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Lavie Tidhar
Solaris, 384 pages

Lavie Tidhar
Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and has since lived in South Africa, the UK, Vanuatu and Laos. He is currently resident back in London. He won the World Fantasy Award in 2012 for Best Novel, for Osama, and the British Fantasy Award 2012 for Best Novella, for "Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God."

Lavie Tidhar Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

On a hot day in Vientiane, a private detective named Joe is hired by a mysterious woman to find the author of a series of cheap paperback thrillers, the kind of books that are kept on the back shelves of porn shops. The books seem to be set in a different world, one where the secretive Osama bin Laden conducts a vigilante, terrorist war against the decadent West. It's a world where, from Joe's viewpoint, fantastic technologies are used to destroy imaginary buildings and blow up imaginary hotels.

In Joe's world, there is no global terrorism. Many of the root causes either didn't happen or don't exist. European colonialism ended with World War II, the United States never became involved in a series of local conflicts from Iraq to Vietnam, global wealth is more equitably distributed. At the same time, there is less technology, especially in computers and related fields. For example, when Joe is paid with a credit card, he has a vague idea of what it is, but has never actually seen one before. There are no cell phones. There is one thing, however, other than the paperbacks, which seems to connect the world of Osama bin Laden with that of Joe's. There are refugees.

Joe's search for the author takes him from Southeast Asia to the streets, and pubs, of London, and finally to New York, where the final clues to the location of Mike Longshott lie. It's a surreal journey, with vague warnings delivered by characters who fade in and out of reality, and encounters in places that aren't supposed to be there. Bit by bit a picture is built up of people moving from one reality to another, pursued by those who wish to prevent it from happening, confused by what's happening to them. Some are trying to remember, some to forget, and a few wonder why Joe's world isn't quite the paradise they were promised.

With its searching for the author plot and instances of one reality bleeding in to another, Lavie Tidhar's debt to Philip K. Dick and The Man In The High Castle is readily apparent. So too is a comparison to Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music, whom Tidhar matches in his ability to sustain the feel of a hard-boiled detective novel over the course of a surreal landscape. But the little we learn of Joe and his past, the sense that his being there is most of what makes his reality exist, and the language that reality is presented with, make Osama feel like nothing less than The Stranger in a strange new world, not of Camus' imagining, but fully Lavie Tidhar's own.

The best alternative history, like the best of all fiction, causes us to look at and question our own world, and our own lives. In Osama, Lavie Tidhar postulates a world without terrorism, and forces us to ask whether global terrorism created the world we live in today, or whether we, in a series of decisions made over a number of years, created global terrorism. And if choosing to live in one meant forgetting the other, what choice would we make? That's the question Joe faces in the end, and his decision both gives us the final clue as to who Joe is, and tells us much about the state of our own altered, surreal history.

Copyright © 2013 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson wonders if Joe's story could make Voltaire re-consider whether or not this really is the best of all possible worlds. Greg's reviews have appeared in publications ranging from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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