Colson Whitehead, Zone One: Its beautiful use of language and minimal plot make this a “literary” zombie novel, and I did enjoy the novelty of a post-apocalyptic novel about a schmoe who’s just getting by, herein as a “sweeper” cleaning out the straggler zombies from Manhattan after the Marines did a massive cleanup. It’s a nice touch that sweepers are forbidden from looting goods unless they’re made by an official “sponsor” of reconstruction. For the flavor of the prose: “The youngest one wore its hair in a style popularized by a sitcom that took as its subject three roommates of seemingly immiscible temperaments and their attempts to make their fortune in this contusing city.” Also: “You never asked about the characters that disappeared from a Last Night story. You knew the answer. The plague had a knack for narrative closure.” If you liked that and don’t require much change in your plots, you will probably like the book; if it annoyed you, stay away!
Matt Ruff, The Mirage: It’s hard to write a 9/11 novel. This one takes place in an AU in which Baghdad, the premier city (though not the capital) of the United Arab States, was the city whose twin towers were destroyed by Christian fundamentalists, and Israel is a state carved out of Germany whose closest ally is the UAS and whose existence many Christians don’t accept. After 9/11, the UAS invades America and attempts to put a better government in place. There’s a popular TV show tracking 24 hours in the life of an antiterrorist agent whose use of torture seems contrary to Islamic principles to its critics. And so on:
Mustafa found himself in an open aisle between two entertainment mediums and two warring sociopolitical viewpoints. To his left, in the DVD section, a bank of flat-screens showed the governor of Lebanon, in his previous career as an action-movie superstar, maneuvering a jump jet between the skyscrapers of Beirut and using the plane’s nose-cannon to annihilate an army of terrorists, all of whom looked like relatives of the man Mustafa was chasing. To his right, in pop music, a wall of speakers and subwoofers blasted out the punk band Green Desert’s anti-war, anti-Saud anthem, “Arabian Idiot.”Saddam Hussein is a mob boss; Osama bin Laden is a war hero turned Senator; Gaddafi claimed credit for inventing the internet. A big early mistake in the occupation of America was disbanding “the Minutemen—the American National Guard—thereby throwing half a million heavily armed Christians out of work.” You get a lot of information via infodumps from the Library of Alexandria (that is, AU Wikipedia). Then Homeland Security starts encountering Americans who believe that it’s all a mirage, that something has reversed the true order of things in which America is the world’s superpower and it’s the Muslim world that is fractured and invaded. What’s more, these Americans have artifacts that, though obviously fakes, support their story—for what reason, Homeland Security doesn’t know.
I like Ruff and I thought he made interesting choices in dealing with Sunni/Shi’a conflicts that do not obviously translate one-to-one in America while positing Protestant/Catholic conflicts in Europe due to the population displacement caused by the creation of a Jewish state. (America’s racial divisions, however, and the UAS’s ignorance thereof, play important roles in the disastrous invasion.) He pretty much punted on science, though: America was a creationist wasteland, but it wasn’t clear whether the UAS held different views, except that homosexuality was outlawed, with 50s-US-level variations in the amount of intolerance from person to person. Ruff undoubtedly can write “the interrogation scene,” “the chase scene,” etc. with both verve and tongue in cheek. The question is whether you can deal with his basically playful treatment—look ma, no hands!—of highly fraught topics.
Joe Haldeman, Camouflage: A shapeshifter and a changeling, both on Earth for thousands of years, travel through human society taking people’s places; one is a brutal killer and the other eventually tires of killing, develops empathy for humanity, and tries to figure out what it really is and where it’s from. This might be aided by the recent discovery of an alien vessel under the sea. A slight diversion (if you can call a lot of death and suffering a diversion).
Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I heard a lot about the unusual heroine, which left me surprised that a male journalist narrates the majority of the book, though he does eventually team up with superhacker goth Salander to solve a murder mystery decades old. The details were carefully reported, and there was some well-deserved vengeance against men who hate women (the original title, as I understand it), but basically it was a genre that rarely interests me, and so I didn’t get it.