Planned Life

From the get go, you can tell Luminarium is going to be one of those books that tries to do everything. It sprawls from Manhattan to a Florida Suburb, from a digital ecosystem to the furthest reaches of consciousness. All of this, mind you, in a novel set in the shadow of 9/11.

Fred isn’t in the best position at the outset of this novel. His twin brother, George, is in a coma brought on by the end days of his cancer. The company they created was all-but-stolen from them, Fred’s wife left him, and among it all his own mother is a Reiki practitioner. George’s expenses are piling up and Fred’s options are slim.

So why wouldn’t he respond to an ad hanging up on a bulletin board in the hospital cafeteria to undergo a psychological study involving a helmet with a lot of wires attached to a big box? Especially when that helmet induces strange, hypnotic states, near-death-experiences experiences, and hallucinations that stretch well into the next week? 

Luminarium was one of those huge, heady books that covers a lot of ground between the metaphysical and sci-fi, reality and not, what we want the world to be versus what we are given.

The crux of Fred’s anguish is in losing the company he built with his brother – a virtual reality program ala Second Life – when it was bought up by a defense contractor and forever consumed by the “Military Entertainment Complex.” Before the cancer, his brother notes that all virtual worlds will never be as satisfying as we want them to be even though we ultimately build them up one brick at a time.

Planned life never works out to plan.

Baffling, too, that this book rolled out in 2011 (the same year as The Lost Art of Reading) and was set in 2006 – five years after the attacks. The sophistication of the proposed VR tech in the book is uncannily similar to what is rolling out to the mass market today – tech that was still shaky as of 2019. And George was right, try as we might, the imagined realities within today’s headset are never quite what we want them to be. Alas.