Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy
Cover of the Dell collected edition
|Author||Robert Anton Wilson|
|Genre||Fantasy, science fiction|
|Published||1979 (Dell Publishing)|
The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy is a trilogy of novels by Robert Anton Wilson consisting of The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons, each illustrating a different interpretation of quantum physics. Wilson is also co-author of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, and Schrödinger's Cat is a sequel of sorts, re-using several of the same characters and carrying on many of the themes of the earlier work.
The one-volume edition currently in print is significantly shorter than the original three-volume edition. This is not a difference in print size or removal of redundant "recaps"; it is missing a noticeable amount of material, including many entire chapters.
The name Schrödinger's Cat comes from a famous thought experiment in quantum mechanics. The first book, The Universe Next Door, takes place in different universes in accord with the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics; in the second, The Trick Top Hat, characters are unknowingly connected through non-locality, i.e., having once crossed paths they are joined in quantum entanglement; and the third book, The Homing Pigeons, places characters in an "observer-created universe" in which Consciousness Causes the Collapse of the wavefunction.
- Epicene Wildeblood, a.k.a. Mary Margaret Wildeblood, a transsexual woman who throws great parties
- Frank Dashwood, president of Orgasm Research
- Markoff Chaney, a prankster
- Hugh Crane, a.k.a. Cagliostro the Great, a mystic and magician
- Furbish Lousewart V, author and President of Unistat
- Marvin Gardens, author and cocaine addict
- Eve Hubbard, scientist and alternate President of Unistat
In The Universe Next Door, the President of Unistat is Furbish Lousewart V; in that universe, a terrorist organization known as Purity of Essence (named after General Ripper's obsession in the film Dr. Strangelove) threatens to detonate nuclear devices in major cities all over Unistat. Also mirroring Dr. Strangelove, Unistat has an automated device that will send nuclear missiles to Russia in the event of such an attack. Russia has a similar device to bomb China, and so on.
In The Trick Top Hat, President Hubbard, a woman, promotes a scientific approach to the improvement of life, offering rewards to anyone who can design a robot to do their job or develop methods to prolong life. Eventually Unistat becomes a Utopia. She makes the whole law system into three different laws: victimless crimes, which have no punishment; crimes against property, which involve debt and payment; and serious crimes, such as murder, which result in being sent to Hell, a place like jail but not quite. It's encased in laser shielding and is like a primitive world all its own. It is, in fact, the State of Mississippi. The original Pocket Books edition of The Trick Top Hat contains many passages, some sexually explicit, that are not included in later editions, including the Dell softcover. Much of this material first appeared in Wilson's earlier novel, The Sex Magicians, published as pornography by Sheffield House in 1973.
The third volume, The Homing Pigeons, features President Kennedy, although it has very little to do with the President. Near the end of the book it keeps switching universes, some of which contain President Kennedy, others which contain President Lousewort, and still others in which Hubbard is the president. Like The Trick Top Hat, The Homing Pigeons also has material in the Pocket Books edition that is not in later editions. Unlike The Trick Top Hat, however, the material that was cut out did not contain particularly sexually explicit content.
The main plots throughout these books are many. One follows Markoff Chaney, a midget, and his pranks played on the world that continuously screws him over. Most of his pranks are played on Dr. Dashwood, of Orgasm Research. However, the most important plot line follows the path of one Hugh Crane which may or may not be this Universe's Hagbard Celine; a character that is an obvious representation of Wilson himself.
Another follows an "Ithyphallic Eidolon", a penis removed from a transsexual woman named Epicene (post-surgery, Mary Margaret) Wildebloode. She puts it on display on her mantelpiece, where it gets stolen. It passes through the vicinity of almost every character in the series at least once.
There are dozens of conspiracy theories, strange loops, satire and paranoia included within those pages. In addition, there are numerous references to other works and occasional outright appropriation of characters from them (including cameos by Captain Ahab and Lemuel Gulliver, among others). Many of the character names are either puns (Bertha van Ation refers to the film Birth of a Nation, Juan Tootrego) or references to historical personages (Blake Williams refers to the poet William Blake, Francis Dashwood's name refers to Sir Francis Dashwood).
Tanstagi, an acronym standing for There Ain't No Such Thing As Government Interference, is the motto of the Invisible Hand Society, an originally fictional organization invented in the Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. The acronym was deliberately intended as a reference to Robert A. Heinlein's TANSTAAFL principle.
The Tanstagi principle is meant to imply that the invisible hand of the free market applies to government as well. In other words, contrary to traditional ideas of laissez-faire capitalism, government interference in the free market is impossible, since governments are inextricably a part of the market as a whole. Thus, true laissez-faire conditions are impossible, since the government will always affect the market. An example of this is the defense industry: since governments are the single biggest customer of this industry, it logically follows that this sector of the free market is inextricably tied up with government interference. Alternatively, it can be interpreted as an inability to see 'government' as a separate institution—it is a word used to describe the actions of a large number of individuals subject to the same (at least qualitatively) pressures as everyone else. Both of these ideas are part of what is known as 'economic Taoism'.
While it was first introduced in a novel, people claiming to be members or know of chapters of the Invisible Hand Society have occasionally appeared in editorial pages and on the Internet.
Language and invented slang
The Schrödinger's Cat trilogy is a fictional story, with much interpersonal dialogue between characters. This dialogue frequently makes use of slang words invented by the author, as a substitute for words that were, in the 1970s, typically taboo to speak about in modern western culture. In case a censorship case was brought against the book, Wilson made use of the names of Supreme Court Justices as "stand ins" for certain words. Examples include "Potter Stewarting", an expression used as a substitute for a common word that refers to the act of copulation, and "Burgering", referring to the act of voiding one's bowels (referring to Chief Justice of the United States from 1969–1986, Warren E. Burger), etc.