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.
Luminarium may not be for every reader, but if you like to feel the intelligence of the author behind a story that addresses contemporary subjects, conveyed in some of the most consummate prose I have read, this one is for you! (Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
The Washington Post
…The great pleasure of Shakar's writing, besides his luxuriously cool style, is his ability to weave old metaphysical issues through a plot electrified with contemporary details.
Starred Review. 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.
Starred Review. With beguiling characters trapped in ludicrous and revelatory predicaments, this is a cosmic, incisively funny kaleidoscopic tale of loss, chaos, and yearning.
Virtual and 'real' reality intertwine in unpredictable ways in this ingenious novel... Shakar succeeds in a delicate balancing act here, securing the novel simultaneously (and paradoxically) in real, virtual and supernatural worlds.
Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War
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.
Dave Eggers 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.
When Fred puts on the "God helmet" in Luminarium he is participating in an experiment into Neurotheology, a fairly new scientific field of research into the relationship between the brain and spiritual experiences. The first investigations studied brain wave patterns in the late 1950s. As the technology for brain study advanced, so did neurotheology.
During the 1980s, Dr. Michael Persinger, a leader in the field, set out to demonstrate that stimulation of the temporal lobes could "cause" a spiritual episode. His main tool was the Koren Helmet (named for Stanley Koren of Laurentian University's Neuroscience Department who built it according to specifications provided by Dr. Persinger), which applies complex, irregular magnetic signals to the temporal lobes - the area of the brain that many working in this field feel is the source of spiritual and religious experiences.
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