It’s rare that you come across a science fiction story that offers a meditation on philosophy and religion, juxtaposing the two concepts against each other. But it just so happens that Einstein in the Attic, written by the team of Dana Dargos and Said Al Bizri, is the second book I’ve reviewed in a row that looks at the two. Where the other book, Endgame (you can read that review here), is a cyberpunk story that features a battle between traditional religions and religious experiences provided by technology, Einstein in the Attic features time travel, bringing the brainstrust of Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Baruch Spinoza and Soren Kierkegaard to the modern day. It is here that scientist Adam, with the help of his colleague Muntz and wife Evie, sets about tapping into the world’s greatest minds to determine whether God truly exists.
This is an interesting concept that serves the novel well, with the science fiction feeling plausible enough for the story. This makes it easy for the reader to suspend disbelief, though once the plot is moving, it doesn’t lean heavily into the sci-fi angle, and quickly explains away elements that would deepen the aspect further. Instead, through its sizable 364 pages in paperback (or estimated 366 swipes in Kindle), it is more focused on the human aspects of the story. I was immediately taken by the opening chapter’s references to Batman and David Bowie (I’m a massive fan of each), and not long after, I was moved by Adam’s childhood in war-torn Lebanon. It wasn’t long before the book moved to the current day (or 2019, to be exact), where the book’s plot starts moving, and we see his life with his wife and as a Professor, in a tone that is lighthearted throughout.
Moving from the horrors of war in Lebanon to a lighthearted tale provides an interesting dichotomy, with the two aspects feeling inconsistent with each other. While Adam’s life is far from perfect as he wrestles with issues in his marriage and the threat of losing his job, and a large part of his motives are reconciling his faith with his scientific mind in light of his abusive father’s death (scenes illustrating his childhood with his father are also moving), the book moves from haunting to comedic with little tying them together outside of the occasional reference.
This disparity is also apparent through Einstein in the Attic’s prose. Written in the first person as Adam narrates the take, early in the book, the prose strikes a heart wrenching tone. These words communicate the horror of war and all that he endured. Following his move to America, the tone shifts to heartwarming as it tells the story of an adolescent in school, peppered with nostalgic imagery that anybody who grew up in the 80s and 90s will instantly recognise. When the book reaches the twenty-first century, in which the majority of it takes place, the tone moves to more comedic, focusing on Adam’s misadventures. However, once Einstein, Newton, Spinoza, and Kierkegaard appear, the prose gives way to the dialogue. For the remainder of the book, it is almost solely focused on this aspect and the (often expletive-laden) conversations between the characters. A lot of this banter is truly amusing, with each character providing a source of amusement, regardless of whether they belong to the current day, or to an earlier time. However, had this back and forth been reduced, with more focus on the prose, the book would have benefitted. The copy I read included various formatting issues, however, this has since been remedied with a much cleaner design. I understand the updated version is now available now, so if you purchase the book, it will be a cleaner experience.
Through Adam’s narration and his interactions with Einstein in the Attic’s other characters, Dargos and Al Bizri have ensured Adam is a relatable protagonist. He’s a character you can’t help but like, and his struggles throughout the story strike a chord. Likewise, both Evie, his long-suffering wife and Muntz, his colleague and partner in crime, are thoroughly enjoyable, if only seen through Adam’s eyes, while ancillary modern characters serve only to service the story. The famous figures—Albert Einstein, the most influential physicist of all time; Sir Isaac Newton, the mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian; Baruch Spinoza, the philosopher, author and proponent of the Rationalism movement; and Soren Kierkegaard, the poet, theologian and social critic—are predominantly played for their humorous interactions with one another and the modern world, as well as moving the story forward. Despite the humour they are written with, it is clear that they are also written with love by authors who respect them.
As the protagonist of the story, Adam has a strong story arc, which not only moves the story forward, but forms the heart of this tale. From the beginning of the story to the end, readers follow him through more than thirty years of his life, from a young child in Lebanon to a professor desperate to save his marriage and his career. He is a flawed individual, yet one who readers hope to see overcome the issues he is dealing with. Throughout the story, he grows, and watching this growth is a rewarding experience.
Since this is a story about characters seeking the truth about a higher power, with its various characters having different beliefs, religion plays a large part in the book. Although it is not explicitly stated in the book (although there are several references that pinpoint it), Adam is a Muslim. This is deftly handled throughout the book, with the religious themes providing insight about a higher power, rather than the intricacies of individual religions.
Between the characters’ different belief systems, and the dialogue-heavy nature of Dargos and Al Bizri’s writing, Einstein in the Attic provides a number of philosophical discussions about life and the existence of a higher power. It examines the linkage between science and God, and examines whether it is possible to hold both creationist and evolutionist belief systems.
There is a lot to like in Einstein in the Attic, between its protagonist’s heart wrenching backstory and character arc, its philosophical nature, and its humour. While the different tones don’t completely gel, and your enjoyment of the back and forth will come down to a matter of your personal taste, it remains an intriguing read. If you’re a fan of Einstein, Newton, Spinoza or Kierkegaard’s philosophy, you’ll find even more to enjoy.
“So, let me get this straight. You want to zap a bunch of voices you heard from the television, which you believe to be philosophers, from the past into the present in order to chat with them about God over some Starbucks?”Einstein in the Attic, Chapter Fifteen
Einstein in the Attic was provided by the authors for the purpose of an honest review.
Einstein in the Attic is available in paperback and on Kindle, exclusive to Amazon.
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Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Einstein in the Attic