I happened to read two very different books by the same author back to back recently.
Alif is a young computer hacker in a place called only The City in the Middle East. His business is to set up secure networks for people whose websites would be shut down by the state. He isn’t an idealist. He doesn’t care what the content is. He enjoys the game of staying one step ahead of the government, especially the entity known as The Hand.
Alif has also just been dumped by his first love. She is a wealthy Arab woman. He is a poor Arab/Indian. She is being married to a high class Arab man. In a fit of pique, Alif writes a program that he installs on her computer that learns to recognize her wherever she is on the internet by her keystroke pattern and language use. The program is discovered by her fiance, who turns out to be The Hand, and is turned back on Alif and his friends in the Middle Eastern hacker community with deadly results.
Alif needs to fix this and the answer comes in an ancient book. On the surface it is stories of the jinn but the patterns in the book can be used to make the most sophisticated computer program ever — if Alif can run from the police and survive the jinn long enough to figure it out.
I’m not a super smart computer person so I don’t know if the part about coding with the book just didn’t make any sense or if I just didn’t understand it. What I did like about this book was the setting and the characters.
Alif starts out as a spoiled brat living in his parents’ house as a virtual hermit. He has contempt for the girl who lives next door, Dina. She is also Indian but has decided to veil herself against the wishes of her family and friends. Dina goes against western assumptions about women who veil as being passive victims. She is much smarter than Alif in practical matters and saves him several times when she is forced to run with him.
There is a Prince who has to give up some of his royal privileges and see how the people really live when he gets caught up in Alif’s plight. An iman shelters them one night and then is tortured for his complicity. He adds a philosophical weight to the story.
There is an unnamed western female convert who is living in The City to learn more about her new religion. She is pretty much useless except for using her White Privilege to get them into restricted areas. I found that interesting because the author is a white western convert who went to live in the Middle East for a while. Generally, if a character is like the author they are written more heroically.
The City is also a character. You learn about how life works for people in different sections of a Middle Eastern city. It also discusses what happens when a revolution happens and how that isn’t always what the organizers wanted to happen.
Kamala Khan is still learning about her new powers and figuring out how to be Ms Marvel and go to school. She finds out that teenagers in her city are disappearing and she decides to save them. But what if they don’t want to be saved?
She is tracking The Inventor when she meets her hero, Wolverine. She gushes over him and tells her about the fan fiction she writes about him. He is unimpressed. I love this part of her character. She is an obsessed fan who got super powers. She’s a geek and she acts like it.
The second part of the book has some insightful commentary on the media’s representation of teenagers as slackers and the consequences of that.