Iraq + 100, Hassan Blassim; Peter Ganim, narrator (Macmillan Audio, $17.00, digital download, 7 hr., unabridged) September 2017.
As Ra Page notes in the afterword to this collection, it has often been suggested that rather than showing the future, science fiction really depicts the present in which it was written. That is never more true than in these stories, in which Iraqi authors were directed to focus on a future 100 years after the American invasion in 2003. Most of the stories suggest that they simply can’t imagine a future much different than what they have now; if the future does diverge significantly from the present, they can’t imagine how we would get there, and they argue that those future people would have as hard a time understanding our present as we would that future world.
Many stories center on an obsessive longing for the past. America hangs over these tales as a boogeyman and as a failed savior simultaneously. A story with the most overly science fictional tropes is a post-colonial narrative where the Baghdad-based overlords are actually aliens who use humans both as slaves and food source. (There’s a blackly funny aside about the people of New York, London, Beijing, and other major cities initially feeling resentful that the invasion didn’t start in their city, as they always assumed it would.) The last story, which chronicles a pilgrimage to Iraq that isn’t quite what it seems, is one of the most solid and hopeful of the bunch, an argument for remembering the past while refusing to be imprisoned by it, and in favor of moving on to make a future.
Peter Ganim was just the right choice to narrate this audiobook. He describes himself as “Arabo-Slavic-American,” with a reasonable fluency in Arabic. For more than two decades, he has run PGVS, a voiceover company that specializes in Middle Eastern affairs. His pronunciation of various names and places sounded convincing to me. There are always some narrators who skimp on their accent work by merely sounding vaguely foreign and hoping their listeners will be sufficiently ignorant enough for them to get away with it. I’m pleased that this was clearly not the case here.
Some of these stories are clunky, and understandably demonstrate an inexperience with genre tropes; according to editor Hassan Blassim, Iraqi authors generally do not write SF. But this is an intriguing seed, even if not entirely successful. Perhaps this book will open the way for further experimentation.
This review and more like it in the January 2018 issue of Locus.