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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
1,002708,537 (3.84)103
Member:C.J.Schmidt
Title:Alif the Unseen
Authors:G. Willow Wilson
Info:Grove Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:2013, eBook
Rating:**1/2
Tags:fiction

Work details

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (2012)

  1. 40
    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.
  3. 10
    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.
  4. 00
    If You Could Be Mine: A Novel by Sara Farizan (FFortuna)
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    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (kaledrina)
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» See also 103 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
For some reason, during the first 60 pages or so, I kept experiencing the urge to quit Alif the Unseen. I don't think it was until Intisar sent the book that the story gained my full attention. Not sure why; nonetheless, the story took on a thriller-ish style that kept me turning the pages in anticipation of where Alif would end up.

I enjoyed all of the Arabic folklore and mythology, and, as of right now, Vikram was my favorite character... or maybe Sakina. The imagery of the Empty Quarter was breathtaking. And I loved the blend of science fiction and fantasy, which is harder to come by than one might assume.

But I think my favorite aspect of the story was its modern day Middle Eastern setting. That's a setting I'd love to see explored again and again especially within SFF or magical realism.

Oh, and of course the shout-out to Star Wars made me laugh out loud.

"Vikram loped straight up to the man, who did not appear to notice him. 'These are not the banu adam you're looking for,' he said."

3.5 stars

===========================
A few passages that gave me pause:

"I mean, look at all the eastern writers who've written great western literature. Kazuo Ishiguro. You'd never guess that The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go were written by a Japanese guy. But I can't think of anyone who's ever done the reverse--any westerner who's written great eastern literature."

"'All translations are made up,' opined Vikram. 'Languages are different for a reason. You can't move ideas between them without losing something. The Arabs are the only ones who've figured this out. They have the sense to call non-Arabic versions of the Criterion interpretations, not translations.'"

"The few Americans he has encountered in his lifetime had all seemed flat to him, as if freedom weakened one's capacity for intense emotion by demanding too little of it. The convert had seemed, like the others, to be always performing: opinions brisk and pat, smiles rehearsed, identity packaged for consumption by an audience. To see her so candid, as she attempted and failed to preserve her self-assurance, was almost charming."

"Perhaps this was all freedom was--a moment in which all things were possible, overtaken too soon by man's fearsome instinct to punish and divide." ( )
  flying_monkeys | Mar 26, 2017 |
SUCH a good read. Loved it. Loved everything about it. ( )
  jwryn | Feb 27, 2017 |
Wonderful book! Mixes fantasy and the mystic with the computer age to produce a wonderful story. ( )
  danojacks | Jan 5, 2017 |
Think power, like the Hobbit ring or Lord Voldemort. Think young kissy love-like those vampires and non-muggles in England do. Think Arabian Nights-with jinns and a catwoman. Think Neil Stephenson channeled doing second-hand hacking. Then think the Koran and Arab Spring uprising.

This book was written to bring bouncy young readers, the type who need a story racing breathlessly, into the post-US century. I give four stars, not because it was my type of book, but because it tries to break stereotypes. I have no idea what was true in the Arab Spring, probably no jinns were involved, but I see the events differently after this book.
( )
  kerns222 | Aug 24, 2016 |
Sort of cyberpunk, sort of fantasy, woven throughout with Muslim folklore and culture. The protagonist has a lot of growth over the course of the story. The supporting characters are complex and vivid. ( )
  lavaturtle | Jun 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (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 editionscalculated
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
Alif sat on the cement ledge of his bedroom window, basking in the sun of a hot September.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:41 -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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