The Mirage (novel)

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The Mirage
Author Matt Ruff
Country United States
Language English
Genre Alternate history
Publisher Harper
Publication date
February 7, 2012
Pages 432 pp
ISBN ISBN 978-0-06-197622-3

The Mirage is an alternate history novel by Matt Ruff, published in 2012 by Harper.


The idea for The Mirage came when Matt Ruff was asked by a TV producer, who was a fan of his novel Bad Monkeys, whether he had an idea for a TV series. In an interview, Matt Ruff said "I’d been wanting to write something about 9/11 and the War on Terror that would offer an unusual perspective while still being an engaging story, and I hit on this idea of setting a thriller in a world where the U.S. and the Middle East had traded places. That concept was a little too radical for television, so I decided to do it as a novel."[1]


The Mirage is set in an alternate history version of the year 2009. Much of the backstory is revealed in excerpts from the Library of Alexandria, this world's version of Wikipedia invented by Muammar Gaddafi. A fictional version of the Arab League, after declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century, established the United Arab States. Throughout the 20th century, it grew to occupy most of the Middle East, North Africa, and Northeast Africa.

North America, meanwhile, is divided among several feuding third-world nations. The largest, the Christian States of America, comprises 17 states along the East Coast, and is under the dictatorial rule of an aging Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1990, the kingdom of Mississippi is annexed, becoming the 18th state. The Evangelical Republic of Texas includes Oklahoma, New Mexico, and the Mexican state of Coahuila, and is allied with the United Arab States. A Rocky Mountain nation exists, but is split up among small tribal factions. The Pentecostal Gilead Heartland includes Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. A Mormon nation also exists, although it is based in Missouri rather than Utah.

The rest of history is described briefly. Israel has occupied Northern Germany since 1948. In 1990, an attempt by America to annex the kingdom of Louisiana, fueled by Lyndon Johnson's desire to claim Texas, resulted in the Mexican Gulf War. Other changes include a third atomic bomb being dropped on Tokyo, Adolf Hitler's beheading at Nuremberg in 1946, and attacks by radical Christian terrorists on November 9, 2001. Arab President Bandar, in his state of the union address, described America, the United Kingdom, and North Korea as "An Axis of Evil whose attempts to develop weapons of Mass destruction would no longer be tolerated."


From the book jacket:

"11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers.

The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. . . .

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of "backward third-world countries." A search of the bomber's apartment turns up a copy of The New York Times, dated September 12, 2001, that appears to support his claim. Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story. The president wants answers, but Mustafa soon discovers he's not the only interested party.

The gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. And the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee—a war hero named Osama bin Laden—will stop at nothing to hide the truth. As Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage, they are confronted with questions without any rational answers, and the terrifying possibility that their world is not what it seems."


Critical reception for The Mirage has been mixed, with Publishers Weekly saying that the book was "exactly what the best popular fiction should be".[2] Kirkus Reviews wrote "The writing is good, but the characters are hard to care about and the plot doesn’t feel properly resolved".[3] The Seattle Times praised the "straightforwardness of Ruff's approach", saying that it gave the book a "gravitas that serves as a nod of respect for what the United States, the Iraqis and the Afghanis farther afield have gone through".[4] The Los Angeles Times criticized The Mirage, saying that Ruff's "premise is built on spectacle rather than believable fiction".[5]

A number of reviewers have noted the novel's similarity to the premise of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle.[6][7][8]

The Mirage was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.[9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Fiction review: The Mirage". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved February 11, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Mirage, By Matt Ruff". Kirkus Reviews. December 19, 2011. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ Beason, Tyrone (February 3, 2012). "'The Mirage': Matt Ruff's novel of 9/11 role reversal". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ Ulin, David L. (February 12, 2012). "Book review: 'The Mirage' by Matt Ruff". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ Ulin, David L. (February 12, 2012). "Book review: 'The Mirage' by Matt Ruff". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ Matt Ruff: The Mirage, AV Club
  8. ^ The brilliance of speculative sci-fi, Salon
  9. ^ Sidewise Award Nominees, SF Site News, July 1, 2013.