Thursday, September 5, 2013

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen is the first novel by G. Willow Wilson, who had mostly done graphic novels before this.  It's gotten a lot of good press (you can google it for yourself) and my library got 16 copies.  Reviews in the New York Times and everything, though that review is mostly a plot summary not a critique. 

Alif is the pseudonym of a hacker in an unnamed Arab Spring country.  He is helping various dissidents and malcontents in a desultory way with his computer work, but is pretty much an overgrown boy.  When he is jilted by his illicit royal girlfriend, he hacks up a program to hide from her by detecting her typing and word usage, no matter what accounts she hides behind.

Now, this is the only technical part of the book that isn't completely implausible.  Authenticating a person by their typing style and usage should be very doable, though putting it together in an overnight hacking session is a stretch.  But as we read on, we see that we just can't judge the book by the technology.  Wilson is no computer or coding expert, and pretty obviously did not consult one.  We have two laptops overheat to burning by using "an obscene amount of RAM".  Really?  Now I guess we could be generous here and say that she meant Alif was overclocking the CPU on the fly, which would actually overheat the chip.  There are other examples, but I need not belabor the point.

The story itself is a good page turner, holding interest and developing sympathetic characters.  It is culturally relevant and mildly educational for those who mostly read SF, though for a real intro to modern Middle East culture you might be better off with Naguib Mahfouz.  The jinn are fun and not too demanding.  Read it for a good time and a mild culture stretch.  3 stars, just, from me.

No comments:

Post a Comment