Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

What sort of novel is it?

Cyberpunk with romance, techno-thriller with actual djinns, Alif the Unseen is literary, religious and comic-book. Published in 2012, it’s set in an un-named authoritarian Gulf State and in the otherworld of the Unseen. G. Willow Wilson spin a dizzying sci-fi, fantasy about code and stories and the relationship between the two. 

You’ll like it if you enjoy:

  • genre defying spins through hacker world and other-worlds
  • well-paced action twined together with questions about identity and morality
  • fantasy mixed with science fiction. Science fantasy. Speculative fiction. Whatever you want to call it.

Not for you if:

  • you turn green at the mention of religion
  • ditto romance
  • you don’t like geniis

What’s it about then?

At the end of a doomed romance with the upper class Insitar, twenty-something half-Indian hacker, Alif, is landed with an ancient, priceless and possibly magic book – the Alf Yeom or 1001 days. Possessing the book means that he is pursued digitally and physically by the state cyber-security czar, who sees the book’s potential for enabling digital dominance.

Helped by a sometimes friendly djinn, Vikram, Alif and his friend Dina escape to the shifting world of the unseen people – mirads, djinns, effrits and other magical beings – before returning to the everyday world for the final battle of code and narrative.

Broader themes?

Full of ’em. The struggle to find some kind of authentic personal identity is entwined with everyday decisions and questions about morality. The power of stories and narrative to shape our lives and ourselves is central. It’s tackled from religious, secular and personal perspectives – and from the perspective of someone desperately trying to survive in an increasingly hostile world, as Alif is. Stories and code as armour and identity. Stories to make us, stories to arm us. Also there’s a very good cat. Who is sometimes human. As they all are.

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