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Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
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Alif the Unseen (original 2012; edition 2012)

by G. Willow Wilson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
591None16,624 (3.98)52
Member:beniowa
Title:Alif the Unseen
Authors:G. Willow Wilson
Info:Grove Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Science Fiction, Fantasy, Grove, Arabic

Work details

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (2012)

2012 (8) 2013 (7) arab spring (9) computers (12) cyberpunk (17) djinn (22) ebook (11) fantasy (82) fiction (85) goodreads (7) hacker (4) hackers (20) hacking (6) Islam (15) Kindle (10) magic (8) Middle East (40) novel (8) read in 2013 (9) religion (6) revolution (8) science fiction (33) sf (10) sff (6) speculative fiction (5) technology (9) to-read (69) unread (6) urban fantasy (20) wishlist (5)
  1. 20
    Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (kaledrina)
  2. 10
    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (mamajoan)
    mamajoan: A similar melding of very-near-future technology with ancient Middle Eastern mythology.
  3. 00
    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (kaledrina)
  4. 00
    Fool's War by Sarah Zettel (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Fool's War is also science fiction dealing with computer issues that features a protagonist who is a Muslim, though it is in a far future spacefaring setting instead of based on Earth.
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» See also 52 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
An enjoyable fast-paced novel about a hacker in a middle eastern country who gets compromised and in trying to escape falls with the world of the "unseen". I don't normally feel that drawn to books that deal with the contemporary, high-tech world, but in this case I felt it was fairly well done. I enjoyed the mix of fantasy/religion with the contemporary theme, and I thought there were several insightful quotes about religion and Islam in particular. However, as a programmer I have high standards for descriptions of programming in novels, and I didn't feel that this quite lived up to those standards. I think putting programming in a novel is a tough thing to do, and the author clearly knows a bit about it, but she got into some questionable territory. Overall I recommend Alif the Unseen, but don't expect the next greatest fantasy novel ever. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
A cool, unusual mishmash of genres, ideas, and settings. There were some characters (Dina, Vikram) and some moments (when Vikram reveals that Alif gave his sister shelter during a sandstorm) that charmed me.

I felt, though, that Alif's coding was too magical--not in a fantasy way, but in a handwave-y way. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Slap together some present-day hacking in a Middle-Eastern setting with 'real' genies and you have this book. The story chugs along, and delivers the goods but seems too much 'made to measure' - almost as if it was generated by machine to hit a new target market revealed by data analysis... ( )
  AlanPoulter | Jan 31, 2014 |
Cross-posted to http://off-the-book.org.

“If man's capacity for the fantastic took up as much of his imagination as his capacity for cruelty, the worlds, seen and unseen, might be very different.”

I can't think of anything more timely right now than a fast-paced urban fantasy novel based on the Arab Spring, Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. Alif, an Arab-Indian teenage hacker, specializes in giving his clients anonymity. From whom? The government. The modern Middle East is rife with censorship, and Alif's skill lies in protecting his clients, who range from anarchists to Islamists to socialists. He isn't picky about who he protects, as long as they're being silenced by what he calls the "Hand." His greatest loyalty is to freedom of information.

"Princes in silver-plated cars" exist, but a mail service does not. Wilson deftly discusses social ills in this fantastical version of Cairo. The most fantastic part of the story line is that it seems all too real. It isn't enough to have Alif running away from the authorities after creating a dangerous program after a break-up (that's what everyone does, right?); Alif runs into jinn, more commonly known as "genies." Yes. Genies. And they have written a book called the "Alf Yeom." It's a bit like One Thousand One Nights, but far more dangerous. The worst part is that it ends up in Alif's hands.

Part love story, part political thriller, and part urban fantasy, Alif the Unseen manages to be all and none at once. It's the epitome of a great read, written with cultural sensitivity and delving deeply into questions of faith. Even better, it's also highly original, which is why I'm struggling to summarize its plot.

I think it's interesting to note that Wilson is an American convert to Islam. Having grown up in a Muslim household, often I felt like things were a bit off with the way she portrayed Arab culture and Islamic belief. However, it was fascinating to see someone who is not quite an outsider, yet not quite a true believer, looking in. Wilson is religious, but she's also critical and introspective. This makes for a incisive yet beautiful novel. My verdict? This is the definition of a "must read," especially if you're a fan of Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman. It's a little bit of both authors with a dash of that indescribable something that makes G. Willow, G. Willow. ( )
  amanda.mustafic | Jan 24, 2014 |
Many others have called this steampunk + the Arab Spring/the Thousand and One Nights, since jinn and computing interact and intersect in the story. That story centers on hacker Alif’s encounter with a very dangerous book and a very dangerous man. Alif’s coming of age includes his passionate romance with a woman much higher in the class hierarchy and his attempts to protect his childhood friend Dina from the problems that his activism will cause her, since as a woman she’s much more vulnerable. I would add that it’s steampunk flavored with Evgeny Morozov: the repressive state is capable of using technology, as well as jinn, for its own purposes, and revolutions aren’t pretty. Alif rebels against the rules that constrain him, but not against rules that constrain other people; the story notices that, but has him as a hero nonetheless. ( )
  rivkat | Jan 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
...as with the work of many of the best young writers today, it is both a book written with a love of the fantastic in all its genres and a serious work of fiction.
added by melmore | editThe Guardian, Damien Walter (Dec 13, 2012)
 
For all its playfulness, “Alif the Unseen” is also at times unexpectedly moving, especially as it detours into questions of faith.... For those who view American fiction as provincial, or dominated by competent but safe work, Wilson’s novel offers a resounding, heterodox alternative.
 
It’s difficult to convey how outrageously enjoyable “Alif the Unseen” is without dropping names — the energetic plotting of Philip Pullman, the nimble imagery of Neil Gaiman and the intellectual ambition of Neal Stephenson are three comparisons that come to mind. Yet I’d hate to give the impression that the novel lacks freshness or originality.
added by melmore | editSalon, Laura Miller (Jul 1, 2012)
 

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G. Willow Wilsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sergio, ChristopherCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The devotee recognizes in every divine Name the totality of Names.

Muhammad ibn Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam

If the imagination of the dervish produced the incidents of these stories, his judgment brought them to the resemblance of truth, and his images are taken from things that are real.

François Petis de la Croix, Les Mill et Un Jours (The Thousand and One Days)
Dedication
For my daughter Maryam, born in the Arab Spring
First words
The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802120202, Hardcover)

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen. With shades of Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:03 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients, dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups, from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State's electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fiancee is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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