The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Book review by Deane Barker tags: fiction, science-fiction

so, here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have read this book. More importantly, I should have stopped reading this book when it became clear that it would never make sense. But I didn’t.

Back in the 80s, I was a fan of a card game called “Illuminati” by Steve Jackson Games. I was reading about it one day, and I read that it was loosely based on this book (which is technically a trilogy of books, but is invariably presented in a single volume).

I resolved to read this.

I shouldn’t have. The book doesn’t make any sense, and is clearly not designed to. In the end, the book is a work of satire, written by two Playboy editors in the 70s, to make fun of reader letters they received which expounded on crazy conspiracy theories.

The book is non-linear. It’s told from a multiple of perspectives, tenses, and styles. One character might begin a sentence, and another character might finish it. At any given time, I doubt you could tell me whose perspective the current sentence is being written from. Characters change names, turn out to be more than one person, and at several points, the characters discuss the book itself by breaking the fourth wall.

This goes on for 800 pages.

The plot is completely incomprehensible. It involves a bombing at a magazine in New York, a crazy Captain Nemo-clone sailing around the world on a submarine, and a plot to end the world by reincarnating Nazi soldiers during a German concert…or something.

The authors were clearly having fun with it, and the book reads (both explicitly and implied) as some kind of a surreal drug trip. Being a product of the 70s, drug use and promiscuous (and highly explicit) sex are all over the place. There’s an entire Wikia for the book. It’s pretty empty. Why? Because no one understands the damn book! Hell, I’d like to contribute, but I don’t know what I’d say.

I held on because I don’t like to quit books, and because the idea of secret societies and the Illuminati interests me. I like the idea of weird things going on behind the scenes, in a parallel reality just beyond our perspective. People sneaking around and living double lives and such.

I kept hoping to realize some cultural impact from the book. There is, in fact, something there, especially geek circles. The word “fnord” comes from this book, as does interest in the numerology around the number 23. And I finally understand where “The Justified Ancients of Mumu” bit from that song by the KLF comes from. In fact, there’s probably a dozen tropes of geek culture that can trace themselves to this book, in some form.

But, in the end, it wasn’t worth it. I can say I looked at all the worlds in it, but that’s about it.

Book Info

Robert Shea
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • I own an electronic copy of this book.

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