Monday, 19 March 2018

Love is Forever - We Are for Tonight

Robert Moore Williams Love is Forever - We Are for Tonight (1970)
Having discovered that this novel, sold as science-fiction, is actually an autobiographical ramble through Williams' peculiar life, I had to own it at any cost. Luckily the cost was peanuts because no-one remembers or cares who Robert Moore Williams was, which is an enormous shame. I've read three of his novels and they've each been strikingly bizarre, undeniably pulpy, but suggesting the dream imagery of A.E. van Vogt turned towards ponderous allegorical or philosophical ends, like a Gernsbackian update of nineteenth-century Symbolist novels such as A Voyage to Arcturus or Lilith - and yes I know Lindsay's novel dates from 1920 because I've just looked it up. Anyway, it seems obvious that there was a lot more going on here than a guy hacking out tales of rockets and aliens for the sake of making a living.

Williams' story begins with him growing up on a farm in Missouri, inspired by the writing of Abraham Merritt - also a big influence on both Lovecraft and Richard Shaver, with whom Williams' writing shares certain conceits - so clearly a name I'm going to have to investigate. I'd say Bob wasn't the full ticket, and his understanding of reality suggests possibly schizophrenic or otherwise psychologically unorthodox tendencies, but I don't know how much use it would be; and certainly there's not much point reading this thing with the opinion of it having been written by a nutcase. Williams experienced, not quite visions, but certainly voices and inexplicable occurrences, and whether or not they were all in his mind probably shouldn't matter.

Williams fixates on love early on, not just by the terms we already acknowledge, but as though it should be considered an ethereal force roughly akin to the animating yolia of Nahua mythology, or - if you must - the force of Star Wars. From then on he dabbles with Hubbard's Dianetics, specifically the notion of contemporary ills deriving from engrams of long forgotten trauma; then takes part in a new age commune in Colorado Springs, a group he refers to as the wild bunch; invents something called the colourscope with which he put on light shows for an audience towards some spiritual purpose; finally ending up dropping acid on a ranch in California.

Checking out this kick that the kids had going, using minimal quantities of LSD, the experimental work being done in nearby Mexico, I discovered that the kids knew exactly what they were doing! LSD opened a channel into this higher love that had been coming to me in other ways!

What the kids had found was love! Perhaps they had also discovered a way around the meaning of hydrogen!

They were doing exactly what I was doing, but doing it differently and better. They were seeking a path into tomorrow. And so was I! Love was not restricted to writers who lived in lonely mountain cabins and who were sometimes up at dawn to talk to weaning colts beside a horse corral. It was in these wonderful kids too. On university campuses and in little coffee houses the talk was of this astonishing love. Sometimes the regents of various universities were annoyed at demonstrations they could not understand, but my strong feeling was, and still is, that these young people with the shining faces were closer to the heart of life and nearer the path to tomorrow than all the regents who ever existed.

The seemingly esoteric reference to hydrogen stems from Williams' horror at the creation and use of the hydrogen bomb, which comes to symbolise the antithesis of the force he identifies as love.

Of course, on many levels it's all bonkers, but I'm sure we've already established as much, and simply being bonkers doesn't necessarily have any bearing on whether or not Love is Forever has value as a piece of writing, which I believe it does. Williams takes a sort of shamanic journey through his own existence which, incredibly, is actually fairly coherent, and works because it is seasoned with self deprecation, just enough self-doubt to render it  readable, and the author's insistence that he is himself nothing special in the great scheme of things. As with so many others of his generation, Williams was simply looking for the way forward in human terms, perhaps not quite dreaming of supermen so much as a species which could at least move past the desire to blow itself up; and even with the testimony coming from the very edge of what the rest of us tend to regard as sanity, there are plenty of worthwhile truths in this book because it comes from a place of great honesty.

At the end I found Williams a likable character, a somewhat driven man who believed in his own experiences and wished only to share them with others; and it gives me cause to regret that he isn't better remembered. His work may not have been what you'd call mainstream, and at least two of the four novels I have are amongst the strangest things I've read, but he's not inaccessible, and at heart he was a populist.

Back when I first took to picking up old science-fiction paperbacks with lurid covers, I always hoped I'd discover some long forgotten master of the art. I just didn't imagine it would be anything quite so peculiar.

Robert Moore Williams, June 19th 1907 - May 12th 1977.

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