There’s an old adage that history is written by the victors. Matt Ruff expands and explores that idea in Mirage. Mirage is the story of a world in which Arabia is the superpower and the United States a third world backwater country. In this world, Christian fundamentalists fly planes into the Twin Towers of Baghdad on November 9, 2001 (11/9 vs. 9/11). The twists keep coming in this upside down world. Except some of the terrorists remember a different reality. One in which the United States is a superpower and the Arab world a backwater. And they have some artifacts from this reality that seem to back up their story.
Mirage is told largely through the eyes of Arab Homeland Security Agents, mainly Mustafa al Baghdadi. He is tasked by the president to investigate the “mirage rumors”. There are people within the United Arab States who don’t want that to happen, as well as people who think their lives would be better in the mirage world.
I enjoyed this book because if features interesting characters with interesting backstories. The concepts explored were also very intriguing. Are the seeds of violent fundamentalism always present in any religion? What circumstances cause them to come out? How might political alliances that we view as unshakeable change if they sprang from different circumstances?
My criticism of the book is that the reverse parallels seemed a little overdone and at times seemed gimmicky. (11/9 vs 9/11, wikipedia vs. libraryofalexandria, etc.) The placement of prominent public figures on both sides of the conflict in roles they might play in the mirage world is well-done for the most part, although sometimes it seems unnecessary. The most enjoyable and identifiable characters are the fictional ones.
Despite any criticisms, Mirage is a story that makes you think and keeps you engaged. The core concept is brilliant and the exploration of the alternate world is fascinating. The characters, especially the ones without real-world counterparts, are interesting and well-developed. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book. It is an enjoyable read that will stretch your mind.