Your Saturday Book Review: The Mirage by Matt Ruff

Matt Ruff’s novel, The Mirage, certainly owes a debt to Philip K Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle, then again who doesn’t owe a debt to Dick?

Rather than trying to recount the plot myself, here’s this from the Amazon book blurb:

1/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. . . .

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of “backward third-world countries.”

If the above doesn’t sound intriguing, stop reading the review and move on. If it does, the question is, “Does Ruff pull it off?” The answer is yes. The alternate world is well-thought out. The United Arab States is wealthy, modern, and technologically advanced, but alcohol is illegal (except for sacrimental purposes for minority religions), women still dress conservatively, and full equality hasn’t been achieved (although the Mayor of Baghdad is a woman), gay rights is not a concept (though underground gathering places exist), polygamy is legal, premarital sex is not (though there are “temporary” marriages). Israel, the Jewish state, is an ally, but it’s located in Europe. There are clever references to familiar names in the news and in history who play very different roles in this flipped world. Giving examples would spoil the fun.

The main characters are well-developed and sympathetic. The plot and pacing is well-done. It’s not your usual thriller, but it is a page-turner. The resolution of how “the mirage” came into existence and how the “artifacts” from the world we know manifest themselves, seems a bit forced, but doesn’t really mar the read.

It’s hard to say if this is an “important” book or merely an “entertaining” one, but it is provocative and would make for lively book-club discussions.

When the novel came out in early 2012, I thought it would be a sure fire best-seller. I’m still not sure why it’s not or why there’s no movie yet. Possibly some readers find offensive the alternative United States being anything but united, governed by warlords, and filled with fundamentalist Christians still fighting the crusades and hell bent on bringing on Armageddon.

Then again it may simply be the publishers bad decision to price the kindle version at over $10. This is one where you’ll do better on price with a paperback.

PS While setting up links for this, I discovered that The Man in the High Castle is currently on sale for an astounding $2.99 on Kindle. If you’ve never read it, you should. Go NOW!