cover image Luminarium


Alex Shakar. Soho, $25 (448p) ISBN 978-1-56947-975-9

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%E2%80%93like 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.)