As in Baltimore in 1983, the Prometheus Awards ceremony was again shuffled at the last minute from a large, centrally-located hall to a smaller and much more hard-to-find meeting room. (Story and speculations in this issue.)
Nevertheless, about sixty people managed to find us (among the many who weren't so lucky was Victor Milán's best friend, author Melinda Snodgrass) and were treated to some very touching speeches by winners Robert Shea and Victor Milán, and, accepting for the deceased Cyril Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl.
Below, are the speeches in their entirety and in the order in which they were given. Included is a letter from Robert Shea's co-author for The Illuminatus trilogy, Robert Anton Wilson.
I have no idea what sort of person Cyril Kornbluth would be now if he were still alive, because he was still growing and maturing as a writer and as a person when he died so very young. I don't know if he would have been a libertarian or not. I think of him primarily as an iconoclast. As somebody who didn't like graven idols of any kind and spent a lot of time trying to shatter them—which he did brilliantly in books like The Syndic.
I must say that it is really a great pleasure for me to accept this award on his behalf (which I will pass on to his widow and children) because Cyril made the mistake of doing most of his writing and a good deal of his best writing before there were awards and therefore he won almost none in his life. I think that this is an injustice which has now been rectified, and on his behalf I am very grateful.
I would not be doing this today if it were not for the other half of the team, one of the wittiest, most erudite and lovable people I've ever met, a man capable of sawing the most difficult ideas in two without hurting them, making them jump through hoops, walk into cabinets and disappear and pop out of trick top hats, a man with a universe up each sleeve. He is my very good friend and I miss his presence here today more than I can say—Robert Anton Wilson. So I very gratefully accept this award on behalf of Bob Wilson and myself.
I asked Bob if there was anything he wanted me to say in his place since he could not be here, and he wrote back, "Well, it sure was good news to hear we finally got an award of some sort for Illuminatus! The only thing you can do for me in Atlanta is tell as many people as possible that my next American lecture tour begins in January, and anyone who is interested in lectures by me or seminars by Arlen and me should contact us at 3 the Haggard, Howth. Dublin, Ireland." So I have just passed that on to as many people as possible.
I also want to thank the members of the Libertarian Futurist Society who thought enough of Illuminatus! to vote it into their Hall of Fame. The greatest honor of all, I think, is to have our work mentioned in the same breath with the seven great novels that make up the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame. Heady company. And I am very, very grateful to the thousands of readers who have kept Illuminatus! alive from the day it was first published to this moment. It is claimed that Illuminatus! started a cult. I am happy to be a member of the Illuminatus! Nut Cult, which is responsible for my meeting some of the most delightful people it has ever been my pleasure and privilege to know.
I sometimes think it's remarkable that anybody at all read Illuminatus! When it first came out in 1975 the publisher decided to label it "Science Fiction," which meant that it would be put in an obscure corner of the bookstores where, as we all know, only a handful of weird people ever venture. On the other hand, the editors of all the science fiction magazines then extant refused to review Illuminatus! on the grounds that it was not science fiction—by whatever definition they were using that year. So we were banished from the mainstream but also rejected by the ghetto. A novel without a home. The fact that Illuminatus! survived this inauspicious start is proof that the weird people are even weirder than anybody gave them credit for.
Wilson and I initially had it in mind to write a fairly short international espionage paperback thriller based on the conspiracy theories in the air at that moment, particularly those about the Bavarian Illuminati and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Well, things got rather out of hand. Bob sometimes puts forward the notion that our minds were taken over by a bunch of super-intelligent dogs living on a planet circling Sirius. It's not hard to believe that, because in my home we have two ordinary Earth-type dogs who pretty much run our lives. But my own more prosaic idea is that the madness of Illuminatus! was implicit in our decision to satirize the theories we were using as premises. To satirize you have to exaggerate, and since the theories themselves were already so wild in their natural state, we had to go to incredible lengths to make them look even more ridiculous. But for satire to work it also has to have a grounding in reality. So we carefully mixed strange things that were true with strange things that were not true. We put into the book things we believed and things we did not believe, things one of us believed and the other did not and things we sometimes believed and sometimes did not. And while writing the book, and afterwards as well, we often forgot which was which. Eventually it dawned on us that we were trying to make a statement about the nature of reality. We didn't start out trying to do anything so grandiose. It just grew on us.
I've been thinking about Illuminatus! in comparison to the other novels that have been chosen for the Hall of Fame, and one major difference has occurred to me. In the other Hall of Fame novels the distinction between fact and fiction is quite clear. In Illuminatus! we make a deliberate attempt to blur that distinction, to suggest that fact may be fiction and fiction may be fact. This blurring is consistent with that statement about reality we were trying to make. But even though our attitude toward reality may be somewhat confusing, I think our values are quite clear. I hope and think it is plain that the message of Illuminatus! is an anarchist message. The novel stands as a record of the anarchists we were in the 1960s and 70s. I still consider myself an anarchist. Bob Wilson does not, more, as I understand it, because he rejects labeling than because he is out of sympathy with anarchism.
We say in the novel that the original Illuminati were dedicated to religious and political freedom and that this secret organization somehow became perverted so that in recent centuries the Illuminati had become a vehicle for a monstrous authoritarianism. Thus the myth of the Illuminati is an archetype for every political movement, from Lenin's Bolshevism to Reagan's Republicanism, that has promised people greater freedom while loading them down with more government. People can be fooled in this way because they are not sure what freedom is. Freedom is a word whose meaning has been worn away by overuse, like a coin that has passed through too many hands. We need to be clear about what it means to us when we use it and maybe not use it quite so much, but use other, more precise words instead.
In Illuminatus! we suggest that freedom begins in your right to define yourself and to insist upon the validity of your own perceptions and your own thoughts. To change to a new point of view because you find it convincing is, of course, merely an exercise of that freedom. But freedom is lost when you are coerced or frightened into denying your own way of seeing reality and into accepting a point of view you cannot really believe in, be it that of a family, a teacher, a boss, a party, a church, a state. And an amazing thing is that when each of us insists on his or her own vision, it does not divide us. It unites us as no externally imposed unity ever could. It unites us in reverence for that inner light which we can only find by knowing ourselves, never by denying ourselves, that light by which each one of us can truly be said to be illuminated—the true Illuminati.
Victor Milán is a 32-year-old writer who became a committed anarchist in college, and then found out about libertarianism in 1980. He has authored many books including The War Party; Adah: The Worldly Delight (a biography of Adah Menchen); a six volume fantasy series called The War of Powers which he co-authored with Robert Vardeman and a new novel co-authored with Melinda Snodgrass that should be out this spring called Runespear.
I find myself with a couple of hard acts to follow, inasmuch as I was reading the books of Cyril Kornbluth, to say nothing of Frederic Pohl, in high school, and the Illuminatus! books were very influential in the years after I became a college dropout.
Nevertheless, I'd like to offer thanks to various people. I'd like to thank Robert Silverberg for initially buying Cybernetic Samurai, and David Hartwell for seeing it to fruition. I'd like to thank Susan Allison and Ginger Buchanan at Ace for being thoughtful enough and foresightful enough (I hope) to pick it up for paperback publication this fall. Samurai will be released as an Ace paperback this December.
I would like to thank Victoria Varga and everyone concerned with the Libertarian Futurist Society for voting me this award.
Finally, I'd like to thank my best friend, Melinda Snodgrass, who is my foremost supporter in this project as in a good many other things.
This is the first science fiction award I've received for my work. I'd like to flatter myself that it won't be the last. However this means a great deal to me. The cause of liberty means a great deal to me. I think of myself as an anarchist. and I think that Samurai, and certainly the other books that have received the award, are perhaps the most viable way of reaching a truly free society.
I have various notes which I could refer to for a speech, but actually I think everyone wants to be on their way, so I'd like to thank everyone for coming, and thank you all once again for the award.
I want to thank the entire Prometheus group for the Hall of Fame Award, and I want to thank you for your wonderful letter of 5 September.
John O'Hara admits somewhere that he cried when he received the National Book Award. Well, I wasn't that excessive, but I was deeply moved indeed by the Prometheus Award. Writing can be a discouraging and depressing way to make a living, and at times it is hard not to wonder if I wouldn't have done better plucking chickens in a butcher shop. This award certainly gives me renewed hope and means a lot more to me than the monetary value of the gold coin.
I am sincerely and eternally grateful.
Robert Anton Wilson
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