A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
Happy Hallowe’en all you living, dead, and undecided. May all the critters that jump out at you be welcome. Tricks can be treats, you know – don’t accept the divisive framing.
My big news is that the paperback of The Future Starts Here is now in shops – and as I mentioned in the last newsletter, it contains a new afterword to bring it up to date. If you’ve already read the hardback, then don’t worry, you won’t miss out – you can read the afterword online over at The Social Gathering.
For those of you who have already listened to the audiobook, I’ve recorded the afterword just for you. I’ve uploaded it to YouTube – you’ll find it here.
In the 18 months or so between the hardback and paperback, it’s been gratifying to see so many people moving on from the dead end of kneejerk cynicism and blind pessimism that the book talks about. This article by Cory Doctorow in the Slate is a terrific example, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel The Ministry of the Future looks like a much-needed shot of cold reality and hot ideas.
If you need more of this type of exploratory thinking, the Journey to Nutopia zoom events that have been occurring during lockdown are now online and free to watch. You’ll find them here – there’s tonnes of good stuff to explore and if you scroll down to 5th June you’ll find Pessimism is for Lightweights, the event I did with national treasure Salena Godden – look out for her novel Mrs Death Misses Death in January, I promise you it’s rare gold.
It’s my 23rd newsletter, and just over a week after Timothy Leary’s 100th birthday, so clearly it’s time for a lost 1974 manuscript by Robert Anton Wilson about Leary to ping into the world. Hilaritas Press have just published The Starseed Signals, and it comes complete with a foreword by me. More details and how to order can be found here.
What would Wilson make of the all the Qanon umbrella of conspiracies around at the moment, I wonder? As much as he enjoyed a good conspiracy, I imagine he’d find them pretty depressing and unimaginative. If nothing else, these current conspiracies are profoundly paranoid and joyless.
In the late twentieth century, conspiracy theories told of aliens building pyramids, secret cabals guarding holy treasures for centuries, recovered UFO tech and other wide-eyed wonders. The current crop of Qanon/5G/anti-vax conspiracies etc, in comparison, are all products of fear rather than imagination. They all tell of a vague, grey cloud of terrible undefined evil just over the horizon, forever out of sight but never out of mind. Some people seem to be getting off on this, but I find it hard to see the appeal.
One thing I’ve noticed is that while these conspiracies have been sucking in people from all different corners of society, those who have read Wilson have been pretty much immune to them. I base this statement only on anecdotal evidence, admittedly, but I do know a lot of Discordians and RAW aficionados. While they may be interested in what’s happening, and they may be curious and knowledgeable about it – none of them are prepared to actually believe it.
Wilson’s most famous work The Illuminatus! Trilogy (co-written with Bob Shea, of course) was a satire based on the idea that all conspiracies were true. It’s not a book I usually recommend to those curious about Wilson – it’s very much a product of its time, and not all of it has aged well. It was written by two staff members at Playboy magazine in the years before second-wave feminism broke through, for example, so it’s easy to have issues with it now. But it’s still a powerful thing, in terms of its impact on readers. It can rewire people’s minds to prevent them falling for bullshit – their own, in particular, but other people’s as well.
The Qanon umbrella of conspiracies is not that different from Illuminatus! in certain ways – it too embraces all conspiracies as being potentially true, in order to better game the Facebook and YouTube algorithms and draw in as many believers as possible. How, I wonder, does the impact of all this playing out on a believer’s timeline differ from reading Illuminatus? And more importantly, will it have the same effect?
Illuminatus! is structured to first tease, intrigue and draw you in, before taking you to a place where you are lost, bewildered and see no hope of finding firm ground again. It’s here – in the state of mind that Wilson called Chapel Perilous – that the book works its magic, by forcing you to face up to and accept the limitations of your reality tunnel. For all those Qanon true believers still expecting Trump to round up and imprison the evil satanic liberal deep state – well, November is going to be difficult for them, I expect. That creaking noise you hear is the doors to Chapel Perilous swinging open.
This is a dangerous situation. No-one wants to deal with heavily-armed white supremacists who are battling their own cognitive dissonance and losing. It is better to read Illuminatus! than to live it, especially in the form of a society-wide paranoid LARP programmed by Philip K. Dick. But the overall impact of all this in the long term is as yet unwritten, and there may be many who emerge out the other side considerably wiser. The combination of a lack of human contact during lockdown and greater exposure to social media algorithms has pushed many angry people into very dark paranoid places, but we should not give up on them all just yet.
I’ve re-opened my online book cupboard, which sells signed and dedicated copies of my books, both for those who just want a signed copy and for those who want to give copies to others that are a little bit special. I started this before last Christmas and it seemed popular, so here’s your chance to get signed versions of the new Future Starts Here paperback, plus a few others.
I’ll close it in mid-December, so go have a look now and see what’s for sale.
Have a great Hallowe’en everyone! Don’t let your mask snag on your fangs.