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Luminarium by Alex Shakar

Luminarium (edition 2011)

by Alex Shakar

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1136106,831 (3.45)1
Authors:Alex Shakar
Info:Soho Press (2011), Hardcover, 432 pages
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Luminarium by Alex Shakar



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(Sometime in July) I'm doing everything I can to avoid reading this book. I sort of want to know what happens with George and with the Mira experiment but not enough to keep reading. It's an odd book.

08/11/13 -- I ditched it formally added it to my discard list and carried on, but I kept thinking about it and wondering what he was going to do with it all so I picked it up again and finished it.

Mike, a reviewer I follow sum's up much of my frustration with the book when he points out that the narrative is "sometimes (maybe a few too many times) bogged down by the weight of sweeping thematic concerns which put a drag on forward motion and I'd go with "few too many times." Enough already. But, there is much that is interesting and smart and committed to make it worth the time. And there is a "dinner" scene between Fred and Holly and Vartan near the end of the book that is really quite oddly spectacular. In fact, Holly and Vartan, with the Reiki and the magic tricks, and their crappy apartment were some of the strongest writing in the novel.

If I were going to make up an odd shelf -- self, self-immolation and 9/11 -- I'd put it there with James Hynes book Next, but Luminarium is a kinder book and Fred although as self-involved as Kevin Quinn has better reasons. ( )
  mkunruh | Nov 13, 2016 |
I'm not quite sure where to start with this one. It's not an easy read, but not a difficult one either. I recommend picking this up when you're in a pensive place, when you need a little musing about the meaning of life, but in engrossing novel form, not thick pretentious philosopher form. In fact, that's how I would describe this book in a nutshell: profound but not pretentious. And that, my friends, is a delicate balance to strike; with the (incredible) exception of [b:The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy|11|The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide, #1)|Douglas Adams|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1327656754s/11.jpg|3078186], I'm not sure I've ever seen it struck so deftly.

Let's get slightly more concrete. Fred has an identical twin brother, George, who is in a coma after a long battle with cancer. Fred, not surprisingly, is having a bit of an existential crisis. [An aside: for me, I think the "not surprisingly" is important, because as incredibly, stupidly famous as Albert Camus and his Stranger are, I never once sympathized with that narrator, and hated every second of being dragged along on his philosophical journey. Fred, on the other hand, is a sad and complex but eminently sympathetic character; throughout the whole book I wanted desperately for him to figure out his life and everything in it. In other words, I rooted for him in a way that cut through, or survived, all the spiritualist questioning.] Rather on a whim, Fred enrolls in a medical study that turns out to be based on the concept that spiritual experiences can be replicated by manipulation/stimulation of certain areas of the brain and the chemicals therein. For example, a sense of connectedness or oneness with others and with nature can be simulated by messing with the part of the brain that defines the edges of the self, the "this is me, that is not me" perception. The goal, in a sense, is to see if the benefits of spirituality (peace, comfort, a sense of purpose) can be attained without the mysticism of religion: a "faith without ignorance," as the tester puts it.

That sounds a little deep and heavy, right? Well, it is, but it's leavened by the backdrop of Frank and George's company, a sort of Second Life-type immersive reality game called Urth. The problem is, Fred sold the company to pay George's medical bills, and now their game is being remade as a virtual training arena for the "military entertainment complex" [which, as another aside, I think is a brilliant phrase, though I don't know if it's original to this book].

Here's the fun part: without any spoilers, some things start happening to Fred that seem (sortof, although it's not really possible -- is it?) like George, still in his coma, might be orchestrating. Which naturally provides a different but still understandable and fascinating path to the pondering of life and the afterlife and the power of... what? The brain? The soul? The ineffable essence of the self?

Things get a lot more ethereal in the last chapter or so; I'm not even going to lie and tell you that I'm exactly sure what the last few sentences mean or where they're supposed to leave me. But by that point I'd gotten enough out of this book that I was content to just let them be; they're words, and they have meaning, even if I don't understand it yet. Is that my very own existential enlightenment? ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
I enjoyed the premise of this book, for sure, and related to the family dynamics. The philosophy and technology bits were a bit above my head, though. I read an uncopyedited ARC. ( )
  macescamilla | Jun 7, 2015 |
There were some intriguing concepts in this book that dance around some very interesting philosophical issues. There are also some very revealing looks into the world of computer gamers and the people who design those games. I’m the first to admit, my lack of any interest in, or tolerance for, gaming clouds my enjoyment of this book.

No let me be clear—other than a current fascination with an online pool game (one ridiculously close to mimicking how bad I am at the actual physical game of pool)— I have only played a game or two on a computer in over fifty years. I'm an outsider looking in at something that's distasteful to him, like seeing Dick Nixon on the beach in Bermuda shorts and wingtips, with a metal detector ... well, like back when Dick was still alive ... because I imagine it would be even more distasteful with a dead Nixon. That’s it, Zombie Dick, it would be either a ghastly real life/death story, or a bad zombie porn flick.

OK, I've gotten to a Nixon moment. I'm off my subject. This was a book that didn't work for me. Enough. ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 27, 2014 |
An overly ambitious book that spins out of control and sputters to a finish. This book lacks focus and direction. Among the topics it includes are dreams, reality, magic, advanced video games 9 -11, Disney's town Celebration, Florida, a spirit enhancing football helmet of sorts, and on and on and on. The author trying to be cutting edge and creative but if at the end you ask yourself what have I gotten out of the book and your answer is confusion - I think its time to question why you read it. It is not that I am a dummy as I have 2 Master's Degrees but I really just scratched my head when I was done. 2 stats for readability and interesting characters. ( )
  muddyboy | Oct 3, 2012 |
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Lead me from the unreal to the real.

-- Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad
For Olivia, the Shakars,

and all my other guiding lights.
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Picture yourself stepping into a small, cuboid room.
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Struggling with the loss of his computer software company and his twin brother's coma, a despairing Fred becomes a test subject in a neurological study promising a new spiritual outlook before he begins receiving bizarre e-mails and texts from someone claiming to be his comatose twin.… (more)

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