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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

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6964813,671 (3.9)73
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)

  1. 30
    Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (kaledrina)
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    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (mamajoan)
    mamajoan: A similar melding of very-near-future technology with ancient Middle Eastern mythology.
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    Fool's War by Sarah Zettel (sandstone78)
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    If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (FFortuna)
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    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (kaledrina)
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» See also 73 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Well-enough written, but annoying from start to point abandoned (60%) for its handling of computing and gender. I get that Islam isn't known for positive treatment of women, and Alif is probably a fair depiction of a young man in a Gulf state, but I didn't feel that the book did anything to challenge his perspective (in spite of Dina's competence, she is still reduced to a helpless quest reward). Bleh.
  imyril | Dec 6, 2014 |
I thought this book had a lot of potential, but unfortunately the technical details fell EXTREMELY short. I work in computer security and I also work very hard to ignore technical flubs that show up in movies/TV/books, but when you are writing a book that deals with "hackers", you should at least put in some research. By page 14, there had already been too many goofy technical inaccuracies that I couldn't see myself reading through the rest of the book. ( )
1 vote bruce.snell | Dec 5, 2014 |
Alif is the online persona of a grey hat working in the United Arab Emirates, taken from the first letter in the Arabic alphabet. Alif is a 23 year old Arab/Indian, working in internet security who fell in love with an Arab aristocratic woman he met online. Their relationship is doomed from the start; her family would never accept someone outside her social class, let alone an Indian. Her father has already arranged a more suitable suitor for her; a mysterious and powerful man who is known online as ‘the Hand’, the states leading internet censor. In an attempt to get the girl, Alif has made a powerful enemy, one that forces him to go underground into the world of Jinn’s (genies), ghouls, demons and all the others that remain unseen.

Debut author G. Willow Wilson set out to write a book that can bring her three loves together. A love of comic books and all things geeky, as well as her love of literary fiction and that of her Muslim heritage. The result is Alif the Unseen, a rich blend of cyberpunk and urban fantasy that explores the Arabic culture as well as looks as many social-political issues. Personally I think Wilson set out to expose the bias that the online community has no social consciousness, and educate the world on Muslim culture as well as explore the societal impact of hackivism.

I picked up this novel because G. Willow Wilson is the writer behind the new Ms. Marvel; the fourth character to take on this superhero and is the first Muslim character to have their own Marvel series. After reading the first issue, I wanted to check out Alif the Unseen. I knew it was a cyberpunk/urban fantasy blend but now I expected a strong Arabic or Muslim presence. I didn’t except a literary approach to this genre, but I was pleasantly surprised, Wilson has a lot to say on the Middle East social-politically speaking but also she educates the reader on a culture that is possibly unfamiliar to them.

G. Willow Wilson also takes on Middle Eastern folklore and myths and blends these fables with a religious element. Take jinn for example, we know them as genies but Islamic belief divides sentient beings into three categories. These are Malayka (angels), Nas or Banu Adam (human) and Jinn (the hidden ones). Angels are genderless and have no free will, but humans and Jinn’s are gendered and have free will, this is why Islamics believe Satan was a Jinn and not an angel, as it is impossible for an angel to disobey the will of God. Also playing a role in the story is the hamsa (or the hand of Fatima) which is like a good luck charm in Islamic culture. In the Judeo-Christian world this is often called the hand of Mary or Miriam.

I also want to talk about hackivism. In this novel Alif lives in a heavily censored world; the government believes in having a tight control on what is on the internet. Alif is a grey hat; this is a hacker that doesn’t work for a cooperation of the government. The term comes from the old western metaphor where the good guys wore white hats and the villains had black hats. A grey hat would be someone whose activities and practices fell in a grey area. For Alif, it was a matter of free speech (and possibly money). He provided security for enemies of the Arad stats, militant Islamists and even pornographers. Sites that the government wants to shut down often turned to Alif or another grey hat for internet security.

I can probably go on and talk more about the range of topics that are going on in Alif the Unseen, but I fear I don’t have the knowledge of Middle Eastern folklore or culture, Islam and hackivism. One of the things I enjoy most about reading is the ability to explore different cultures and learn about the world. Alif the Unseen took me into the rich world of the United Arab Emirates and looked at many social issues, in particular class and religion. I’m not much of a fantasy reader but I do seem to prefer urban fantasy, add in the cyberpunk and literary elements and I’m happy. Alif the Unseen will entertain and educate all its readers; most people will just read it for the entertainment but I hope they take a little understanding with them.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/03/23/alif-the-unseen-by-g-willow-wilson/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 4, 2014 |
This is not a badly written book, but it held no appeal to me personally. I was never really invested in the characters and I found the fantasy elements to be rather underwhelming. Overall this book leaves me with a feeling of "meh", meaning it was not an unpleasant read by any means (and as stated the writing itself is good) but it did not leave any lasting impression on me and likely I'll soon forget all about it. ( )
  LadyDarbanville | Oct 19, 2014 |
This novel combines cyberpunk and urban fantasy motifs, with an modern Islamic flavor. Alif is the nom de net of a young man, an Arab-Indian computer hacker, living in an unspecified, authoritarian, Persian Gulf emirate. He sells cyber security services to political dissidents in his own and other Islamic countries, keeping them safe from State discovery; in his personal life, he pursues a forbidden relationship with a wealthy, aristocratic woman. Her parents betroth her to a powerful man, head of the government security forces, who is intent on shutting down the activities of Alif's customers and friends. This precipitates a series of events that land Alif in trouble with the State - and with supernatural forces, for the jinn of The Thousand and One Nights are real, living in a world just outside our experience. Her last gift to him is an extremely rare book, a copy of the Thousand and One Days, a shadow version of the humanly-written 1001 Nights, as dictated by the jinn themselves. While being pursued by his country's brutal secret police, he realizes that its text provides insights for hacking, far more powerful than anything the humans know, insights he must master if he and his allies are to survive.

Any book written by a Westerner, that attempts to see modern, Islamic culture from within, falls automatically under the suspicion of committing orientalism. Author Wilson avoids the problem to a fair degree - Alif and the other characters are convincingly modern people, not robed exotics. In particular, Alif possesses a degree of sexual sophistication that seems credible in a young man, living in a society where women are often veiled and always restricted, but where the educated have access to global media. The politics of relations between the ruling Arabs and their guest workers from the Indian subcontinent are explored through the lens of Alif's dual heritage. Herself a convert to Islam, Wilson owns up to her outsider status by putting a version of herself in the story - "the convert", a Western woman who participates in Alif's story, sometimes as a figure of fun, sometimes as a useful ally and important mover in the plot.

Finally, however, while this book is not really fantasy from a non-Westerm, Islamic point of view, it is fast-paced, interestingly different, and worth reading on its own terms. ( )
1 vote dukedom_enough | Aug 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (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)
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For my daughter Maryam, born in the Arab Spring
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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)

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