PJ Swanwick's Reviews > Luminarium

Luminarium by Alex Shakar
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Mar 14, 12

bookshelves: new-age, spiritual
Read in March, 2012

Spiritual thriller promises much but delivers weak emotional punch

With its blend of technology and spirituality, Alex Shakar's latest novel grabbed my attention early. I read as fast as I could while savoring the author's singular metaphors and well-honed style. However, this spiritual novel's muddled ending made me wonder if I'd wolfed it down too quickly and missed the meat of the story.

I loved Shakar's initial premise: Use cutting-edge technology to explore a blend of quantum mechanics, Buddhist and Hindu traditions, reiki, and other spiritual practices to develop spirituality based on "faith without ignorance." To do so, a neurological research scientist stimulates specific regions of Fred's brain to trigger spiritual experiences. Fred studies various spiritual traditions, particularly Hindu mythology, to come to terms with his experiences. Shakar examines each extraordinary event through the lens of both cutting-edge science and spirituality, creating fascinating contrasts and comparisons but rarely any contradictions. Fred eventually lands on the Zen concept of "mu," which he interprets as doubting everything, as a path to enlightenment. He also explores samsara, the concept of existence as a divine, all-encompassing game.

"Luminarium" makes unexpected and compelling connections between a number of fascinating themes - spirituality, computer gaming, quantum theory, Hindu and Buddhist practices, twin experiences, even 9/11 and magic shows. I wanted to love this as a spiritual novel, and mostly I did. Shakar's prose is sleek and polished, studded with arresting metaphors and juxtapositions. The idea that these seemingly unrelated storylines could be woven together into a brilliant tapestry of meaning kept me reading, even when the story began to bog down in Hindu mythology and 9/11 reminiscences.

In the end, however, a clear picture never emerged; the various story threads knotted into a confused snarl of insights that lacked enough context to illuminate me, so to speak. From my limited knowledge of Buddhist practice, I suspect that when Fred retreats into mu meditation he progresses through the traditional stages of Zen enlightenment. Shakar also takes the idea of samsara literally, placing Fred and his twin in a virtual reality game to play out their karmic issues. Perhaps someone with more dharma knowledge could follow all the threads and discover the hidden truths. For me, however, the novel posed too many questions and resolved too few. This spiritual thriller engaged my intellect, but the ending left an emotional void.

For more reviews of spiritual/metaphysical novels, see Fiction For A New Age.
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