Blasim and Ra Page—the founder of Comma Press, which originally published Iraq + 100 in England—envisioned a mosaic of tales that projected Iraq’s entire present and past into an uncertain tomorrow. Page states in his afterword, “The best science fiction, they say, tells us more about the context it’s written in than the future it’s trying to predict.” Blasim has also pointed out the relative lack of technological innovation in Iraq throughout the last century as a perception he hopes to counterbalance. Baghdad is where algebra, the decimal point, and the first method to calculate the radius of the Earth were invented in ancient times—and Iraq, Blasim feels, is a rightful heir to the sci-fi tradition.
Accordingly, the stories in Iraq + 100 ripple with speculative energy. Written by authors who range in age and style, the tales take place in the cities of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Najaf, Ramadi, and Sulaymaniyah—all are set in the year 2103, a century after the U.S. invasion. In “The Worker” by Diaa Jubaili (translated by Andrew Leber), Basra has continued to be ruled by a succession of tyrannical theocrats, the latest of whom has overseen a wave of famine, human trafficking, and even cannibalism. Using history to twist the present, the dictator spouts a perverse moral relativism—all while his citizenry scratches for survival amid the ruins of lost technology.
Graphic and grisly, “The Worker” shares a setting with “The Day by Day Mosque” by Mortada Gzar (translated by Katharine Halls). In Gzar’s dreamlike, visceral story, the mining of a most unsavory substance—snot—becomes symbolic of resource exploitation and social engineering on an insidious scale.
The author Zhraa Alhaboby and her translator Emre Bennett give urban life a less horrific, if no less thought-provoking, depiction in “Baghdad Syndrome.” An architect living in downtown Baghdad is the unreliable narrator of the story, which revolves around a reality-warping genetic mutation that has begun afflicting Iraq as the result of chemical warfare a century earlier. A different kind of epidemic is presented in “The Here and Now Prison” by Jalal Hasan (translated by Max Weiss), in which teenagers dodge oppression in an eerie future Najaf where memories are available in pill form and the surveillance state has gone biomechanical. Blasim himself contributes a story to Iraq + 100. Titled “The Gardens of Babylon” (translated by Jonathan Wright), it involves virtual reality, game design, and corporate politics in a technologically advanced Iraq—renamed Federal Mesopotamia—whose wonders are built on shaky ground. Dazzling and disorienting, these stories are not just reflections of turmoil, but also yearnings for peace and a connection with Iraq’s past grandeur.
That dynamic gives “Operation Daniel” a resonant power. In the author Khalid Kaki’s vision of 2103, a Chinese city-state has arisen on Iraqi soil. It’s a classically Orwellian dystopia, where a charismatic yet brutal leader—in this case, Gao Dong, the Beloved Benefactor—has installed himself as a godlike giver and taker of good fortune. Gao Dong’s greatest weapon, like Big Brother’s in 1984, is his dominion over language. All citizens must speak Chinese, and the region’s ancient tongues—Syriac, Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen—have been banned, and a government department called the Memory Office serves to “protect the state’s present from the threat of the past.” Rashid Bin Suleiman, or RBS89, as the government has renamed him, works alongside hovering droids as a cog in the Memory Office’s apparatus. His job is to dig up computers, compact discs, or any other means of information storage that might alert the populace to Iraq’s former sovereignty. That is, until he comes across an old folk song that radically shifts the way he sees himself and his world.