On November 9th, 2001, religious fundamentalists fly two jet airplanes into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Center in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The terrorist acts precipitate a War on Terror, in which the United Arab States lead the invasion of the eastern seaboard of North America.
Eight years later, Homeland Security agents in Baghdad stumble across a string of artifacts, which surely must be hoaxes, seeming to hail from a world in which America was attacked and Iraq invaded.
The world Matt Ruff paints in The Mirage is one that is surprisingly different, viewed through the lens of a dominant Arabic and Muslim culture, but also still familiar in many ways. The Library of Alexandria is a user-edited encyclopedia on the Internet. The UAS is mired in a seemingly endless overseas war with little justification for being there. Philosophical and religious differences drive people apart.
Even as he built an intricate alternate history, Ruff’s attention to his characters and their struggles to be compassionate human beings — or not, depending on the characters in question — are what really held my attention. After all a while, all the unreal transpositions of famous names began to blur together a bit, but the lead characters and their choices are always there.
The “twist” or big reveal, as it were, might put some people off, but if you’re familiar with Matt Ruff’s works, it’s not outside his wheelhouse. Less overt than Fool on the Hill, but more thanSet This House in Order, say.
And yes, I’m an on-going reader of Ruff’s. He’s an author whose books I am always going to seek out; maybe not immediately, but sooner or later. Even so, stumbling across The Mirage at the Fletcher was unexpected, especially when it materialized on the hold shelf with my name on it.