We at Soho are certainly still reeling. Then the LA Times Book Prize certificate came, and we were even more reel-y.
In short, we are all still very excited about this book. It raises some really interesting questions. For me:
How virtual is reality, whether we’re talking about Urth or Earth?
The book deals a lot with the ways that personal perceptions of reality (and virtual reality) change based on experience. The virtual reality Urth world that Fred and George build (and later gets, shall we say, corrupted) in the book starts out as an idyllic vision of what the world could be. But, when tragedy strikes (9/11, George’s coma), Urth changes fundamentally. In fact, it practically becomes its own opposite.
9/11 instantly changed many people’s perspectives on their realities here on Earth (see what I did there?). All of a sudden, it became scary to do so many things. There was a new set of dangers, real and perceived. Not unlike what happens in Sam’s version of the Urth video game. Speaking of perceived threats, how about the threats that only Fred experienced in the game? I’m still not over the ChemoTherapy Angel.
While real-life is not traditionally considered “media,” I’ve always loved the way that fiction, particularly literary fiction, can re-texturize reality in the book based on the point-of-view characters’ emotional states. As things unravel around Fred, as he starts to lose his grip, didn’t it sometimes feel like the line between what was real-real in the book and what was only real to Fred blur?
Books do that in a way no other media can, I think. There’s this wonderful synthesis between the author putting details in front of the reader and the reader filling in all the little blanks. The sun’s bright, but how bright? Is it glaring summer sun or softer spring (this was my thought during the scene where Fred is, why sugar coat it, creepily stalking an old lady)? Movies are another personal love of mine, but I can’t help but notice that there’s something lost when there aren’t any gaps to fill. When the sunlight has to be exactly the way it is on the screen, because you’ve got the visual.
Movies can also have a harder time depicting what Luminarium does perfectly: someone’s reality unraveling. It’s hard to film what’s going on in someone’s head. That’s why Taxi Driver has so much interior monologue voiceover. Sometimes there’s not another way to get thoughts that complicated on screen (also known as “telling” OK, kidding, kidding. Little media rivalry).
But these days the term “book” is itself becoming a little hard to define—is it the hardback we all know and love or something…else? Something more film-like, with multimedia? With a soundtrack, maybe? I think it’s great that the form is evolving, but a book like Luminarium might make you ask: when does something familiar get digitized past the point of recognition?
Luminarium doesn’t have a soundtrack (yet) but what did you think of the URLs? Did it enhance the book? Did you realize they were real? By the way, they are:
Overall, Luminarium gave me tons to think about, particularly as someone who is completely fascinated by the way media are changing. But the art lover in me was so taken by the emotional depth of this book, and the nostalgia that ran through it for a time before we were all a little bit afraid. A time that, for better or for worse, just doesn’t exist anymore.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, and join us June 1 for our discussion of Zombie, the June Bookclub Pick!