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Friday, July 28, 2017

American War (2017) by Omar El Akkad

Image result for american war akkad map
The United States circa 2075 from American War by Omar El Akkad

Book Review
American War (2017)
by Omar El Akkad

  American War was published in April.  I read a positive review in the New York Times and decided to buy a copy since it was serious dystopian literature.  I maintain a positive interest in the literature of dystopia, specifically in regards to the border between literature and genre fiction (mostly science fiction/speculative fiction).   Dystopia isn't just an interest of mine, it is perhaps the dominant genre in the non-serious Young Adult market.  The Hunger Games is of course a billion dollar multi-media world-wide empire and it's success has spawned, essentially it's own sub genre of young adult dystopian fiction, and we are right in the middle of that cultural moment.

  You can add on top of that the overlap with Zombie fiction, which has also flirted with literary status while maintaining a solidly genre profile over-all.  What makes American War such a sparkling literary (as supposed to genre) achievement is his ability to right a genuinely moving character into the center of the book, Sarat Chestnut.  Akkad, with his background in global conflicts of the past decade, compellingly paints a near future, post-global warming catastrophe, where the core Southern states of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are engaged in protracted, low level conflict over a decades old ban of fossil fuel usage that bears a striking similarity to current conflicts in Middle East locales like Syria and Iraq.

  The details of his near-future are closer to Orwell and Aldous Huxley than Phillip K. Dick and other genre antecedents of dystopia- more literary, in other words.  For example, in the world of American War, the bedraggled citizens gather in an unused museum atrium to watch Uffcy- a decayed version of UFC fighting.   It's impossible to really get at what makes American War such a worth while read without spoiling important plot details, but generally speaking, his ability to case the southern states of the old Confederacy as being morally similar to the oppressed citizens of places like Syria and Iraq is key.  In the end, American War isn't really speculative fiction at all, it's comprised entirely out of present day facts, projected into the future.   Reality, it turns out, is scary enough.

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