1. The subject of CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN is not so much the radical new technology it describes, but the ethical and philosophical choices with which such technology would confront us. Assuming you had complete faith in the technology involved, would you go into the Bin? Why or why not?
2. New technologies unfold step by step, as do the issues they raise. If you don't think you'd go into the Bin, just where would you draw the line? Would you, for example, accept the transplant of a cloned heart or kidney if you were facing death? A cloned body? Would you take a vacation or a virtual educational tour? If, because of some ecological disaster, the Earth were becoming uninhabitable, would you enter the Bin then?
3. In the world of the Bin, death has been eliminated. Newman Rogers himself thinks this may have been a mistake. Nemo scorns the lives led by the typical Bindweller. If you were living in the Bin, how would being immortal change the way you lived your life? How would it affect social institutions, philosophy, the arts?
4. Religion and religious issues abound in the novel, but it's not simply a matter of believers vs. non-believers. What are the religious views of Gabriel, Newman Rogers, Jonathan, Nemo, Justine, Lawrence, Sarah? What religious questions would the Bin raise for you personally?
5. Discuss the relationship of the novel to other literary works it parallels or alludes to -- Romeo & Juliet, Paradise Lost, Frankenstein, Rebecca, and the Bible. How does the novel both echo and revise the themes of these other works? Literature of all forms offers virtual experiences, as is evident in Justine's identification with Juliet and with the heroine of Rebecca, and Nemo's experience of the Aimee Mann song, "Coming Up Close." Newman Rogers chooses to run a bookshop and says of the Bin, "It's all a play." What does the novel have to say about the nature and purpose of literature?
6. Discuss the two scenes in the crematorium. What impact does this have on Nemo, Rosalind, and Jonathan? What is the significance of Nemo's entering the Bin by this route, wearing clothes stripped from the dead? What is the significance of Nemo's recurring nightmare and of Peter's "vision" of Nemo in flames?
7. The Constructs were created to be a race of slaves, but proved to be more complicated than their makers intended. How has their multiplicity of personalities in a single body apparently affected their values and attitudes? Newman Rogers claims to have learned a great deal from them. What do you suppose he has learned? The relationship betweenthe different personalities that make up a Construct and the lives they lived before is a complex one. How do you understand Lawrence's insistence on being addressed as Lawrence, and his assertion that "those other folks are dead"?
8. Newman Rogers plays a godlike role in the world he's created. Why does he do this? What would you do if you found yourself in his position? He tells Nemo that his motives are mixed, but they are not evil. What does he mean by this?
9. Nemo insists that he doesn't want to enter the Bin. What are his reasons for staying out? Why does he ultimately choose to go in? Do you agree with his choice? Why or why not?
10. Justine is made up in part from three discrete moments in Angelina's life. These three "Angelinas" don't even perceive each other to be the same person. Does this make sense to you? Have you been, in a sense, different people at different times in your life, or pretty much the same? When Justine finds out what she is, what are the different reactions she has to her identity? Why does she decide to download herself after reading Sarah's letters?
11. Look at Gabriel's sermon in Hollywood Cemetery. What is so appealing about his message to his followers? Compare what he has to say with Newman Rogers's speech in Chapter One. Why is Jonathan so certain that Gabriel is wrong? What tempts Nemo to go along with Gabriel's plan even though he detests Gabriel?
12. At the end of the novel, the connection between the Bin and the real world has been severed. How do you suppose this will change both worlds over time?
13. Why do Lawrence and Jonathan choose to bury Nemo's body in Hollywood Cemetery? Why does the guard who recognizes Nemohelp them? What do you make of the last paragraph of the novel in which the Bin looks like a star, "shining by the grace of God"?
14. Extensive research in virtual realities, the mapping of consciousness, genetic engineering, and cloning are going on at the present time. Some scientists have predicted that all the technology described in CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN could be implemented in as few as 50 years, some of it much sooner. Conventional wisdom asserts that what is possible (and well-funded) eventually becomes reality. Do you agree or disagree? How do you feel about such research?
About the Author:
Dennis Danvers is the author of the ciritcally acclaimed novels Wilderness and Time and Time Again. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is currently at work on his next novel which is set in the same imagined future as CIRCUIT OF HEAVEN.
The following novels "which dare to stray from the straight path of realism" have influenced Dennis Danvers: HAPPY POLICEMAN by Patricia Anthony
BLOOD MUSIC by Greg Bear
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury
CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke
THE MAGGOT by John Fowles
THE HOUSE ON THE STRAND by Daphne du Maurier
THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson