Synopses & Reviews
Fred Brounian and his twin brother, George, were once co-CEOs of a burgeoning New York City software company devoted to the creation of utopian virtual worlds. Now, in the summer of 2006, as two wars rage and the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, George has fallen into a coma, control of the company has been wrenched away by a military contracting conglomerate, and Fred has moved back in with his parents. Broke and alone, he’s led by an attractive woman, Mira, into a neurological study promising to give him "peak" experiences and a newfound spiritual outlook on life. As the study progresses, lines between the subject and the experimenter blur, and reality becomes increasingly porous. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself caught up in what seems at first a cruel prank: a series of bizarre emails and texts that purport to be from his comatose brother.
Moving between the research hospitals of Manhattan, the streets of a meticulously planned Florida city, the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the uncanny, immersive worlds of urban disaster simulation; threading through military listserv geek-speak, Hindu cosmology, the maxims of outmoded self-help books and the latest neuroscientific breakthroughs, Luminarium is a brilliant examination of the way we live now, a novel that’s as much about the role technology and spirituality play in shaping our reality as it is about the undying bond between brothers, and the redemptive possibilities of love.
"Shakar follows up his well-received The Savage Girl with this penetrating look at the uneasy intersection of technology and spirituality. As the five-year anniversary of 9/11 looms, 30-something New Yorker Fred Brounian struggles with the impending death of his hospitalized twin brother, George; the unscrupulous buyout of his Second Life like company; and the scientific experiments he undergoes that are designed to induce spiritual insight. While Fred's coming-to-terms with George's situation makes for traditional drama, Shakar's blend of the business of cyberspace and the science of enlightenment distinguishes the novel as original and intrepid: Urth Inc., Fred and George's company, is essentially swallowed by megacorporation Armation, which intends to use Urth's technology to build virtual training environments for the military. Meanwhile, Fred is an emotionally vulnerable guinea pig in Mira Egghart's neurological experiments to create a 'spiritual odyssey, encoded as easily as a few songs on an iPod.' As George nears his end, Fred falls for Mira, learns to meditate, and pursues the perpetrator of a vast cyberscheme threatening to undo both him and Urth. Shakar's prose is sharp and hilarious, engendering the reader's faith in the novel's philosophical ambitions. Part Philip K. Dick, part Jonathan Franzen, this radiant work leads you from the unreal to the real so convincingly that you begin to let go of the distinction. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Luminarium is dizzyingly smart and provocative, exploring as it does the state of the present, of technology, of what is real and what is ephemeral. But the thing that separates Luminarium from other books that discuss avatars, virtual reality and the like is that Alex Shakar is committed throughout with trying, relentlessly, to flat-out explain the meaning of life. This book is funny, and soulful, and very sad, but so intellectually invigorating that you'll want to read it twice." Dave Eggers
"This fascinating, hilarious novel, though set in the past, is the story of the future: technology has outlapped us, reality is blinking on and off like a bad wireless connection, the ones we love are nearby in one sense, but far away in another. Yet at the book’s galloping heart, it’s the story of what one man is willing to go through to find—in our crowded, second-rate space—something like faith. This novel is sharp, original, and full of energy—obviously the work of a brilliant mind." Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War
Fred's life is in shambles. Once he was engaged to a beautiful newscaster, lived in a lush high-rise apartment building, and served as the co-CEO of a burgeoning computer programming company during the internet startup glory days with his twin, confidant, and soul-mate, George. Now it's the summer of 2006. Two wars rage on, and the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The once utopian software company was stolen out from under Fred and George by a military contracting conglomerate, and George himself lies in a coma. Broke and alone, Fred is led by an attractive woman, Mira, into a scientific study promising to give him "peak" experiences and a newfound spiritual outlook on life. But as the study progresses, and lines between the subject and the experimenter blur, Fred learns that Mira has her own heartaches to endure.
Luminarium is a grand, sweeping novel that is as much about the role technology and spirituality play in shaping our reality as it is about the undying bond between brothers, and the redemptive possibilities of love. Daringly, Fred's desperate, thrashing attempt to understand, persevere, and even forgive in the face of George's illness also serves as a metaphor for New York before and after 9/11. This profound meditation on doubt and faith in contemporary culture is emotionally riveting, and a wild, gratifying ride.
About the Author
Alex Shakar's novel The Savage Girl (HarperCollins, 2001) was selected as a New York Times Notable Book and a Booksense 76 Pick, and has been translated into six foreign languages. His story collection City in Love (HarperCollins, 2002) was selected as an Independent Presses Editors Pick of the Year. A native of Brooklyn, NY, he currently lives in Chicago with his wife, the composer Olivia Block.