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Book Review: Iraq + 100, edited by Hassan Blasim

Want to see how the marketing of a book is affected by who publishes it? Look at Iraq + 100, a collection of stories by 10 Iraqi authors imagining how their country would look 100 years after the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation by the United States. When originally released in the U.S. last December, the book was subtitled Stories from Another Iraq. Forge, an imprint of noted science fiction publisher Tor Books, has changed the subtitle to The First Anthology of Science Fiction to Have Emerged from Iraq.

That change doesn’t alter the book’s mission, which is perhaps represented by the fact that, having roots in September 11, 2001, the Forge edition is released this week. Rather than wrapping stories around the 2003 invasion, something editor Hassan Blasim did in his own short story collection The Corpse Exhibition, Blasim asked the writers to do something rare for Iraq. As he notes in his introduction to the book, “Iraqi literature suffers from a dire shortage of science fiction writing.” In fact, Blasim was concerned it would be difficult to find writers willing to imagine Iraqi cities 100 years in the future.

Like most anthologies, the end result is mixed. Additionally, Western readers’ perception or appreciation of the book may be affected by the fact seven of the 10 stories were originally written in Arabic and each has a different translator. To the extent this is science fiction, it is “soft” scifi exploring the cultural, political and psychological effects of the invasion and occupation of the country. There’s also a little magical realism and surrealism utilizing Iraq’s and Islam’s history and culture.

Some stories offer optimism. In “The Gardens of Babylon,” Blasim’s own story, while Baghdad is managed by a Chinese corporation, it has become “a paradise for digital technology developers.” Likewise, despite desertification and environmental degradation, this Baghdad is divided into 24 Chinese-designed domes, each a new garden of Babylon. The city exports the world’s best software and extraordinary scientific discoveries.

Ali Bader imagines a peace-filled future, at least for Iraq. In “The Corporal,” an Iraqi soldier returns to Kut, where he died in the 2003 invasion. “There are no more Sunnis, Shi’as, Christians” in Iraq, he is told, because organized religion is viewed as an impediment to knowing God. The country is long free of conflicts or civil wars. America, however, has become “an extremist state” ruled by religious radicals much like the Taliban governed Afghanistan. In fact, the U.S. is “part of the axis of evil.”

Other futures are far more dystopian. In “Operation Daniel,” Khalid Kaki’s Kirkuk is a wealthy city-state cut off from the rest of Iraq and governed by the Chinese. All languages but Chinese are forbidden and the punishment for anyone speaking or reading in them is being incinerated and “archived” in a synthetic diamond. Diaa Jubaili bases “The Worker” on a statute of that name in Basra. The city exports or has consumed every imaginable resource. It never lacks corpses, whether from disease or starvation. Despite a virtual total collapsed, “the Governor” reassures those still in the city with a monthly address about historical events that surpass the city’s own catastrophes and suffering.

Whether hopeful or despairing, these stories may have Americans ruefully recalling what Gen. Colin Powell reportedly told President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq: “You break it, you own it.”


Violence is the most brutal sculptor mankind has ever produced.

Hassan Blasim, “The Gardens of Babylon,” Iraq + 100

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