I daresay that pretty much everyone in the United States knows what “9/11” is: Islamic fundamentalists hijacked planes in an attempt to bring down the Demon West by flying into various Significant Structures in the United States. What if literally everything we know were reversed? Matt Ruff’s book, The Mirage, is an alternate history science fiction describing just that: on 11/9/2001, Christian fundamentalists hijacked four airplanes to similarly attack equivalent structures in the United Arab States.
What we know here and now as the United States is, in Ruff’s book, nothing but a splintered collection of fragmentary nations, religious to their core and producing only rabid fundamentalist Christians, of a bewildering array of sects. As the book begins, government agents in the U.A.S. are finding Christian fundamentalist suicide bombers they’ve captured are insisting that the ‘real’ world is but a dream, and the world they know is but a mirror image reflection of the true existence. The government would laugh all this off, if it weren’t for the fact that agents have found what appear to be real artifacts from nonexistent entities–a newspaper article from some peculiar paper called The New York Times with a headline saying “Today we are all Americans”, and some banknotes from a country no one’s ever heard of, The United States of America.
I haven’t read any of Ruff’s other work so can’t really comment on his skills as a writer; I did enjoy the book but not as crazy about it as I feel I ought to be, despite it coming recommended from Christopher Moore. It’s an interesting premise, and one that needs to be distributed more widely throughout the United States. Unfortunately, I suspect that it won’t reach the very people who most need to see this, those who’re fulminating against what they regard as the Evils of the Arab World; it would never occur to them to pick this book up, much less read it to the end and then think about the theme. Unfortunately, I can’t be as fulsome about the book overall as I’d like to be, though I still think it’s worth reading. I finished it, which is saying something, but having slept on the review, it doesn’t seem that Ruff actually invented enough of a plot to boost this book into brilliant writing. He only held up a mirror to reality, changing very little of the actual structure other than inverting the names. A shaggy dog story extended to novel length, if you will. Sorry.