Simultaneous lifetimes give reincarnation novel a fresh feel
What if you could go back and try, again and again, until you got it right? The Groundhog Day premise of “Unison” is familiar, but Papanou keeps it fresh with a futuristic utopian/dystopian setting and some visionary plot twists.
Story: Illness has been eradicated in Unity thanks to a healing implant, and criminals are cured with virtual reality therapy. In this seemingly idyllic community, Damon 1300-333-1M is condemned to relive his life until he uncovers a suppressed memory. Attempting to help him remember his clouded past is a woman who communicates with him in visions and dreams, but a frightening premonition keeps diverting him to a cabin where a dangerous encounter leads to his friend’s death. The tragedy will play out for lifetimes to come and open his eyes to the truth about Unity and himself. To break the endless cycle of his life, Damon must confront his darkest fears and unveil a memory that’s too painful to remember. Only then can he discover an even more profound truth that expands beyond his mind and the Universe. (from Amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Ultimate karma in real time gives this spiritual/metaphysical/visionary novel its structure and theme. In Unison, karma plays out in the form of a single lifetime that loops again and again, and certain characters have the ability to remember the lessons from previous lifetimes (eventually). The idea is that, not only does fate or destiny or karma affect serial lifetimes, it also affects a single lifetime replayed many times, allowing us to make key decisions over and over again until we are satisfied with the outcome.
Papanou tackles that fine line between individual choice and predetermination and tries to demonstrate how both can exist in parallel–all with a careful emphasis on avoiding freighted words specific to religions, such as karma, God, reincarnation, etc. In keeping with the futuristic setting of the novel, she instead chooses analogies that evoke technology such as uploads and downloads of memory at death and birth.
Fresh metaphors illuminate the spiritual theme, such as music. One character in the orchestra with Damon is uncomfortable with the idea of fate or destiny–“the idea of being played by a hand I can’t see.” Damon replies that we actually “play” ourselves. Everyone has their own constant frequency that exists forever within the grand symphony of the “Progenitor.” Each string vibrates independently, but the tones resonate in unison. Each individual’s frequency is endless, and every unique tune, so to speak, is downloaded at birth in a constant cycle of life.
Damon exemplifies a principle that is laid clear by the structure of this novel: “What keeps me going is that with each passing lifetime, I realize how little I know–how little anyone knows. The quest for understanding the implications of that truth is both maddening and thrilling. . . . It’s a constant reminder to me of what if means to be free.”
My take: Despite taking the time to replay eight of Damon’s lives, Unison is tautly written and engrossing. A multitude of finely drawn and fascinating characters enliven Damon’s journeys at every turn. Papanou’s world is just as finely detailed, veering from utopian to dystopian and then to something beyond them both as the world and the characters evolve. The ending feels a bit rushed, but perhaps that’s understandable since The Spheral appears to be a series.
An interesting aspect of this reincarnation novel is that it deliberately avoids religious overtones. It simply presents the structure of the universe(s) in such a way that seemingly mystical events (such as living multiple, simultaneous lives) are easily explainable because of the laws of that universe. The reader learns about esoteric practices and principles without the obscuring layer of religion that so often fracture universal truths instead of reveal their logic and uniformity. As do the characters in this well-crafted, fascinating book, you get to choose what to make of it yourself.
Unison (The Spheral), by Eleni Papanou
Philophrosyne Publishing, 2013
Paperback, 563 pages
Buy at Amazon