By Chet Yarbrough
By Alex Shakar
Narrated by Charles Carroll
Everything one observes, hears, experiences is personal; filtered by one’s understanding of language. The San Francisco linguist, S. I. Hayakawa, observed that the same words have different meanings to different people, even when raised in similar cultures with a common language.
Alex Shakar helps one understand the techie world of the early 21stcentury by writing a techie’s story in common language; i.e. it still has Hayakawa’s limitation but it is a step in the direction of better understanding. “Luminarium” is about bridging gaps between the tech-savy young and the tech-less old, the humanist, the secularist, and the religionists; i.e. the mishmash of the modern world.
“Luminarium” by Shakar builds bridges between young and old, and eastern and western beliefs through an exploration of the gap between physical and virtual reality that is being created by today’s techie world.
It helps a non-tech person understand the attraction younger people have to computer coding and virtual world games and the use that older people make of something they know very little about.
Sharkar writes a story about three brothers that form a software company that specializes in the creation of Utopian virtual worlds. Two are twin brothers in their early 30s; the third is the youngest of the three.
The three brothers form a software company, acquired by a private military/industrial corporation, that usurps their Utopian world software. The corporation forms a virtual world as a training program for military exercises. This usurpation violates the conceptual plans of the co-CEO’s of the software company, the twins, George and Fred. They are fighting the corporate take-over because their computer code is subverted by the corporation’s use of a virtual world as a tool of war.
In the course of the corporate battle, George succumbs to cancer that causes him to fall into a coma; at least, that is what we believe at the beginning of the story. The treatment cost for George’s cancer is bankrupting his twin brother, Fred. Fred is in the final year of his contract with the usurping company; he expects to get fired; gets fired, but is thrown a life-line by his younger brother. However, Fred is ambivalent about continuing to work for the usurping company.
He moves into his parent’s home and supplements his income by doing magic shows and hiring himself out as a guinea-pig for a brain science experiment that coincidentally crosses into the world of virtual reality. This cross-over involves his brother’s coma and communication between two realities. The cross-over also raises questions of “life after death” and the convergence of eastern and western beliefs.
In contrast to Fred, Sam, the non-twin, youngest brother, is doing ok financially because he is consumed by the coding “art” of virtual worlds and does not care what corporate use is made of the technology. Sam’s “not caring” is seen in a different light as the story progresses.
Shakar builds a love story into “Luminarium” that offers another layer of meaning about the gaps between science, objectivity, myth, and realty.
Shakar has written an interesting book but it is not a page turner that keeps one awake at night. It helps one understand the allure of technology and the seductiveness of believing in something greater than oneself. (Some critics consider it one of the best books of 2011.)