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The Mirage: A Novel Paperback – February 12, 2013
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Cult favorite Ruff’s past novels, including Fool on the Hill (1997) and Bad Monkeys (2007), are all wildly, thrillingly different, but they do share one recurring characteristic: they are total brain-twisters but in a good way. His latest is an alternate history that depicts the U.S. as a Third World country rent by religious strife, while the United Arab States are still reeling from the events of November 9, 2001, when Christian fundamentalists hijacked four planes and took down the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad. In this world, Osama bin Laden is a war hero and senator, while Timothy McVeigh is the revered leader of a rebellious Christian sect. Three Arab Homeland Security agents have their hands full, forced to deal not only with the duplicitous politics of various government agencies but also with suicide bombers and their recent claims that the world they are living in is a mirage. Like Robert Ferrigno in his Assassin trilogy, Ruff enthusiastically upends world history, offering provocative commentary while grounding his story with a highly appealing Muslim cast. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A unique and compelling read.” (The Associated Press)
“Like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, the premise behind Ruff’s alternate-history novel is chilling.” (The New York Post)
“An unnerving but intriguing premise forms the backbone of Matt Ruff’s latest novel, The Mirage, one of the most daring 9/11-inspired novels to emerge after that horrific day (The Seattle Times)
“Ruff embraces his twisty concept with an attention to detail that suggests many months, more likely years, of fervent research. . . . He is a world-class world builder who, perhaps better than any other writer, can create exotic, mysterious worlds and communicate their unique rules and consistent logics.” (The Stranger)
“A funhouse-mirror mash-up where H.G. Wells and Graham Greene collide with The Arabian Nights and The Matrix. . . . Ruff dizzies and dazzles the reader with a fantastic-and fantastical-story.” (BookPage)
“Sci-fi/fantasy/post-cyberpunk cult author Matt Ruff imagines an alternate world in which Arabia becomes the earth’s dominant superpower and America is a dictator-led, fundamentalist backwater. More than half the fun here comes from discovering all of the intricately clever consequences Ruff derives from that simple premise.” (Details)
“The alt-historical framework is in many ways the best and most entertaining part of the book, and you want it to expand beyond the mere 400 pages of The Mirage.” (Seattle Weekly)
“Furious entertainment. . . . It echoes Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, but more comparisons will be made to Philip K. Dick’s World War II reimagining The Man in the High Castle.” (The Onion's AV Club)
“If you amalgamated the methodical, punctilious, world-building skills of Ian McDonald with the reality-distortion powers of Philip K. Dick and then folded in the satirical, take-no-prisoners savagery of Norman Spinrad, you might be able to produce a book approximating The Mirage.” (Barnes and Nobles Review)
“That The Mirage shares DNA with airport-kiosk genre exercises is nothing to be ashamed of. A good thriller is hard to pull off. The ingredients are clear enough: propulsive action, sympathetic characterization, and enough detail to ground the story without slowing things down.” (The Philadelphia City Paper)
“This book quite successfully challenges the ideas of Christian moral supremacy and the unchallenged political agenda of superpowers. It is a deeply satisfying novel which excites hopes of a long and productive career for this young writer.” (Examiner.com)
“The Mirage is an intriguing addition to the genre . .. . Ruff spices up his tale with a wealth of arresting details. . . . Ruff keeps you reading, [out of] eagerness to see what twist he’ll think of next.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“An audacious new novel. . . . . The Mirage is a topsy-turvy tour de force, another winner from a truly inventive and unpredictable storyteller.” (The San Francisco Chronicle)
Top customer reviews
There’s something in here to offend everyone, well except for Jews, we have it pretty sweet (in comparison) in this novel. It is a very interested and unique premise. It’s executed well and was really hard to put down. The prospect of this novel, the idea of this being true in the way Matt Ruff explains it is horrifying. It would be kind of like going to the store and never being able to come home, ever.
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.
Mirage is an interesting premise, though it feels a bit heavy-handed. And in the end I can't help but compare it to his earlier works, which I found to be absolutely amazing. As a self-contained work Mirage gets maybe a B but given what I've come to expect from someone who's earned "Oh he has a new book out? I need to buy it immediately!" status in my view, the inherent comparison with his other books is really what drags down the rating of Mirage.
It's fine, but don't expect it to be anywhere near what he's done before.