The Mirage is a hotel-casino in Las Vegas, NV. They have a beautiful and very large pool. The rooms are nice and their buffet is very yummy. They are located at 3400 Las Vegas Blvd., So. Their Las Vegas gimmicks are their fountain that acts as a volcano at night, white tigers, and dolphins. If they are sold out, they share the same parent company as Treasure Island. The rooms are similar, but The Mirage is much nicer.

Alternate history science fiction novel, masquerading as literary fiction, written by Matt Ruff and published in 2012. 

Cast your mind back with me to that fateful day that changed the world forever: 11/9/2001, when fundamentalist Christian terrorists from the backwater American states highjacked some jetliners and crashed them into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad. Remember that? The United Arab States launched a War on Terror and invaded America in an attempt to bring democracy to its shores.

That's the high concept that Ruff's novel is based around -- a mirror universe where, instead of good and evil being reversed, East and West, Christianity and Islam have been switched around. Here, the Muslim world is wealthy and powerful, the world leader in almost all areas. America and Europe are mostly uneducated backwaters, poor, fractured into many smaller nations, and dominated by fundamentalist Christians, including a faction of extremists who have given the Western nations reputations as terrorists and crazies.

I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing when I read the description the first time. But the interesting thing here is that it’s just the religions and hemispheres that get switched in prominence --  good doesn’t replace evil or vice versa. The villains we’ve come to know remain villains in this other world, too. Saddam Hussein and his sons are turned into crime bosses; Osama bin Laden is a corrupt, insane, and genocidal senator; even as far back as World War II, Hitler remains the mad dictator, just with his aggression directed toward Africa and the Middle East rather than to Europe and America.

Our lead characters in this story are a group of Arab Homeland Security agents — Mustafa al Baghdadi, Amal bint Shamal, and Samir Nadim — who stumble onto the discovery that many terrorists -- and many civilians as well -- believe in something they call the Mirage -- that the world as everyone else knows it is a lie, a reversal of the way things are supposed to be, with America on top and the Muslim world on the bottom. It sounds like some mad theory cooked up by a bunch of cranks --  but sometimes they have evidence with them — newspapers, clippings, videos, and more that seem to be from this mirror universe. And many people -- both American and European terrorists as well as powerful UAS conspirators -- are dedicated to destroying the Mirage and getting the world back to the way it was. Can the Homeland Security agents stop them? Should they stop them at all?

It's a fantastic piece of high concept, isn’t it? Takes a little bit to get the idea of it across, but once it does, you just wanna track it down to see how it all goes down. I loved our main characters and the wonderful tics and twists in their personalities. Each of our protagonists has something special that sets them apart and makes them somehow an outcast from the society they work to protect. Mustafa once took two wives, in a misguided attempt to be a more traditional Muslim man -- and Muslim culture now looks down on taking multiple wives, so everyone thinks Mustafa is a bit of a weirdo. Amal is a woman, and her mother is an important politician, and while the UAS is a relatively progressive society, at least among Muslim nations, she's still considered a freak for working at a traditionally male profession like law enforcement. And Samir is a closeted gay man in a highly homophobic society.

I loved the concept of separating chapters in the book with passages from The Library of Alexandria, the alternate-dimension version of Wikipedia, to tell a lot of the backstory of the world’s prominent people, history, and culture. And the culture is definitely different -- what we’re looking at isn’t just “America with an Arabian flavor.” The UAS is a vastly more conservative place than the USA is -- alcohol is mostly illegal, it’s still highly controversial that there are female politicians, and a search on The Library of Alexandria for “gay rights movement” pulls up nothing at all. The UAS is a place that’s a lot more liberal-minded than real-world nations like Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, but it’s still being run on the very conservative principles of Islam, which means it looks like a vastly different place than we’re used to as more secular Westerners.

If the book has a failing, it’s that it probably overdoes the alternate-universe cameos by famous (and infamous) people. Our heroes meet up with bin Laden, Saddam, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and many, many more. We even discover that in the altered history of this world, LBJ was somehow the president clear up to the end of the 20th century. While you do get a thrill of discovery when you meet many of these alternate-universe versions of these folks, after a while, it starts to become a bit too familiar. This is a trick that should be used sparingly, but it’s really used far, far too often. Excusable, I think, when we’re talking about the UAS version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" starring Omar Sharif, but a bit tedious when we meet up with a few too many mirror-universe celebrities.

Still, for all that, it’s a hugely interesting and entertaining book. Challenging in a lot of ways, probably infuriating for some folks, but still definitely worth reading.

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