Adam Roberts reviews Osama

Adam Roberts reviews Osama:

Osama is a bold, gripping, atmospheric and thoughtful novel; easily the best thing of Tidhar’s I’ve yet read. The protagonist is a Chandleresque private eye, called (of course) Joe, living in a Greene-ily rendered Vientiane (that’s in Laos, of course—not the Vientiane in Hampshire). He is hired by the requisite bombshell mystery woman to locate a writer of pulp fiction, one ‘Mike Longshott’, author of a variety of lowrent adventure or porn-y novels, not least a series of novels about “Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante”. So, yes, in this alt-Earth Bin Laden is a fictional character. Interspersed between the chapters of Joe’s varied, kinetic adventures are excerpts from Longshott’s novels detailing the terrorist attacks in ‘our’ world (Dar Es Salam, the shoe bomber, London’s 7/7 and so on) with which we are familiar. In other words, Tidhar does that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy thing of giving us a perspective on our actual world from the point of view of an alt-historical location (that’s not quite right, though; because, although the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is closer to ‘our’ world than the world ofThe Man in The High Castle there are nonetheless key differences between reality and Dick’s novel-within-the-novel. But the analogy is close enough for government work).

Tidhar’s novel generates an impressive degree of emotional traction by setting an deftly replicated pulp noir ’tec idiom (the frame novel) against a carefully rendered neutral, reportage rendering of terrorist atrocity in the interleaved sections. The violence of the main novel figures after the manner of pulp adventure violence — dramatic, but more-or-less consequence-free — but the violence described in the embedded section genuinely shocks.

Despite the exceptionally cool cover image (up top, there) Osama Bin Laden is not actually a character in this novel. But that’s as it should be; Osama the novel is in the largest sense about the way ‘terrorism’ is actually a mode of making war upon our imaginations, and not, however it might appear, upon our bodies and our infrastructure. Accordingly this is a novel about the power of fantasy, about the proximity of dreams and reality, about ghost people and ghost realities. Lavie Tidhar has written a fine, striking, memorable piece of fiction here, one that deserves to be widely read. Kudos to PS for picking it up. You should read it.

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