March 7, 2012

The Mirage and Meeting Matt Ruff

I'm excited to talk about the newest book by Matt Ruff, who has been my favorite author for about twenty years, since I picked up THE FOOL ON THE HILL in a bookstore because I was a Beatlemaniac and attracted to the title. His five novels are very different from each other, and I recommend any of them. The latest, THE MIRAGE, is a strong, ambitious addition to his work.

THE MIRAGE opens with a prologue set on the morning of November 9, 2001, in the bustling city of Baghdad, industrial capital of the superpower nation, the United Arab States. Life changes for the citizens when planes crash into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers, hijacked by Christian fundamentalists from one of North America's warring third-world countries.

The rest of the novel takes place eight years later, in the post-11/9 world. A team of Arab Homeland Security agents is tracking a cell of crusaders, who have been a problem in the UAS while the long War on Terror continues in America. When they capture one would-be suicide bomber, he tells a crazy story: The world they are in is a mirage, a backwards version of what he claims is the real world, in which America is the superpower and the terrorist attackers are Arab. As the agents investigate further, they discover that many crusaders are telling this story and that their own government seems to be involved in a cover-up.

It's a challenging premise, but Ruff pulls it off. The mirror world he presents is a carefully researched and imagined setting, enhanced by encyclopedia entries throughout the book from The Library of Alexandria: A User-Edited Reference Source. The characters are real and sympathetic, each struggling with personal problems that complicate the investigation of the book's central mystery. The story is full of both humor and big ideas to ponder. If you're intrigued at all by the premise, pick up a copy. Matt Ruff should be much more widely read.

Last night I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend an appearance by Ruff at Borderlands in San Francisco. He talked about the book's genesis, performed a great reading of the opening section, and gave thoughtful answers to questions from the audience.

Afterwards, I asked him to sign my well-loved copy of THE FOOL ON THE HILL, and he recognized me from Twitter! I think I just about nearly almost kept my cool and uttered a few more coherent sentences before returning to my friends and squeeing. Thanks, Matt, for making a fan's year.

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