Amy Goldschlager Reviews Iraq + 100 Audiobook by Hassan Blassim

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.

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