The Mirage (Ruff novel)

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The Mirage
The Mirage (Ruff novel).JPG
Author Matt Ruff
Country United States
Language English
Genre Alternate history
Publisher Harper
Publication date
February 7, 2012
Pages 432 pp
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 the September 11 attacks 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 back-story is revealed in excerpts from the Library of Alexandria, this world's version of Wikipedia funded by Muammar Gaddafi. A politically united Arabia (analogous to the real Arab League), declared independence from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century and established itself as the United Arab States. Throughout the 20th century, Arabia grew to occupy most of the Middle East and North Africa, and northern East Africa. Arabia intervened decisively in World War II on the Allied side, culminating in Adolf Hitler's beheading at Nuremberg in 1946. The world's only Jewish state was afterwards established in northeast Germany, with its capital in Berlin.

North America, meanwhile, is divided among several feuding third-world nations. The largest, the Christian States of America (CSA), 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 Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and the Mexican state of Coahuila, and is allied with the United Arab States. A Rocky Mountains 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. In 1990, an attempt by the CSA to annex the Kingdom of Louisiana, fueled by Lyndon Johnson's desire to claim Texas, resulted in the Mexican Gulf War.

Dialogue throughout the novel mentions a terrorist group known as the World Christian Alliance (this timeline's equivalent of Al Qaeda) using the Rocky Mountains as its headquarters. They were also responsible for the terrorist attacks on November 9th, 2001, when members crashed hijacked planes into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Center Towers in Baghdad. It is not known who their leaders are or if they are aware of the mirage legend. The United Kingdom is the mirage timeline's equivalent of Iran, having undergone a revolution in 1979 (possibly where the Archbishop of Canterbury replaced the British monarch as Britain's head of state). It is implied that Britain never colonized India or that India became independent sooner, since India appears to have fought World War II on its own. The United Arab States is clearly stated to be the world's second largest country by land area, implying that Canada, like the United States, is also broken up into minor states. The state of Latin America is not touched upon in the novel other than that Venezuela is an OPEC member who intervened in the Mexican Gulf War, and that the Mexican state of Coahuila is a dependency of Texas. A Cold War analog, known as the ''Cold Crusade'' between the UAS and an ''Orthodox Union'' is mentioned. The major political parties in the United Arab States are the Arab Unity Party (the analog of the Democratic Party) and the Party of God, or POG for short (the analog of the Republican Party, with POG possibly being a play on the Republican nickname GOP). Al Jazeera exists in this timeline as a FOX analog with a morning talk show called Jazeera and Friends. FOX also exists in the mirage timeline, but it appears to be reduced to being a propaganda center of Christian fundamentalists.


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] The New York Post wrote "Like Philip Roth’s "The Plot Against America" - the premise behind Ruff's alternate-history novel is chilling". The San Francisco Chronicle called it "audacious new novel" saying the title "is studded throughout with delicious little alternate-world ironies concerning the war on terror and its various participants".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]

The Mirage was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.[8]


  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. ^ Sidewise Award Nominees, SF Site News, July 1, 2013.