30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
With its inspired premise, I can easily imagine that Matt Ruff's alternate history version of the 9/11 tragedy is sure to generate much interest. Upon reading the book's description, I was instantly intrigued and I tore into the novel with great anticipation. And, in truth, I devoured it in a couple of sittings--which is something that I rarely do. And yet, while I admired much about the book, I'm not sure that it ultimately fulfilled all of its potential and promises. Don't get me wrong, I'd recommend the book in a heartbeat just for its skewed world view, but the payoff lacked a bit for my taste. Ruff had big ambitions and paints a colorful world, and I wanted to love this book unequivocally. But while Ruff's vision entertained and fascinated me, it's whole falls somewhere short of the strength of its individual pieces. Part alternate history, part fantasy, part cop investigation, part political and social satire--there are a lot of disparate elements fighting for attention within the pages of "The Mirage." And while I enjoyed the separate components, I'm not sure they always sat comfortably together.
There's not a lot that one can say about "The Mirage" without revealing its surprises. So I'll be purposefully vague beyond a cursory description. The novel is set in the aftermath of a 11/9/2001 terrorist attack in the United Arab States. Ruff sets up an environment where everything that we know about our own 9/11 event is upended and relocated into this fictional time and place. The primary story revolves around agents within the Arab Homeland Security branch who thwart an attack in 2009 and recover some evidence that references an alternate timeline where America is a superpower and it was the victim of a 9/11 incident. But what does this outlandish story that contradicts everything in the contemporary world really mean? The agents start to track down the truth and along the way they interact with the usual suspects including Hussein and bin Laden (among many other recognizable and notorious personalities) as they exist and prosper in this alternate history of the world.
It would certainly be easy to spoil many of the novel's intricacies, and that would be a shame. One of the primary strengths is that we never know exactly where we're headed in Ruff's twisted tale. I really enjoyed the structure of the story, the chapters are separated by very entertaining mock-ups of Wikipedia pages (although they aren't called that). The satiric elements of the novel can be highly amusing. Songs, TV shows, and popular culture events all mirror various counterparts within contemporary American society. But while they're funny, they can also come across as a bit of a stunt as the tone of the book seems to be striving for something deeper and darker. The history elements are never less than fascinating, although they are contrived to incorporate as many familiar names as possible in key roles. This can also come off as less than genuine, but it's fun. The agents are defined well and their exploits can be thrilling and dangerous. But the ultimate solution to the novel's many puzzles left me oddly unfulfilled.
Even though "The Mirage" was not wholly successful for me, I would still recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds fascinating. It may not be the contemporary classic I was hoping for, but it definitely spins a different story that has the potential to capture your imagination in a variety of ways. I'd give the idea of "The Mirage" a BIG five stars! But in an uneven execution, I'd rate the experience (for me) at about 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 12/11.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2012
'The Mirage' is kind of like one of those movies that looks really good when you see the trailer, but ends up being something less than it could have been.
There's a core of a good idea here - a world flipped on its head from what we know, where the UAS (United Arab States) is the center of the civilized world and what we think of as America is a disorganized, chaotic assembly of warring factions reduced to third-world conditions. Terrorist attacks on the twin towers in Baghdad on 11/9 have had wide-reaching political effects, and mysterious artifacts begin to surface on the popular auction website eBazaar that suggest another reality - a mirage of a world we will find very familiar.
It's an ambitious idea, to be sure, and in some ways carried out well. Through the eyes of an Arab Homeland Security agent, a complex story unfolds and we see the world as it might have been. Familiar faces show up in new roles, a litany of name-dropping that becomes a little too much: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh, and the list goes on. It makes sense for a while, but eventually it becomes a bit more than coincidence can explain.
The depth of the changes are fairly impressive too, and clearly a lot of thought went into causes and their probable effects. I enjoyed these touches, even as I felt Ruff was taking a bit too much time to explain them. He doesn't quite commit the sins of Dan Brown - bringing the story to a screeching halt to explain a simple concept at length - but 'The Mirage' does get bogged down in some places, especially early on.
Once the story picks up, its entertaining enough and has a reasonably good ending. The ideas alone carried me through the rough parts, but I never felt fully engaged by the characters or the story. And while the ending was satisfying, there lingered a feeling that it pulled its punch. What could have been something truly thought-provoking ended on a shrug.
'The Mirage' lives up to its name - it beckons from a distance and looks too good to be true. And upon reading it, though the vision still enchants, the reality is something of a disappointment.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
At first glance THE MIRAGE by Matt Ruff struck me as irreverent and offensive. I was offered a chance to read the book for free through the Amazon Vine program and I passed it up. A couple weeks later I ended up coming across a review of THE MIRAGE that made me pause and think. From there the desire was planted and I ended up purchasing a copy, reasoning that even if it turned out to be a terrible novel at least I could write a scathing condemnation of it. As it turns out, not only is THE MIRAGE an excellent novel, but it is also everything a thriller should be.
On November 9th, 2001 four jetliners are hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Three find their targets: the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Centers and the Arab Defense Ministry. The passengers of the fourth prevent the terrorists from reaching Mecca. This attack ignites a War on Terror, led by the United Arab States. Years later Mustafa al Baghdadi, agent for Arab Homeland Security, captures a suicide bomber. The man claims that the world they are living in is a Mirage, and in the "real" world it is America that is a superpower and the Middle East that is a third world country. So begins a thrilling investigation that will uproot the very foundation of everything Mustafa knows and believes.
So you can see where I may have been a little hesitant to read THE MIRAGE. The very concept is audacious and twisted and more than a little intriguing. At first it seems like a delicious sort of heresy, an act of adolescent rebellion. As it turns out though, THE MIRAGE is anything but adolescent and heretical. Though bold and original, Ruff's thriller turns out to be introspective and thoughtful, and at times even humorous.
The story is told mainly from the perspective of Mustafa al Baghdadi, though there are also chapters that follow his Homeland Security partners Salim and Amal as well. Mustafa is a likable lead, a dedicated law enforcer with somer serious regrets. Salim and Amal are also decent characters with fleshed out back stories but they do seem to lack a little in the personality department. Really though, it's the supporting cast that makes THE MIRAGE such a colorful and fun book. In this alternate reality Saddam Hussein is gangster, Osama bin Laden is a Senator of the United Arab States, and al-Qaeda is an ultra covert counter terrorist unit. There are more fun cameos throughout but I won't ruin their appearances by announcing them here.
The investigation is well handled, giving readers a guided tour of a world that is a delight to explore. Ruff's alternate reality is clever and colorful. The pop-culture references are particularly witty, specifically the television crime dramas and punk rock bands. Things are foreign but still recognizable and much of the time I found myself smirking as I read. Another sharp technique Ruff utilizes to tell the story is the inclusion of excerpts from the Library of Alexandria (the alternate reality Wikipedia). These excerpts are superb world building tools that offer background knowledge and set the stage for the chapters that precede them.
The aspect of the Mirage itself is handled very well. I had wondered how Ruff would pull off the alternate history explanation but he did not fail to disappoint. The investigation leads Mustafa and his friends from Baghdad to Sadr City, all the way across the Atlantic to the D.C. Greenzone and surrounding territories. The adventure is full of non-stop thrills and world shaking revelations. I regret to say that the finale turned out to be a letdown.
THE MIRAGE is a ballsy thriller the likes of which you have never read. Thoughtful and witty, Ruff crafts a novel experience that is sure to make you stop and reconsider your place in the world.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some words but very minimal.
Violence: Shooting, nothing extra gory.
Elitist Book Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Ruff is brave to tackle such subject matter, both due to the political and religious sensitivities of the premise and the similarities to the much renowned alternate history work The Man in the High Castle.
In my opinion he carries it off very well, he portrays the characters honestly and respectfully. The middle eastern characters are not saints, the fundamentalist Christian terrorists are not necessarily devils. They are all more complex people making their way through an alternate, or more accurately, altered world as they deal with the feeling that something is not quite proper with reality.
Ruff writes well, he can carry the narrative of the story well keeping it generally fast paced and as I mentioned before he does a fairly good job with characterization. The Middle-East superpower is imagined in a logical and believable fashion as is the fractured version of the USA. When the main characters travel to the USA the public personages they interact with are pleasantly surprising. Names you will know but not the obvious ones you think would be showing up in this alternate history. The climax moves quickly and leaves the reader unable to put the book down until reaching the open end, wanting to find out just what destination the main characters are going to arrive at.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
With "The Mirage", Matt Ruff has written the definitive 9-11 novel, a spellbinding, alternative history thriller that is the 21st Century version of Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle"; an often sly, truly memorable, fictional commentary on the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks and America's military response, especially its invasion of Iraq. This is no mere homage to Philip K. Dick's greatest science fiction novel, but instead, one that truly transcends it, with dialogue reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and David Foster Wallace, a plot worthy of Graham Greene and John Le Carre, and more than a passing nod to William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson; indeed it can be seen as a contemporary tale straight out of "One Thousand and One Nights" which perceptive readers will appreciate and understand by the close of Ruff's compelling saga. I have no doubt that Ruff's latest novel will be viewed as his most controversial. There will be those who find objectionable, his heroic portrayal of democratic Muslim and Christian Arabs, in stark contrast to his utterly reprehensible cast of fanatical Fundamentalist Protestant Christian Americans, and they will also claim that his plot is utterly preposterous (But one that is far more rooted in reality than Dick's dystopian vision of a United States conquered and divided into zones of Imperial Japanese and Nazi German occupation in "The Man in the High Castle".). Any novel that will have as characters, the likes of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz and Osama bin Laden, will be the target of ample criticism, but Ruff's choices make absolute sense as this is truly a compelling work of alternative history, and one destined to be a classic in this genre.
Readers will find ample reminders of 9-11 and subsequent American history, within Ruff's compelling alternative history, starting with an almost poetic prologue that recounts a Baghdad dawn eerily reminiscent of New York City's on that fateful Tuesday morning (which, in Ruff's version is also a Tuesday), seeing the first rays of the sun striking the Tigris and Euphrates twin World Trade Center towers. And then there will be scenes set in the United States, not far from the Green Zone established by United Arab States armed forces in Washington, D. C., that will have unavoidable comparisons with America's recently concluded occupation of Iraq. And yet, despite the gross similarities, there will be differences, based on cultural and religious differences as well as the alternative history timeline, which Ruff cleverly exploits via his "entries" in "The Library of Alexandria", his alternative history clone of Wikipedia, which are often witty, quite clever, "footnotes" which merely add to - not detract from - his engrossing narrative.
Eight years after the 11-9-01 terrorist attacks on the United Arab States, Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured American suicide bomber who claims that their recent history is but a mirage of the truth; one in which the United States of America, a superpower, is attacked by fanatical Muslim terrorists, with the Muslim Arab world fragmented into barely civilized "backward third-world states", not the democratic superpower that is the United Arab States. Other terrorists have been telling the same stories, and Mustafa, along with his colleagues and friends Samir and Amal, soon embark on a perilous trek from the Arab world to the occupied Christian States of America in search of the truth, encountering not only other suspects, but even artifacts, that support the bomber's astonishing claims. Theirs is a trek to uncover the truth before the independent investigations of Baathist labor leader - and gangster - Saddam Hussein and Senate Intelligence Committee head Osama bin Laden succeed.
"The Mirage" is an exceptional work of fiction that warrants a mention in the 2012 "best of" lists, and one worthy of recognition as a potential Hugo and Nebula Award nominee by those within the science fiction literary community. Ruff's latest novel should confirm his status as one of the best American writers of my generation; a noteworthy literary career that includes notable works of fantasy ("Fool on the Hill"), post-cyberpunk fiction ("Sewer Gas Electric: The Public Works Trilogy"), and most recently, a heart-pounding psychological thriller homage to Philip K. Dick ("Bad Monkeys"). Much more so than either Rick Moody or Jonathan Lethem - his closest peers amongst "mainstream" fiction writers capable of writing excellent science fiction - Ruff has created a believable, realistic "world" as memorable in its own right as those envisioned by the likes of William Gibson and China Mieville in, respectively, their celebrated "Cyberspace" and "New Crobuzon" trilogies; it's a "world" that shouldn't be missed.
(EDITORIAL NOTE 12-30-11: Had he lived, I doubt Frank McCourt would have understood his former student Matt Ruff's latest novel. "The Mirage" merely demonstrates why Ruff, along with his classmate, David Lipsky, remains the most notable alumnus of Frank McCourt's now legendary Stuyvesant High School creative writing classes.)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The flip-flopped sci-fi premise - that the targets of "11/9" were the twin towers in Baghdad, not New York - would surely have been too audacious a few years ago, but I think it works today.
It's difficult to review this book in a lot of detail without giving things away, so read the book description and you'll know what you're dealing with as far as plot and concept. It's bold and interesting, and creatively presented. The research that must have been done is very impressive.
I liked it. All that kept me from loving it was that it tried to do a little too much. It wanted to be an alternate sci-fi history, a mystery, and an existential piece of literature. A good comparison might be "Fatherland" by Robert Harris - which was well-written, but didn't try to be more than what it was (an alternate history that Germany won WWII), so for me that book was a little more successful.
The first two-fifths of the book set up the characters, and even with the premise, the narrative's a bit conventional.
But, the next 2/5s bring the reader to "America." Did you ever see the Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," with the evil Spock with the goatee? That's the looking glass idea that Ruff successfully conveys and what I think a reader will appreciate. It's us, but a twisted and backward version - but not an unbelievable or unrealistic version. It's what we could have been with a few twists and turns in the nation's past (and I'm not saying we turned out that much better). Ruff includes a few names from our recent past - some are obvious (a little too much, sometimes) and expected, but others are creepy and surprising.
I enjoyed that part quite a bit, and I wanted more! There just wasn't enough of this 'mirror, mirror' landscape for me, especially in comparison to the slow start. By the time I really got into it, the book was coming to an end.
A few reviewers have not liked the ending - and I understand why. But I liked it. I thought it wrapped up the story in the direction he seemed to be going, and while it's not a conventional ending, I think it works for his narrative. It will be unsatisfying to some, but I think it fits.
My biggest 'complaint' is just that I wanted the book to be something that Ruff didn't write; I wanted more of the alternate history, and a little less of his literary goals. But for what he presented, this is a story that is thoughtful, bold and definitely different.
One small spoiler that you should figure out early anyway - as you'll read in the book description, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are important characters. They are NOT good guys, don't worry!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Matt Ruff has written a novel that, in many ways, is a perfectly fine political thriller. Three government agents fight a terrorist plot and find themselves drawn into a world of political intrigue full of gangsters and corruption and gunfights. At that level, the book would be at home on a rack in an airport bookstore - nothing special, but a perfectly competent example of the genre. The central hook to this book, though, the thing that makes it a must-read, is that this is not our world - in this world, at some vague time around the turn of the twentieth century, the United States degenerated into a loose sprawl of squabbling states run by fundamentalist despots, and the Muslim world united into the globe's dominant superpower. So in this mirage world, the three government agents are named Mustafa, Samir, and Amal, they work in a Baghdad still adjusting to the loss of its World Trade Center towers (after Christian fundamentalists flew planes into them), and the leaders of organized crime and political corruption are Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
This book could have been a simple political satire. Ruff has thought through many aspects of the mirage world's culture, from a popular children's TV show called "Open Sesame!" to a primetime thriller called "24/7 Jihad," in which a man fights terrorists and every Christian on the show always turns out to be a terrorist who gets killed by the end of the season. Everyone does online research with the aid of a Wikipedia-style site called The Library of Alexandria, and they buy and sell goods on eBazaar. In one of the best lines of the book, a character is surprised by an intruder and thinks that at least, since the intruder is an Arab, he's probably not a terrorist. This pervasive attention to details and attitudes make for a very funny satire that slices into the assumptions readers make within the framework of our dominant worldviews.
Ruff doesn't stop there, though, with a string of jokes and details justifying itself by its own audacity. He takes the time to tell a compelling story. The basic thriller plot is just fine, but the characters are much more textured than typical thriller characters. Each of our three main characters has at least one dark secret, and the dynamics to how they hide and reveal themselves is fascinating. Also, Ruff has a surprisingly sober appreciation for the idea of faith and mystery. Individual characters vary in their levels of religious devotion, in a way that feels deeply respectful on Ruff's part. On a more abstract level, as the book progresses to its climax, Ruff slips quietly away from certainty into a surprisingly perfect ending that answers very few questions but hits exactly the right thematic notes to complete the story. I sympathize with readers disappointed in the ending, but I loved it as proof that this novel is something special. It's bigger than a "here's some plot, and here's some more plot" paperback thriller, it's bigger than a "here are arbitrary reversals of your familiar pop culture" satire, and it's bigger than a "let me tell you what you should believe about this culture" essay. It incorporates those elements, of course, but Ruff has crafted a near-masterpiece that transcends its component parts. I recommend it for anyone.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2013
This is a well written book with quite an intriguing in plot. I enjoyed reading it, but the conclusion lacked impact and in the end meaning.
After Fool on the Hill: A Novel and Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (Public Works Trilogy) this is the third book by Matt Ruff I've read now. I realise he has written more and having read The Mirage has definitely made me keen to read the titles I've missed. Still, this book is not that good.
The plot is the hook: The story starts out with the November 9th attacks on the United Arab States, perpetrated by Christian fundamentalists and proceeds from there to follow the lives of three Homeland Security agents as they try to unravel something a Crusader said during interrogation about this world not being real, but rather a mirage. Getting to this point though, felt like a long time. And from that point the book has a problem: you've just been told that the hook ... is not that roles are reversed, but instead that they only appear to be.
Having dropped itself into that hole, the book and story now need to get back to a point where anything that happens remains relevant. Before this you had a potential for a statement about how the reversal would differ to reality, bordering on speculative fiction (though I'm not sure that this book falls into quite that realm), but after that it's basically put a brick through the window and the shards are falling apart.
That's not to say the story falls apart, just the hook is gone, the story keeps running with it, and because it is reasonably well written it keeps you interested but then another of Ruff's traits kicks in: using real people but changing their ... traits. So in SGE we had Ayn Rand as an AI, Walt Disney and J Edgar Hoover as mostly themselves and Harry Gant (Hank Rearden / John Galt) and Joan Fine (Dagney Taggart) (these last two are fictitious to start with). Here you have Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush (both), Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Jimmy Wales, David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh, and a few others, some with their real names and others varied because they are born into a different life. The problem though is that some are more or less themselves, while others are suddenly heroic figures, and others I wasn't sure if they are supposed to be someone who I just don't know OR if they were supposed to be fictitious, nevermind not knowing if that mattered.
Sure if you think about some of these choices, in light of the role reversals, it is quite interesting and in a round about way makes the "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" point, but ... I'm not convinced it does it well. Because it also makes the assertion that bad people in one reality will be bad people in (all?) other realities. And I have some doubts about Koresh and McVeigh here, because they don't seem like bad guys.
So, yeah there is some fun here with the alternate reality and the book keeps you reading to find out what's going to happen in the end. And again it makes some good points about why some people might think a certain way, or that assuming knowledge of God's will is foolish, in the end these fall pretty flat. Because the central premise here is that this isn't real, so any observation of this unreality is also unreal, yet it is a fable of sorts, with a massive flesh wound from where it shot itself in the foot.
That's not to say it's not a but of curious fun, but that's the problem, it's just not that much fun. And it's clever, just not that clever. And some of the thinking is interesting, but aside from that whole question mark over 'well, but this isn't real', it's also too simplistic, with the world just not being that fleshed out, although the characters are. Which in turn now raises the question of what makes reality the people or the world (which includes people), and Ruff seems to go with 'mostly the people'.
So after all this, the hook, the twist and the characters, none remains particularly memorable because in the end none of these are particularly relevant. Yes there are interesting glimpses at other people's potential lives in a different culture, which is probably reasonably well researched, though research and people's lives don't equate either. And thus, that leaves only the conclusion, and that's arguably the biggest let down of all, because there is none. There are implications, and there is a deference to mysticism / divine intervention which is appropriate to the nature of the story, but then you aren't told what the outcome actually is. When you think about it, this ties back again to not knowing what God's will is, and being unable to grasp the whole picture, but that doesn't make it less of a let down.
One other thing, but most of the action scenes were not that well written, with a lot of the locations not being described well enough that one can visualise the (mostly) firefights. Because I don't read much fiction these days I can't point to a recent example of a well written action sequence, but Red Storm Rising and lots of Tom Clancy's other books do a great job, with probably as much (if not more) going on, which are clearer.
The goal here was clearly to make the audience think, with the pay off being some level of (let's say) enlightenment about Christianity and Islam. But it just does not feel deep or relevant enough that this is really going to happen. I don't want to say to avoid the book (because I did mostly enjoy it), but at the same time there is nothing concrete about it that makes me be able to recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2012
I don't care what you say. This one will, at least at first, make you feel a bit uncomfortable. In the tradition of the best alternate history fiction, Matt Ruff uses The Mirage to turn history on its head in a way that makes one think. American readers, in particular, will be forced to do some soul searching as they make their way through the mad journey that Ruff has prepared for them.
The Mirage, you see, begins on 11/9/2001 just as a group of Christian fundamentalists highjack four Iraqi airliners. Two of the jets crash into the World Trade Towers in Baghdad, one into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh, and one heads for Mecca but, before it can reach its target there, passengers manage to crash it into the ground. Soon, the United Arab States (UAS) are waging a payback war on terror and have invaded the East Coast. Washington D.C. is turned into a Green Zone safe haven for the invaders who are ruthlessly attacked almost every time they venture outside its protected perimeter. Eight years later, the invaders are still there, hoping to leave a stable government behind before they call the war done.
Ruff softens the impact of this jarring setup by creating several sympathetic Iraqi characters tasked with the mission of stopping further Christian terrorist attacks on Iraq and the rest of the UAS. Mustafa al Baghdadi and his cohorts spend their days tracking threats and terrorist cells, hoping to stay one step ahead of the fundamentalists who want to bring more mayhem to the country. So far, with a lot of luck, they have been successful. But when Mustafa, during one of his arrests, finds an old newspaper that a suspect has hidden away, his world is shaken.
This is not just any old newspaper. It is a back issue of The New York Times dated 9/12/2001, and it tells a surreal story that Mustafa cannot comprehend. Surely, it is a hoax; it has to be. Then other captured terrorists begin to tell stories similar to what is in the newspaper, and Mustafa starts to doubt the world he lives in. Is it all a mirage? If it is, who is responsible and how did they do it?
Readers will enjoy the way that Ruff uses the main players from the 9/11 murders in The Mirage. Most of them are there, but in entirely new roles - some of which are guaranteed to offend as many readers as they will please. More intriguingly, others who had no actual connection with events following 9/11 participate here in key roles: David Koresh, Lee Atwater, Timothy McVeigh, and Terry Nichols, among them. Although some will skip them, Ruff uses clever Wikipedia-like entries as chapter-breaks that should not be ignored because they fill in the narrative blanks, making it easier to understand this strange new world.
The ending Ruff chose for The Mirage, however, is weak. His story, and his readers, deserved better. Based upon the rest of the story, it is difficult to argue that the ending is too fantastic to be taken seriously (and the argument cannot be attempted without straying into "spoiler" territory). But it is, and it lessens the impact that I belief Ruff was going for in The Mirage. That said, do not miss this one because it is still one of the more intriguing novels you will encounter in 2012.
Rated at: 4.0
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2013
Matt Ruff is always worth reading, I think, and I admire the wide range of books he's created.
This one is a fascinating alternative history... or that's how it starts out, and most of the book remains there.
The premise: flip 9/11 completely over. The world superpower is the United Arabian States, and North America is a morass of small, squabbling countries. The Twin Towers are in Baghdad. Many of the Big Men on both sides remain the same... but how they're Big is different, obviously. Most likely to provoke, at least initially: Bin Laden is a respected senator and war hero! The Gulf War was fought in the Gulf of Mexico...
It's a fascinating thought experiment, and very well-worked out. Several of the plot arcs remain firmly within this premise, though a couple stray toward the mechanism of WHY, and those are less grounded, though not enough to throw me out of the story.
The main characters are nicely developed and interesting. Most have either secrets or deep regrets. The Big Men seem to have the same characters as they do in real life, though how they express them is different.
The main plot(s) is/are nicely convoluted, with various threads feeding into and supporting or opposing one another. It's a bit tricky to keep it all straight, though Ruff makes it clear- but it's that twisty! It's hard to keep up with who knows what, when, and how. I'm sure part of the reason is that by then I was reading more for character than for the plot(s), excellent though the plotting is.
If this sounds like your sort of thing, I think you will like it a lot.