Length: 8 hrs and 27 mins
Review by Dave Thompson: “Life Isn’t a Pulp Novel”
Lavie Tidhar’s Osama is not an easy or light novel. However, it is a very thought provoking one, and I suspect it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a long time.
What if Osama bin Laden never existed? What if his acts of terror were confined solely to pulp novels, the kind that are published alongside pornography? That’s the Philip K. Dickian world the novel takes place in.
Joe is a private detective hired to find the author of the Osama bin Laden: Vigilante books. As he travels across the world attempting to track down the writer, the distance between Joe’s fictional world and the real world begins to dissipate. The normal detective stuff happens – attempts are made on his life, he’s told to drop the case, etc. But it gets really interesting when Joe comes into contact with “refugees” – people who seem fuzzy around the edges and appear to be trapped – and he begins to question the nature of the world he inhabits, and even of himself.
The novel asks a lot of questions about how we cope with horrible acts of violence through escapism fiction, the war on terror, about choices that we make, and classic Dickian themes like what is reality, and who we are.
For example, at “OsamaCon” — a convention dedicated to the books put on by enthusiastic fans, complete with fanzines — Joe meets some fans of the bin Laden books, and asks them what’s the draw. The couple responds by saying, “To read about these horrible things and know they never happened … and when you’re finished, you can put down the book and get on with your life. To know it’s fiction – pulp fiction … And that’s where all these terrible things should stay … in the pages of a book.”
The most difficult passages are those from the pulp novels – which turn out to be acts of terror that have occurred recently in our history. They’re gut-wrenching on so many different levels, and it’s difficult material to discuss and interact with it. Thankfully Tidhar’s writing doesn’t sensationalize it, and he handles it all with a certain amount of grace.
Jeff Harding gives a solid narration, but for some reason, it got off to a slow start and took a while for me to get completely invested in. That said, it’s worth sticking with. This is a book that’s lingered with me since I finished listening, and I’ll almost certainly reread at some point.
Dave Thompson is the host and co-editor of PodCastle, the fantasy fiction audio magazine. His own fiction has been published by Bull Spec and Apex Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @krylyr.