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Alif The Unseen, G. Willow Wilson, 9780857895660

Alif is a half-Arab, half-Indian computer hacker who lives in an anonymous Gulf city. When Alif’s girl trouble mutates into government trouble he is forced to flee his home and seek help from what turns out to be supernatural figure, resulting in an adventure through the religious, magical, technological and political, and various relationships between all of these domains -  while nobody actually says “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” the idea is clearly there.

This is urban fantasy set in a modern Middle-Eastern city. Aspects may be inspired by the Arab Spring but the concerns are certainly not unique to the Arab world. There’s some unfamiliar terminology (e.g. desi and thobe) but I didn’t have any real difficulty figuring it out from context and there are plenty of familiar anchor points too.

Alif’s good with computers; some of the descriptions here verge on technobabble, but fortunately not for very long. He’s not so great with people, to the despair of some of his allies. Nevertheless they stick by him for plausible reasons. It must be said that his enemies are a bit on the 2-dimensional side, though with Alif as the viewpoint character there are only limited opportunities to round them out.

I had trouble putting this book down.

Jennifer Government, Max Barry, 0349117624

Hack Nike works for Nike, and makes a series of bad decisions. The latter is true of many other characters in this well-populated book.

This satire is set in a near future where pretty much everything has been privatized. While government still has a residual role the title character still has to solicit funding from the victims of crime merely to launch an investigation, and corporate private armies prove a repeated obstacle. Her primary antagonist gets a lot more viewpoint time than any of Alif’s opponents, but the reader still doesn’t get much more insight than that’s he’s amoral and greedy.

Barry writes in short, punchy chapters, maintaining a rapid pace throughout. Not quite as hard to set down as Alif but still a pretty quick read.

May 2017

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