Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


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My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Early review of Luminarium

Sometime later this summer, Soho Press will publish Alex Shakar's new novel, Luminarium. I read this in its penultimate draft and really loved it, and so I'm eagerly waiting to read it in its final form. You may be sure, dear reader, that I will post about it as soon as it arrives in print.

In the meantime, I'm happy to see that strong reviews are already coming in (which is funny to me, actually, because with literary critical books of the kind I write it can take a year or more after publication to get reviewed).

Anyway, I'm pasting here, in its entirety, a review of Luminarium that recently appeared a few weeks ago in Publishers Weekly. You can also click through the hyperlink to read it in its natural online habitat.

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–like 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.


Well all right then. Add that to your amazon wish list for later!

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