"Osama" by Lavie Tidhar
(PS Publishing, 280pp, Hardback, £19.99)
It’s incredibly fitting that, as we mark the tenth anniversary of 11th September 2001, Lavie Tidhar’s new novel Osama looks back at the profound effect that it had on the course of history, and what the world might have been like if it didn’t happen.
I’ll start by saying that I enjoyed this novel a lot. Characteristically for Tidhar, it has no qualms about taking on difficult subjects, and manages to set them to an entertaining story.
Osama is set in a world where 9/11, and a number of other terrorist attacks, happened only within the pages of a series of pulp novels, written by mysterious author by the name of Mike Longshott. Enter a private detective, Joe, hired by a mysterious woman to hunt down the author across the world.
The story puts a 50s pulp detective novel spin on classic alternate history sci-fi, and it’s clear from the off that Tidhar has not only read, but understood and been touched by Phillip K. Dick’s seminal alternative history novel The Man in the High Castle. This is particularly noticeable, and particularly effective, in a scene where Joe takes a drug-induced wander through our London.
As a background to the high ideas and exciting storyline, we are taken on a tour of international locales, from Laos, to London, New York and Afghanistan. The beautiful descriptions hint very strongly of someone who has seen such cities and landscapes with his own eyes- a writer as well travelled as his characters.
There will be people who don’t like this novel. Probably a sizable number of them. Many will think it inappropriate to make Bin Laden the hero of the novels-within-a-novel. Or think that it is too soon to fictionalise an incident which saw 3,000 people dead. They miss the point of Osama. It manages to examine the role of the atrocity in both the direction of recent history, and in our thinking and identities.
Lavie Tidhar is one of my favourite authors, and one of the rising stars of modern science fiction. His fiction is consistently fresh and entertaining, without being vapid. Osama does not disappoint. It is an at times madcap race across a plausible world that could have been, filled with fascinating characters and sometime disturbing images.
If good fiction should aim to entertain, inform and make the reader think, then Tidhar seems to have the formula down. Osama could well be the must-read of 9/11’s tenth anniversary year.