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February 7, 2012 / schulerbooks

Conversation-Starting Book of the Year

On November the 9th, the United Arab States suffered the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. Fanatical Christians from America hijacked several planes and drove them into high-profile targets, most notably the Twin Towers of Baghdad. The people’s illusions about their nation’s strength and security were wiped away by the flash of fire and the thunder of falling debris.

The resulting War on Terror has transformed the UAS, and not always for the better. In an age of “homicide bombers,” suspicion and distrust are now considered patriotic. The wheels of state are oiled by intrigue and influence, and too much power has clearly been given to the wrong people.

Mustafa al Baghdadi is, arguably, one of the right people: a decent but nowhere near perfect cop trying to walk the line between being a hardass and remaining human. The War on Terror moved him from vice detail to anti-terrorism, putting his feud with notorious Baghdad gangster Saddam Hussein on hold. It also destroyed both his marriages, one more forcefully than the other. His father is ailing, his coworkers are arguing, and he keeps having weird bouts of vertigo, as though the world were falling down around him in ways that only he can perceive.

It may very well be. A recent, disturbing trend has occurred – one that he’s only now becoming aware of. Some of the would-be martyrs his team are busting are convinced that this world is a fantasy. In the “real” world, America is a great nation, and not some third-world, warlord-run backwater filled with homicidal Christian zealots and IEDs. This alternate America is currently embroiled in its own War on Terror against various members of the UAS — and Muslims in general, to hear the terrorists say it — following a terrible deed done to them by Muslim radicals.

One of the terrorists has “proof”: a wrinkled, old copy of something called the New York Times. Apparently published on 12th of September, 2001, it shows planes crashing into a pair of towers the day before. That it’s an eerie reversal of what happened in Baghdad, all those years ago, is not lost on Mustafa. But how can this object, and those like it, even exist?

Finding the answer won’t be easy. It’ll require dodging both the President’s goons and the far-reaching, sinister influence of Senator bin Laden, and Al Qaeda. It’ll also mean rattling the cages of Saddam and his genuinely evil family, who are clearly up to something, and could be hiding a lot more than usual.

It will also require a trip to war-torn America — caught in a morass of seemingly futile nation-building, and laden with dangers both foreign and domestic. What they discover there will answer some things, but will also suggest new queries that no one could have seen coming.

The answers to those questions will rattle their notions of reality, free will, and destiny to the core. But will they have time to act on those answers, and save the UAS from a catastrophe even greater than 11/9?

Whose will be done, and in which world?

The dissection of consensus reality, our questionable perceptions of it, and our sometimes uncertain relationship with it are themes that Ruff has explored before. most notably in the excellent Bad Monkeys. But here, using the backdrop of alternate history, the idea has a lot more room to move and breathe. As befitting a thriller, the pacing is swift, and the use of intercalary snippets of media (such as The Library of Alexandria — aka Wikipedia) to give backstory, and explain certain aspects of the world, is a well done move on the author’s part. The characters are real, their hopes and failings believable, and their stories compelling and readable.

Certain persons of high patriotic gumption and moral turpitude will no doubt condemn The Mirage as anti-American, Anti-Semitic, or pro-terrorist. Doubtless they will not have even bothered to read the book before doing so, for this work is none of those things, but rather an exploration of perceived truth nestled inside a genuinely thrilling work of speculative fiction.

The Mirage drops today, Feb 7th, 2012.

Review by Jim Tremlett, Eastwood Towne Center location

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One Comment

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  1. Nick Helmholdt / Feb 7 2012 10:47 pm

    This does sound like quite the conversation starter. In a year where the political vitriol will be in full effect across the nation, I imagine a book like this could really have the potential to become a target for those who see it as offensive.
    I watched the TV show Sliders as a kid – and exactly this kind of alternate reality scenario still appeals to my tastes. I look forward to seeing it in print.

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