A thriller unusual in its concept, combining politics with an alternate reality.
No attacks occur on Sept. 11. The real tragedy happens on Nov. 9, 2001, when terrorists from the Christian States of America (CSA) attack the twin towers in Baghdad. The world is turned upside down and inside out, with the United Arab States (UAS) being the world’s dominant power and America a fragmented collection of countries that include the Republic of Texas. The UAS invades and conquers the CSA, but captured prisoners bring rumors that everything the Arabs see is a mirage, that the true superpower is America. Some even claim that “God loves America, not Arabia.” Real-life characters show up aplenty but are cast in unexpected lights. Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden, for example, are warriors for the good guys, but at least Saddam Hussein is still a thug. Readers have someone to root for in conventional thrillers, but that is lacking here. Much detail mirrors the West we know, an approach that starts out looking clever but quickly becomes too cute—Gaddafi claiming to have invented the Internet; a Six Flags Hanging Gardens theme park; and a series of self-help books including Christianity for the Ignorant. Germany is a Jewish state, while Palestine belongs to the Arabs. The UAS is a largely tolerant place, where one character even says, “Hey, it’s a free country.” Another shrugs off the revelation that someone is gay, as if no one cares in the UAS. A few characters, including the heroine named Amal, risk their lives to determine the truth—is their whole world an illusion? The writing is good, but the characters are hard to care about and the plot doesn’t feel properly resolved.
Not bad, but it won’t give you the willies.