Book Review: Iraq + 100: The First Anthology Of Science Fiction To Have Emerged From Iraq
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 at 10:00 am
Iraq + 100 The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq Paperback | Kindle
Edited Hassan Blasim Tor Books
Release Date: September 12, 2017
Anytime the opportunity arises to experience something new and unique, I advise you to embrace it. But I must warn you, not all of these will be easily categorized. As a matter of fact, sometimes the experience will not just be enlightening, but also challenging. Iraq + 100: The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq is more than an anthology of new voices in science fiction. It is a testament to mankind’s willpower and tenacity even in the face of certain destruction. But, and this is a huge but, it is far more than even that. This book defies contemporary concepts of what sci-fi is by adding additional layers of history, laced with emotional turmoil.
Ten stories, ten voices. A slender paperback of barely 200 pages. That is essentially all I knew going into this book. I prepared myself for science fiction stories that were going to have a different tone to them. This is, after all, the first anthology of its kind to come from Iraq. Even so, I was ill-prepared for the sheer emotion that this tome evoked …nay, that it emanated. Beneath these tales are written the pain of people that have known war for so long that many cannot remember a time that death and despair were not a part of it.
Each story is unique, but throughout them all there is a thread of the same emotion: hope. Every author herein seems destined to spread hope. Hope for their nation, hope for their people, hope for the human race. While each one of these short stories takes place a hundred years in the future, these are feelings and thoughts that are commonplace here and now. Not that this is necessarily a feelgood compilation. No, it runs the gauntlet of sentiments, forcing the reader to reevaluate constantly.
A few of the tales deal with a post-apocalyptic setting where the struggle for sustenance takes precedence over all else. There seemed to be a latent anger, repressed for so long, that festered between the lines on the pages. In fact, this is volatile enough that it will set readers on edge while winding their way to the root of the story. As an American, there are several instances that it seems my country is being made the enemy, but no sooner do I find myself defensive than the author refines the rhetoric, enabling the reader to see that it was never a pointed finger but rather an outstretched hand. After so much oppression, idealism may actually have seemed a foreign concept.
I would say the most brutally honest of the bunch was The Corporal, wherein a former Iraqi soldier appeared a hundred years after he died. His outdated concepts and feelings brand him an outsider even as he tries to reconcile what was with what is. The biggest takeaway I found was that in a sufficiently futuristic and secular society, religion would appear to be akin to terrorism. Not in its tenets, but in the passion and zeal that some seem to embody.
The story Kuszib takes a look at not just Iraq, but the world as a whole after otherworldly invaders assume mastery of our planet. More of a treatise on how all creatures view those lower on the food chain than them, this tale is a poignant reminder of how humans have destroyed far more than we have created. Even the empathy shown by the main characters is overshadowed by their needs to be comfortable at the expense of others. Graphic and darkly humorous, the author used the story to attempt to create a greater awareness of others. I did, in fact, find it extremely thought provoking.
The final story was Najufa and was by far the most emotional of the ten, at least to me. A simple journey with a relative turns out to be far more than what the reader expects. Time has moved forward but historical monuments remain, a physical representation of what has come before. But in this story a century from now, not everything must remain physical; in fact, much does not. This one caused me much introspection and was heart-wrenching on a multitude of levels. Were I to say anything else, then the story would be ruined.
If you have not yet understood, these ten tales are stories of sorrow, hope, and history all recorded in different ways by different writers. Each one seems to hold a certain pride in their country, though they show a knowledge that not all of the leaders in their past have been benevolent. A few even explore oppression in the future, speaking to the parallels with the past. As with all compilations, some appealed to me more than others. But, unusually, each offered me something in the way of knowledge. Most importantly, I felt the raw emotions of a people who have only recently been allowed to publicly dream of a brighter future and that alone would make this book a worthy read. Luckily, however, there are a myriad of other reasons why you should read this. You might even discover a new level of compassion or empathy for a war-torn people who stand among the ashes of their forefathers and dare to look up.
Let me leave you with my favorite turn of phrase from the story Baghdad Syndrome, as it seems the most fitting here: “…the language was difficult to unpack but the pain flowing from it was undoubtedly real.”
In a calm and serene world, one has the luxury of imagining what the future might look like.
Now try to imagine that future when your way of life has been devastated by forces beyond your control.
Iraq + 100 poses a question to Iraqi writers (those who still live in that nation, and those who have joined the worldwide diaspora): What might your home country look like in the year 2103, a century after a disastrous foreign invasion?
Using science fiction, allegory, and magical realism to challenge the perception of what it means to be “The Other”, this groundbreaking anthology edited by Hassan Blasim contains stories that are heartbreakingly surreal, and yet utterly recognizable to the human experience. Though born out of exhaustion, fear, and despair, these stories are also fueled by themes of love, family, and endurance, and woven through with a delicate thread of hope for the future.