Book Review: 'Lumi Nation' by Aneta Skirko

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Book Review: 'Lumi Nation' by Aneta Skirko

When I first heard about the fascinating concepts of Aneta Skirko's science fiction Lumi Nation in the interview I recently conducted with the author, I was really intrigued about the organic lumi-societies that she described. Skirko also said that Haruki Murakami has been one of her literary influences, and since I'm a huge fan of the international best-selling author, I wanted to know how Skirko blends her ideas with themes that Murakami writes. I also appreciate a novel with a richly imagined world that's entirely different from our own, so I started reading Lumi Nation with hopes to escape reality and explore Skirko's imagination; upon the reading the first scenes, I felt like I was transported to another dimension, a virtual realm that's like a cross between the worlds of AvatarThe Matrix, and Tron. You'll see visual elements from those films coalesce together to bring a unique experience. Blending mesmerizing visuals of artificial nature and thought-provoking concepts of creation, Skirko has developed a world of her own, a world embellished with beauty and depth.  In the bright future, society has become more systematic, less human. Inhabitants at the Centre depend on biolight --a product that promises "the illusion of everlasting youth and vitality"-- for everything; the darker zones are dangerous territories, a void of mystery, and considred as a lifeless region (sounds like Lion King to me). In the supernaturally bright streets, you'll see the organic technology and the virtual system in a surreal light, which somewhat resemble the mood of Murakami's mystical realism, minus the "realism". Skirko is focused on the aesthetic, building her world like painting an abstract art:

"Out of the Net and the neuron sea the city air surfaced, though now it ressembled abstract art: a multitude of colorful streams suddenly sucked into nothingsness as if they encountered an invisible barrier of time and space." 


Skirko blurs the concrete details in describing the virtual aspects of the Net:  

"In the Net, the City was unlike a creation of metal, stone, and plastic, but rather a dynamic composition of multicolored quantum fjords flooded by constantly coming waves of information."


Indeed, Lumi Nation is a remarkable visual experience, an art show made up of abstract imagery and virtual jargon. Skirko's language feels intricately woven to create that effect, but a lot of times I wished the world drew more human elements to the story. But isn't that what old-school Cyberpunk is about? "High-tech, low life"? Most of the time, logic dilute emotions, but images of light and darkness often invite the reader to draw meaning from their subjective core.  Set in a futuristic Warsaw, Poland, the story follows Kaya Ostaszewska, a young and talented Net creator, one of the few elites who admin, coordinate, and shape the virtual system of the city from the silver Orb, a structure levitating in the air like a satellite overlooking the urban sprawls. Her tendency to think independently makes her feel like an outcast in the industry's systematic nature. Ironically, even though they have a certain degree of freedom to create, they have limitations as they're carefully monitored. You'll have to take your time to understand some concepts that are integral to Kaya's experience; for instance: Kaya has to deal with Netons, complex infomodules, a new generation medium for Net creation. They learn individual nervous systems and serve as interpreters and translators of the digital world, showing it directly to their creators. I see them as repressed voices of the subconscious. The concept of the Netons was challenging to grasp because Sirko spends more time defining the mechanics and their rules than illustrating how they actually work. However, Skirko takes this concept further, weaving it into the story in a mind-bending, unpredictable fashion. As Skirko says as she emphasizes the necessity of chaos to establish order:  

"Order is not born out of order, it's just a transition...The Net cannot any longer resemble an animal bred and held in a cage because in reality it was created for free and spontaneous development." 


I see Kaya's story as a puzzle-solving quest to restore that liberty to create, but Net security agents act like Big Brother syndicates trying to maintain order in their rigid system.They even make damn sure that Kaya's private life corresponds with the interests of the Department. "Trust me, we are all but pawns in this game," says Swift, the one who gives her the only key to the missing creator's mystery. Kaya may be a pawn, and you can feel the sense of her powerlessness throughout the story, but eventually she makes her own moves, and leaves the black-and-white spaces, out the board, to the Grey Zone, where she discovers a groundbreaking Truth that unravels philosophical questions similar toThe Matrix. But the Truth becomes a threat to the order, so chaos ensues.  Structurally, Lumi Nation's ideas are developed with a strong sense of order, too much order, in fact, that the plot feels dreadfully mechanical in a way. Skirko's creativity shines in its most visually enticing moments, not with the progression of the story. So much of the conflict is psychological that the wonder of the world established early in the story loses its steam eventually, taking me to a state of boring information. There's barely any action at all, a missing element that at least The Matrix stylishly fulfills. By the half-way point of the novel, Skirko is still focused on world-building, introducing and expanding concepts that drown the human elements of Kaya's story. We see her riding airtaxis and hacking into a complex system, but the lack of action makes the novel feel more like a science textbook than a complelling Cyberpunk adventure that I thought it was going to be.  Nonetheless reading Lumi Nation is a visually engaging experience that plugs into your nerves. Seeing Kaya merge minds, bridge opposing factions, and create solutions evokes a unique sense of wonder. Skirko also uses some beautiful metaphors to explain her concepts or characterize like this:

"Amberspace was fascinating and repulsive like an expensive cigar whose smell intrigues, but forces a gag effect too, when the heavy, thick smoke of doubts, fills one's throat. He was difficult to define."


You can say that my favorite quote from Lumi Nation somewhat sums up my overall experience of reading it:

"Maybe it sounds a bit philosophical, but life goes in circles and sometimes we return, or revisit our experiences, but in a different sense." 


That sounds like a line that Murakami would say. If you like science fiction with futuristic concepts that cleverly reflects the oppression of creativity in today's society, and if you like a novel that challenges your views of order and chaos while you savor the aesthetics of its light-and-darkness allegory, then plug into Lumi Nation, and marvel at Skirko's bright imagination.  -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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