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Luminarium by Alex Shakar

Luminarium (edition 2011)

by Alex Shakar

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1075112,824 (3.47)1
Authors:Alex Shakar
Info:Soho Press (2011), Hardcover, 432 pages
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Luminarium by Alex Shakar



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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 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

So before anything else, let me caution my fellow New Weird fans that Chicagoan Alex Shakar's Luminarium is not the trippy sci-fi novel that its cover, jacket copy and breathless Dave Eggers blurb promise it to be, and that those picking it up expecting it to be such are going to be severely disappointed, especially by the "anti-trick" ending that provides a rational explanation for all the bizarre things that happen before it. If what you're looking for, however, is an extremely clever and well-done character-heavy look at the zeitgeist of the Bush years, seen through the filter of such mid-2000s cultural detritus as virtual worlds, New Age mythology and the Disney-owned town of Celebration, Florida, then this Believer favorite is going to be right up your alley; because of all the 9/11 novels I've now read, this is arguably the best of them precisely because it takes such a sideways look at the subject, essentially sneaking up on the issue by instead concentrating on the co-founder of a Second-Life-type MMORPG that's been co-opted by Homeland Security, who rapidly unravels after starting to receive what seems like a series of otherworldly online messages from his comatose twin brother, while simultaneously participating in an academic neurological study that may or may not be slowly granting him psychic powers.

Full of all kinds of wonderfully nerdy details sure to delight any metaphysical tech-head (for one great example, the '70s Cray supercomputer that one brother gives the other as an elaborate joke gift, which is then turned into the online-startup "Prayerizer.com" that will send billions of pleas to God per day on your behalf for a nominal fee), but combined with the kind of quirky character-building details that MFAers are always on the lookout for (like the main character's habit of still performing in cheesy magic shows for children's birthday parties with his stoner hippie dad), Shakar almost magically manages to pull together these and dozens more widely scattered references into one coherent whole by the end, ultimately delivering a profound message about the schism between faith and technology in a world of 3D avatars and planes slamming into skyscrapers. Although the book definitely has its problems, which is why it isn't getting a higher score today -- I would've liked to have seen less academic stream-of-consciousness, for example, and more Chabonesque action scenes, such as the wickedly great section where our punch-drunk hero rampages through the headquarters of his startup's new corporate masters -- Luminarium is nonetheless well worth your time, but only for those prepared to enjoy it for what it is instead of being disappointed for what it's not. It comes recommended in that spirit.

Out of 10: 9.0 ( )
3 vote jasonpettus | Nov 30, 2011 |
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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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