There’s a fair amount of literary science fiction going around at the moment, and Omar El Akkad’s American War is one of the better novels. It conjures up a future America that’s recovering from a polarising second civil war.
The handling of the story is convincing and believable. It uses personal stories to explore the emotions and ideas on both sides of a dystopian future. And it doesn’t shy away from detailing that future through the novel’s world building process. This is commendable, I think, because it’s often where literary science fiction novels tend to play it safe (for example The Wall and Doggerland). Speculating about the future is always a gamble, but it’s part of why we are reading these novels in the first place.
In this dusty future, the post second civil war America has entered into a major role reversal where it’s become a failed state and foreign nations are sending it charitable aid. The nation’s energy and capacity to improve the lives of its citizens has been diminished by its lack of unity and the meddling of overseas powers who are keen to keep America down. Among these enemies is a Middle Eastern empire that can’t help tinkering with internal US politics, all in the name of altruism.
Central to the novel is a core irony, and a warning — you don’t want your grandchildren to live in this version of America. Omar El Akkad does a great job of avoiding cliché, keeping things nuanced and realistically messy, and not preaching.