hilarious, or depressing..."
June 20, 2014 –
35.0% "And oh, look. The Obligatory Rape Scene. With some Standard Issue Transmisogyny for good measure. Joy."
June 22, 2014 –
41.0% "I think I need some kind of code for reading this. Like, green highlights are "racism", red are "misogyny", purple are "homo- or transphobia". It will be a rainbow of shitty "liberal" male bigotry!"
June 26, 2014 –
51.0% "This keeps trying to be "progressive" and "edgy" by flirting with queerness, while still managing to be grossly homophobic and heteronormative."
July 2, 2014 –
59.0% "I think I liked this book better back before it was pretending to have a plot..."
July 7, 2014 –
65.0% "I think it's like some law than whenever white assholes invent some alternate mythic origin for the human species, it has to completely whitewash and erase the contributions of peoples from Africa and the Middle East. It's like white people are more likely to believe in aliens than they are that all humans were originally black."
July 17, 2014 –
87.0% "Y'know I actually thought that, this late in the game, I'd seen the worst this book had to offer. But no, nope. It surprised me. Congratulations, authors, for officially writing the most disgustingly racist, misogynist piece of trash I've ever had the misfortune to read."
July 17, 2014 – Shelved as: sci-fi
July 17, 2014 – Shelved as: cw-sexual-violence-or-rape
July 17, 2014 – Finished Reading
May 28, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2014

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