the mirage

A quick and dirty guide to the Matt Ruff oeuvre, or, what to read after you’ve read Lovecraft Country

I’ve gotten a number of requests from readers who’ve finished Lovecraft Country and want to know which of my novels they should try next. Because my books are so different from one another, this is always a tough question to answer, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick rundown of the options. If you see something here that looks interesting, you can click through to the main page for that novel and learn more about it:

The Mirage — An alternate history novel that came out of the same TV pitch session that produced Lovecraft Country. The story is set in a reality where the U.S. and the Middle East have traded places. The United Arab States is the world’s last superpower, and the “11/9 attacks” involve Christian fundamentalists flying planes into towers in downtown Baghdad. It’s not just the geopolitical situation that’s turned on its head; so is the sense of who matters. The novel’s protagonists—a trio of Arab Homeland Security agents—and the principal villains—the gangster Saddam Hussein, and a corrupt senator named Osama bin Laden—are all Arab Muslims. The Americans in the story are mostly nameless third-worlders, with the exception of a few high-profile terrorists like Donald Rumsfeld.

If you’re looking for another mix of history, genre tropes, and moral/social commentary with a similar tone and style to Lovecraft Country, this is probably your best bet.

88 NamesMy most recent novel is a near-future cyberthriller/twisted romantic comedy. The protagonist, John Chu, is a paid guide to online role-playing games who suspects his latest client may be North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The first two-thirds of the novel are set entirely in virtual reality, and most of the characters Chu interacts with, including his coworkers and his ex-girlfriend, are people he’s never met in the flesh, so he’s constantly forced to question how well he really knows them.

This book also came out of the aforementioned TV pitch session, and as such it forms a loose trilogy with The Mirage and Lovecraft Country, but despite the North Korea angle it’s much lighter in tone. If you’re up for a fun masquerade with video games and cybersex, this could be your ticket.

Bad MonkeysMurder suspect Jane Charlotte claims to belong to a mysterious organization that fights evil. Her division, the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—Bad Monkeys for short—is an execution squad, though the man she’s accused of killing wasn’t on the official target list. The jailhouse psychiatrist assigned to Jane’s case gets her to tell the story of her career in Bad Monkeys: how she was recruited, what she did for the organization, and how it all went wrong.

I call this my Philip K. Dick novel. It’s a short, fast-moving mind-bender. Jane is the ultimate unreliable narrator: Catch her in an apparent lie or contradiction and she just throws another twist into the story, ratcheting up the weirdness while continuing to insist that it’s all true. If you like paranoid thrillers, you’ll probably like Bad Monkeys.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls The story of a relationship between two people who both have multiple personalities. Andy Gage manages his unusual condition by means of an imaginary house in his head where his various “souls” all live together in relative harmony. He meets Penny Driver, an undiagnosed multiple who still struggles with periods of lost time; when some of Penny’s more self-aware souls ask Andy for help, they end up destabilizing his house and force him to confront personal demons from the past.

This was my first fully mature novel, and I still think it’s one of my best. If you liked the family and interpersonal drama from Lovecraft Country but weren’t so sure about the supernatural aspects of the story, this might be a good pick for you. Despite the wild premise, it’s a fairly grounded narrative with no overt fantasy elements.

Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works TrilogyA science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, written in the 1990s and set in the distant future year of 2023.

Rather than try to summarize the plot of this novel, I will direct you to the description of how I came to write it. If you find this origin story intriguing, then Sewer, Gas & Electric may be your cup of tea; if you are puzzled or appalled, you should probably read something else.

Fool on the HillA comic fantasy set on the Cornell University campus circa 1987. The cast of characters includes a retired Greek god, a lovesick writer-in-residence, a dog and cat in search of heaven, a group of modern-day knights, a race of magical sprites at war with an army of sword-wielding rats, and a giant wood-and-canvas dragon that comes to life in the novel’s climax.

This was my first published novel, and I think it holds up pretty well, especially as a time capsule of the era and the place in which it was written. If you’re a Cornell alumnus, a nostalgic adult of a certain age, a current college student who doesn’t mind dated cultural references, or a Matt Ruff fan curious about how I got my start, this could be for you.

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Thursday night at Queen Anne Book Company

My next event for Lovecraft Country will be a reading followed by Q&A and book signing at the Queen Anne Book Company this Thursday night, starting at 7 PM.

Some other quick notes:

* Over the weekend I signed books at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Hanging out with the customers and staff was fun as always, and this time I got a ghost story in the bargain—it turns out the Broderick Building, where the bookstore is located, is supposedly haunted by a dead man in a bowler hat.

* The UK travel agency The Co-operative Travel has picked Lovecraft Country as a “fantastic holiday read for 2016.” The whole list is worth checking out—I’m in good company.

* In addition to some very nice reviews of the novel’s contents, I’m also getting a lot of positive comments about Lovecraft Country‘s cover art and physical design. The artist’s name is Jarrod Taylor. You can see more of his work here, including an alternate concept for the cover of The Mirage.

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The German translation of The Mirage is now out in paperback

While I was finishing up Lovecraft Country, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag released the paperback edition of the German translation of The Mirage. I got my complimentary author’s copies in the mail yesterday, and they look great. (The cover design, by Michał Pawłowski, was also used on the Polish-language edition.)

In other news:

* Paul Constant, who used to write roughly half the content of the Seattle Stranger, has teamed up with novelist Martin McClellan to found The Seattle Review of Books.

* Ex Machina is out on DVD. If you missed it in the theater, it’s a really clever and thought-provoking A.I.-meets-Bluebeard’s-Wives story.

* It’s not as good as Ex Machina, but It Follows is an entertainingly creepy horror film that reminded me a lot of a recurring nightmare I used to have as a kid.

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The German translation of The Mirage is finally here

It’s available in both hardcover and ebook editions. As you can see, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag did a really nice job on the jacket design. The German translation, as with my previous novels, is by Ditte and Giovanni Bandini.

Unfortunately I won’t be coming to Germany on book tour this time around. Maybe for the paperback.

Meanwhile, I’m still hard at work on Lovecraft Country, currently writing the “Jekyll in Hyde Park” portion of the story. More news soon…

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Miraż

Just got my complimentary author’s copies of the Polish translation of The Mirage. Aren’t they sexy?

They had a rough time getting here. The first batch got stolen or eaten in transit, and all I received was an empty mailsack with a big hole in the bottom. (Fun fact: the U.S. postal service will still deliver parcels that are obviously missing their contents, even if what’s left of the packaging resembles windblown debris.) The folks at REBIS Publishing very kindly sent a second round by special delivery, heavily armored in multiple layers of cardboard, and this time the books arrived safely.

The translation is by Zbigniew A. Królicki and the cover design is by Michał Pawłowski.

(P.S. The long-awaited German translation of The Mirage is due on March 1.)

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The Mirage ebook edition is on sale for $1.99 through 10/28

For the next two four weeks, The Mirage English-language ebook is on sale for just $1.99 from all the major U.S. outlets, including Google, iTunes, Kindle, Kobo, and Nook.

From what I can tell, the sale extends to at least some international markets as well—I’m seeing an equivalent reduction in Kindle edition prices in continental Europe, Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico.

Also, the Polish-language edition of The Mirage has just been published by REBIS. Cool cover!

UPDATE: The Mirage has been chosen for the Kindle Big Deal, so the sale has been extended through October 28th.

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Summer in Lovecraft Country

Yes, I’m still alive. Busy writing, and nearing the halfway point of the new novel, at least in terms of word count—because of the modular nature of the story I’ve been jumping back and forth a lot as I figure out various plot points. This week I’m focused on a section called “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe,” in which one of my characters pokes around in an abandoned astronomical observatory that is neither abandoned nor (merely) an observatory; earlier this month I worked on “Abdullah’s Book,” in which the Prince Hall Freemasons try to keep an arcane text from falling into the wrong hands.

In other news:

* The Mirage is a finalist for the Sidewise Award for Best Long-Form Alternate History. The winner will be announced this Saturday. Wish me luck!

* I watched season one of Orange is the New Black, which is as good as you’ve heard. Also good: the first three seasons of Damages (some great performances and a really interesting story structure) and 42 (much better than I’d been expecting from the trailer).

* Wilton Barnhardt, the author of Emma Who Saved My Life and Gospel, two of my favorite novels, is back with his first new book in fifteen years. Aimee Bender has a new book out, too.

* A great-great-great-grandson of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian died last month at age 77. His Times obituary makes for interesting reading. Pitcairn Island, where he lived, is looking for new residents. But.

* “Due to the sheer size of the sloths, you must be at least 50″ tall and 80 lbs to participate in the ‘Sloth Immersion’ experience.”

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German edition of The Mirage coming März 2014

A heads-up for my German fans who’ve been emailing to ask if and when The Mirage would be available in translation: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag has officially set publication for March 2014. The novel will be available in both hardcover and ebook editions.

Also:

* The American ebook of The Mirage is still on sale for $1.99.

* Just finished watching season 2 of The Borgias. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this is like the non-fantasy version, with Charles VIII’s army replacing the ice zombies and Machiavelli’s The Prince serving as the tie-in book. Really well done.

* Last Saturday was the 2013 championships for the Rat City Rollergirls. Grave Danger beat the Sockit Wenches 202-167 in a close-fought bout. But the best moment of the evening came during the mid-bout break, when Method of Madness proposed to Jalapeño Business. Jalapeño said yes, and the crowd went wild. This tops the previous coolest thing to happen off-track this season, Nancy Pearl’s Feb. 9 halftime appearance where she did a live reading of Where the Wild Things Are. Mazel tov to the happy couple!

The regular derby season is over, but the post-season bouts start next month, with visiting Montreal and London teams going up against the Rat City all stars. Full schedule is here.

* Cat font!

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The Mirage ebook just $1.99 this month

Breaking radio silence for a quick heads-up: The Mirage ebook is on sale for $1.99 this month at Amazon (where it’s part of their “100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or less” promotion), the iTunes store, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. (ETA: Google too, now.)

In other news:

* As you’ve probably guessed from the lack of recent posts, I’m hard at work on Lovecraft Country. Long way to go yet, but so far all is well.

* Lisa and I watched Lincoln the other night. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal, and Sally Field is great too in the handful of scenes they gave her, but otherwise we were underwhelmed. Beyond the obvious criticism—this is a film about the end of slavery in which black people serve only as bit players—it felt like Spielberg was trying to have it both ways, portraying Lincoln as a flesh-and-blood politician, as willing to engage in corruption as any other, while still hanging to the notion of Lincoln as a sainted, larger-than-life figure who of course transcends the moral judgments that apply to lesser Republicans: “When Lincoln does it, it’s not a crime.”

* Django Unchained, on the other hand, was great. (Yes, Kerry Washington needed more to do.) And now I really want to see the remake of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter starring Daniel Day-Lewis and written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Though Tarantino’s version would probably be Frederick Douglass: Vampire Hunter. Which I’d also be up for.

* A cat, a shark suit, a Roomba, and a duck. The Internet just keeps getting better.

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Portland

I’m home from my overnight visit to Portland. I had a small but enthusiastic group of fans at the Powell’s on Hawthorne event, and while I was there I scored a hardcover copy of Joe Coomer’s Kentucky Love. (If you’re not familiar with Coomer, a good novel to start with is Apologizing to Dogs, or, if you can find it, A Flatland Fable.)

I signed stock at Powell’s on Hawthorne and at the main Powell’s location downtown. The downtown store had a German-language hardcover of Bad Monkeys.

The one sad note of the trip came when I stopped in to sign copies of The Mirage at Murder by the Book, which hosted one of my events during my last visit to Portland. It turns out the store is closing in April after thirty years in business. I’ve only known them a short time but the staff are really nice folks, so I’m sorry to see them go.

The Powell’s appearance was my last scheduled paperback publication event. It’s time to get back to work on novel #6. More details about that shortly.

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