Monday 4 February 2013


Lavie Tidhar, 2011
(January 2013)

Can a something be both tender and hardboiled concurrently? Melancholy Noir? Wistful Pulp? Clearly I think it can, else I wouldn’t be asking the question. Osama is both, all of these and more; but ultimately it’s just singularly brilliant.

This won the World Fantasy Award a few months back. I wasn’t overly taken with the winner immediately prior to that, but I have absolutely no argument with this one.

Where to even start? The plot? An alternative history in which our everyman hero, a P.I. called Joe (Joe!) is asked to investigate the author of the wildly successful Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante pulp novels by a woman who may or may not be inhabiting the same reality as him, and so on. A list of influences? Dick (of course), Greene, Chandler, Kafka, Caroll, Conrad, and so on and on. Themes? The War on Terror, the War on Drugs, fundamentalism, colonialism, memory, agency, and on and on and... The writing? The pacing? The characterization (or perfectly appropriate lack thereof)? It’s all wonderful: profound, disconcerting, and a borderline mind-fuck.

       “This was not the future he had expected. There were no flying cars, no silver suits, and the only aliens walking in the streets outside were human. There were Arabs and Indians and Chinese and Malay, Jews and Africans, a whole planet of refugees seeking shelter in the mothership that was London. From here wars had been launched, colonies conquered. From here, this great big sprawling administrative centre, an empire had been managed in triplicate. No wonder we come here, he thought. The city was a cuckoo-bird mother, taking children that did not belong to it, annexing them, bringing them up in a strange mix of missionary activity, trade exploitation and good intentions. When the time came and the children wanted their independence, the mother was hurt, and they fought. And now some of the annexed children, who were not children at all, came back, because they had nowhere else to go.”

I feel I should write something clever or thoughtful to show how I’ve ‘engaged with the work’, possibly using the word 'metatextual', but in honest truth every time I think I’ve got a handle on it my grip slips, I look up and realize I’m still pissing about in the foothills. Ask me in twelve months; I guarantee I’ll still be climbing.

As a coda, I should also point out that the short story The Last Osama is, at least as I write this, available for free from the author’s website. It acts as a post script to the novel with regards to events in Abbottabad, and it too is great. Why wouldn’t you?


  1. I have nothing to add, not having read the novel, but really looking forward to Tidhar's "Jesus and the Five-fold Path" novella. I'm glad that you are adding a voice of anarchy to the Science Fiction Experience though.

    1. We're all winners here, surely? Though the fact that a firmly middle-class Englishman qualifies as 'anarchic' does appear to say something about the game. I shall take it as the compliment I'm sure it was intended as, with the proviso that it'll definitely get worse over the next couple of weeks...

      The Last Osama stands up pretty well on its own, if that link is still working. While his Jesus and... story sounds like fun, I'm more interested in the comic he did called Adolf Hitler's "I Dream of Ants, primarily because it's called Adolf Hitler's "I Dream of Ants.

    2. Looking forward to the getting worse bit. I should add some gas to the fire soon w/ a Japanese alt history post. And as a white, Mormon, country-boy-turned-IT-yuppie, I'll join you in ironic anarchy.

      As for Tidhar, I've only read the Bookman, but that got massive points for have Queen Victoria be a lizard.

    3. So you're saying we're covert operatives looking to undermine the system from within? Or am I just massively overthinking all this? Again.

    4. Nah, you're spot on. Don't tell anyone.

  2. I enjoyed your thoughts, I enjoyed the novel and thanks for the link to The LAst Osama.

    1. Thank you. And thanks for stopping by and commenting, though I must confess this is one of the more thought-free pieces I've put up recently.

      Lavie Tidhar's blog is one of the few author sites I regularly look at. He does seem to have a very finely honed appreciation of dodgy exploitation pulp novels, which can only be applauded.