Matt Ruff has an interesting set of books. They really don’t hang together thematically and are pretty much all over the map in style. So I’m not truly surprised that he’s not a bigger name. I first found him when I ran across a copy of Sewer, Gas and Electric (my review), a book he noted came from him throwing out ridiculous names for trilogies. I was very excited when I heard he had a new book coming out, since he isn’t the most prolific writer. When I heard that his newest novel, The Mirage, would be about an alternate universe where the Christian United States destroys the Twin Towers in the United Arab States on 11/9/2001, I was a little worried. It looked like a difficult premise to pull off. And to Ruff’s credit, he almost manages to do it. So, let’s join this alternate universe and see what happened.
On November 9th, 2001, two airlines crashed into the Twin Towers in Baghdad (as well as a third plane into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh). Eight years later, Arab Homeland Security agents Mustafa, Samir and Amir arrest a would-be Christian suicide bomber and before they know it, their case is taken away from them. They ignore being taken off the case long enough to search the bomber’s apartment. There they find a newspaper from September 12, 2001 which details the Arab terrorists blowing up the World Trade Centers in New York. This leads them through a journey into the heart of Christian America as well as meetings with union boss Saddam Hussein and Senator (and war hero) Osama bin Laden (and his Al Qaeda group).
Amir is the daughter of the current reformist Baghdad mayor and Samir is a closet homosexual (in a society where homosexuality is not just frowned up, but actively punished). Mustafa has a second wife, which he took after his first wife was unable to have children, but neither relationship worked out. These little character issues give us a chance to examine this mirage world where Muslims are the peaceful world leaders and Christian fundamentalists are third-world terrorists. There is little discussion as to how this happened in history (for good reason as it turns out), but there is a lot of discussion on how the two societies differ. There is a lot of fun seeing the Christian fundamentalists (David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh and various George W Bush officials) are portrayed. It’s fairly obvious that Ruff is not a fan of George W Bush or his various officials as he relentlessly mocks them in this mirage world.
As for the ending, all I will say is Roger Rabbit (the book, not the movie) and I did not enjoy it. The whole secret behind the mirage world was poorly done. I figured it out about halfway through, but assumed that Ruff had some final twist. But it was straight forward and made little sense.
Overall, the book was a great look at what the world would be like with Muslim and American roles being reversed and I truly enjoyed that part of the book. The various characters were only fleshed out enough to be able to move the plot forward. And the less said about the ending, the better. The book is extremely well written and Ruff is able to propel the reader forward through the book even as you start seeing the silliness unraveling the story. The story starts off strong and makes it about two-thirds of the way through the story before the flimsy plot is exposed and the bad ending starts kicking in. Mildly recommended.