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The Mirage: A Novel

The Mirage: A Novel

3.5 18
by Matt Ruff

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A mind-bending novel in which an alternate history of 9/11 and its aftermath uncovers startling truths about America and the Middle East

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be


A mind-bending novel in which an alternate history of 9/11 and its aftermath uncovers startling truths about America and the Middle East

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers.

The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. . . .

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of "backward third-world countries." A search of the bomber's apartment turns up a copy of The New York Times, dated September 12, 2001, that appears to support his claim. Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story. The president wants answers, but Mustafa soon discovers he's not the only interested party.

The gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. And the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee—a war hero named Osama bin Laden—will stop at nothing to hide the truth. As Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage, they are confronted with questions without any rational answers, and the terrifying possibility that their world is not what it seems.

Acclaimed novelist Matt Ruff has created a shadow world that is eerily recognizable but, at the same time, almost unimaginable. Gripping, subversive, and unexpectedly moving, The Mirage probes our deepest convictions and most arresting fears.

Editorial Reviews

If you amalgamated the methodical, punctilious, world-building skills of Ian McDonald (The Dervish House) with the reality-distortion powers of Philip K. Dick (The Man in the High Castle) and then folded in the satirical, take-no- prisoners savagery of Norman Spinrad (The Iron Dream), you might very well be able to produce a book approximating Matt Ruff's The Mirage — God willing, as Ruff's characters are continually cautioning. Ruff's Big Idea masterstroke — so simple yet infinitely deep — is to imagine a world where every polarity of the post-9/11 scene has been flipped 180 degrees. (Actually, of course, for maximum plausibility, the fictional timeline is shown to have diverged from ours much earlier, at the end of the Ottoman Empire.)

America, a jealous, backward, fragmented, fundamentalist- ridden failed nation, is responsible for the terrorist-driven, airplane-mediated destruction of the World Trade Towers of Baghdad, cosmopolitan metropolis of the United Arab States, that enlightened, progressive, technology-rich superpower in a continuum just one funhouse mirror removed from ours. The event occurs not on 9/11/2001 but on 11/9/2001, that off-kilter date serving as just the merest hint of the radical transvaluation Ruff has in store. And the novel is set more or less ten years after, in the long, grinding aftermath of that event.

Ruff leads with a charming, utterly engrossing cast: Mustafa, Samir, and Amal, with Mustafa the privileged point of view — three UAS Homeland Security agents who will invariably provoke thoughts of the Mod Squad. But any intentional campiness functions as just a slightly quirky flavor to their tight- knit ensemble, as they undertake perilous campaigns against Christian terrorists. And coming to dominate their assignments are rumors of "the mirage," the alien fundamentalist belief that their world of Islamic hegemony is a fictitious one, somehow deriving from another, prior, more "real" continuum. And when actual artifacts from the crazy alternate history — our world, of course — begin to bleed over, events really begin to get weird, in the manner of China Miéville's The City & the City.

Aside from satisfying the traditional requirements of any good story — dramatic character arcs, suspenseful plotting, fusion of theme and action — which he does admirably, Ruff's titanic accomplishments with this book lie along two parallel yet complementary axes.

First is the sheer magnificent magnitude of his world building. This universe of Islamic supremacy is the most tangible such creation since Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. (And it's a testament to the paucity of ambition among current SF writers that such a juicy topic has basically gone begging, despite its immediacy and topicality, save for these two novels.) Ruff has not let one niche of his imaginary culture or politics go unexplored. He's even imagined the kind of lolcats this world would boast! Courtesy of Ruff's hard work, the reader inhabits this world as fully as possible. And the information is delivered with sophisticated, effortless grace. The excerpts before each chapter from the "Library of Alexandria" web pages (the new world's Wikipedia) help a lot in this cause. Moreover, Ruff creates a completely sympathetic portrait of the world, warts and glamour both, not some propagandist's one- dimensional caricature in either direction. It's a humanist, naturalistic depiction. Yes, the world of the UAS discriminates against homosexuality still, to the point where Samir's gayness is used as blackmail material. But there's no mindless jihad against other cultures, and in fact the enlightened Muslims work hand-in-hand with the Israelis, whose post-WWII refugee nation was founded in the ruins of Germany! ("The Israelis were bombing Vienna" is the opening line to one chapter.)

Mention of this Zionist dislocation brings us to the second aspect of the book, the estrangement lurking beneath the acute mimesis. Ruff is out to blow your mind with the way things might have gone, given a few divergent forks in the historical road. And much of this estrangement is conveyed in the alternate careers of famous people, rendered completely believable. Saddam Hussein is a notorious gangster. Osama bin Laden is a right-wing senator. Gaddafi is the Jerry "Governor Moonbeam" Brown of the nation. Without over-reliance on the shorthand, ready-made personalities of the famous — a common misstep in shoddy alternate histories — Ruff still employs these recognizable personages (mostly offstage, except for Saddam) as perfect foils for his tale. And I haven't even spoiled many of the most surprising appearances.

Finally, Ruff doesn't fudge the ontological weirdness of his world. When you learn what triggered the birth of this parallel timeline, you will be astonished at his audacity.

These two strong pillars — the richly sub-created timeline and its salient anamorphic reflections of our own era — together make for a book that will captivate upon an initial surface reading and trouble your certainties long after.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

Publishers Weekly
Genre buster Ruff (Bad Monkeys) takes the reader through the looking glass into a world where a union of benevolent Muslim states (the U.A.S.) guards against Christian fundamentalist terrorists trying to spread fear and unrest. After the terrorist attack of 11-9-2001 on towers in Baghdad, the story proper begins in 2009, as Homeland Security Agent Mustafa al Baghdadi, witness to the original attack, nearly dies confronting a suicide bomber from Texas named James Travis, aka “the crusader.” The crusader survives the attempt, and his claims that their world is actually a polar opposite distortion of the truth sends Mustafa spinning. Ruff’s exposition to establish the situation is impressively simple: clever, inventive entries from “The Library of Alexandria, A User-Edited Reference Source” are peppered throughout, tweaking Wikipedia and appearing just when readers (or sometimes characters) need them. Among other entries, one finds a long biography of Saddam Hussein, “philanthropist, novelist... and Iraqi labor organizer”; an explication of the “Miranda Warning” rights of U.A.S. citizens; and a chronicle of the 40-year reign of Lyndon Johnson, described as the President of the Christian States of America (C.S.A.) who was born in the Evangelical Republic of Texas; his “Mexican Gulf War” of 1991 pitted Louisiana against an OPEC-backed Texas. Beneath this dubious verisimilitude lies a truth that gives Ruff’s work a sharp satiric bite. As to the book itself, it’s as traditional in its story as it is unconventional in its premise, with a full cast of characters and narrative arc. As the plot thickens, the ideas keep coming, with Ruff revising the history of, among other things, the gay rights movement, David Koresh, and Timothy McVeigh. This is both entertaining and provocative, exactly what the best popular fiction should be. Agent: The Melanie Jackson Agency. (Feb.)
The Onion A.V. Club
“Furious entertainment. . . . It echoes Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, but more comparisons will be made to Philip K. Dick’s World War II reimagining The Man in the High Castle.”
Barnes and Nobles Review
“If you amalgamated the methodical, punctilious, world-building skills of Ian McDonald with the reality-distortion powers of Philip K. Dick and then folded in the satirical, take-no-prisoners savagery of Norman Spinrad, you might be able to produce a book approximating The Mirage.”
“Sci-fi/fantasy/post-cyberpunk cult author Matt Ruff imagines an alternate world in which Arabia becomes the earth’s dominant superpower and America is a dictator-led, fundamentalist backwater. More than half the fun here comes from discovering all of the intricately clever consequences Ruff derives from that simple premise.”
The Associated Press
“A unique and compelling read.”
“A funhouse-mirror mash-up where H.G. Wells and Graham Greene collide with The Arabian Nights and The Matrix. . . . Ruff dizzies and dazzles the reader with a fantastic-and fantastical-story.”
The New York Post
“Like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, the premise behind Ruff’s alternate-history novel is chilling.”
Seattle Weekly
“The alt-historical framework is in many ways the best and most entertaining part of the book, and you want it to expand beyond the mere 400 pages of The Mirage.”
The New York Times Book Review
The Mirage is an intriguing addition to the genre . .. . Ruff spices up his tale with a wealth of arresting details. . . . Ruff keeps you reading, [out of] eagerness to see what twist he’ll think of next.”
The Seattle Times
“An unnerving but intriguing premise forms the backbone of Matt Ruff’s latest novel, The Mirage, one of the most daring 9/11-inspired novels to emerge after that horrific day
The Stranger
“Ruff embraces his twisty concept with an attention to detail that suggests many months, more likely years, of fervent research. . . . He is a world-class world builder who, perhaps better than any other writer, can create exotic, mysterious worlds and communicate their unique rules and consistent logics.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“An audacious new novel. . . . . The Mirage is a topsy-turvy tour de force, another winner from a truly inventive and unpredictable storyteller.”
“This book quite successfully challenges the ideas of Christian moral supremacy and the unchallenged political agenda of superpowers. It is a deeply satisfying novel which excites hopes of a long and productive career for this young writer.”
The Onion's AV Club
“Furious entertainment. . . . It echoes Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, but more comparisons will be made to Philip K. Dick’s World War II reimagining The Man in the High Castle.”
The Philadelphia City Paper
“That The Mirage shares DNA with airport-kiosk genre exercises is nothing to be ashamed of. A good thriller is hard to pull off. The ingredients are clear enough: propulsive action, sympathetic characterization, and enough detail to ground the story without slowing things down.”
Library Journal
On 11/9/01, Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners, crashing two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad and another into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. Years later, a suicide bomber interrogated by Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi reveals the dirty truth: the Arab states' supremacy is just a mirage, and the real superpower is the United States. Okay, the author did well with Bad Monkeys, but this new thriller could go either way, stimulating some readers while outraging others. Your choice; with a 40,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
A thriller unusual in its concept, combining politics with an alternate reality. No attacks occur on Sept. 11. The real tragedy happens on Nov. 9, 2001, when terrorists from the Christian States of America (CSA) attack the twin towers in Baghdad. The world is turned upside down and inside out, with the United Arab States (UAS) being the world's dominant power and America a fragmented collection of countries that include the Republic of Texas. The UAS invades and conquers the CSA, but captured prisoners bring rumors that everything the Arabs see is a mirage, that the true superpower is America. Some even claim that "God loves America, not Arabia." Real-life characters show up aplenty but are cast in unexpected lights. Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden, for example, are warriors for the good guys, but at least Saddam Hussein is still a thug. Readers have someone to root for in conventional thrillers, but that is lacking here. Much detail mirrors the West we know, an approach that starts out looking clever but quickly becomes too cute—Gaddafi claiming to have invented the Internet; a Six Flags Hanging Gardens theme park; and a series of self-help books including Christianity for the Ignorant. Germany is a Jewish state, while Palestine belongs to the Arabs. The UAS is a largely tolerant place, where one character even says, "Hey, it's a free country." Another shrugs off the revelation that someone is gay, as if no one cares in the UAS. A few characters, including the heroine named Amal, risk their lives to determine the truth—is their whole world an illusion? The writing is good, but the characters are hard to care about and the plot doesn't feel properly resolved. Not bad, but it won't give you the willies.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Matt Ruff is the author of The Mirage, Bad Monkeys, Set This House in Order, Fool on the Hill, and Sewer, Gas & Electric. He lives in Seattle.

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Mirage 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
cwknight More than 1 year ago
Some have criticized The Mirage as being unbelievable, which to me is missing the point. Like Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt, The Mirage is a story whose focus is the same-ness of people everywhere. I loved this book because it pulls no punches in its critique of the United States' behavior over the past decade. Unfortunately, the people who would benefit most from seeing the other side of things will probably never read this.
Alison_Pink More than 1 year ago
The Mirage tells an alternate version of history. Where the world is rocked by a terrorist attack on the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad on 11/9/01. The planes were hijacked by Christian fundamentalists from the Third World country of America. Years after the attack on the superpower, a homicide bomber is captured in the United Arab States (UAS) & questioned. He tells a strange story of a mirage. This mirage is one where the UAS is the super power & America is poor & broken. He argues that this is not true reality...that in the real world the USA is the super power & was attacked on 9/11 by Muslims. Gradually the Homeland Security officers in Arabia begin to unravel the story & start to believe this crazy bomber. The story is very well written & makes you stop & think without at doubt. At times it is humorous (The Quail Hunter from Crawford, TX who takes his enemies out on hunts & accidently shoots them or the crazy man in TX who is always looking for someone or something but can't seem to find it or remember who or what he's looking for or David Koresh leading the reisitance in America or Timothy McVeigh appearing as a protector to one of the invaders). This was well worth the time. The only reason it gets 4 stars from me is that it is a book you can't put down or read in small chunks. You need to read it straight through to keep everything straight, but it is well worth the time!
tottman More than 1 year ago
There’s an old adage that history is written by the victors. Matt Ruff expands and explores that idea in Mirage. Mirage is the story of a world in which Arabia is the superpower and the United States a third world backwater country. In this world, Christian fundamentalists fly planes into the Twin Towers of Baghdad on November 9, 2001 (11/9 vs. 9/11). The twists keep coming in this upside down world. Except some of the terrorists remember a different reality. One in which the United States is a superpower and the Arab world a backwater. And they have some artifacts from this reality that seem to back up their story. Mirage is told largely through the eyes of Arab Homeland Security Agents, mainly Mustafa al Baghdadi. He is tasked by the president to investigate the “mirage rumors”. There are people within the United Arab States who don’t want that to happen, as well as people who think their lives would be better in the mirage world. I enjoyed this book because if features interesting characters with interesting backstories. The concepts explored were also very intriguing. Are the seeds of violent fundamentalism always present in any religion? What circumstances cause them to come out? How might political alliances that we view as unshakeable change if they sprang from different circumstances? My criticism of the book is that the reverse parallels seemed a little overdone and at times seemed gimmicky. (11/9 vs 9/11, wikipedia vs. libraryofalexandria, etc.) The placement of prominent public figures on both sides of the conflict in roles they might play in the mirage world is well-done for the most part, although sometimes it seems unnecessary. The most enjoyable and identifiable characters are the fictional ones. Despite any criticisms, Mirage is a story that makes you think and keeps you engaged. The core concept is brilliant and the exploration of the alternate world is fascinating. The characters, especially the ones without real-world counterparts, are interesting and well-developed. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book. It is an enjoyable read that will stretch your mind. 3.5 stars.
prenoun More than 1 year ago
The best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events is not quite the reality, yet the scenes are infused with details too vivid to be anything less. These parts, especially during the first half of the novel, open the reader's eyes to new perspectives on what Americans must think of as an unchangeable cultural moment. But, also as with a dream, the longer the novel goes on, the more gaps appear to make the story less effective, less believable, and less magical. It plays games with wild pairings that work only to make the characters whose world we wanted to believe in seem less believable themselves. The ending effectively explains "the mirage," but the second half of the book disappoints on a promise: that even a broken mirror can, through inversion and distortion, show us exactly who we are.
CRT More than 1 year ago
Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of Matt Ruff's work. "A Fool on the Hill" and "Set This House In Order" are two of my all-time favorite novels. So, I was especially excited to read his newest book, "The Mirage". While I am not as enamored with this novel as I was with "Fool" or "House", I still got sucked into the plot and thoroughly enjoyed the read. It is filled with the plot twists and elements of fantasy that are characteristic of Ruff's writing. His alternative view of history is very interesting, and the portions of the book that discuss spirituality and religion actually offer quite a bit of fodder for deeper reflection. Though I didn't LOVE the book, I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to anyone who enjoys Ruff's other works, alternative history, or is just looking for a different kind of novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Bookshelf_Confessions More than 1 year ago
It’s amazing… I didn’t even think one could rewrite 9/11 in such a flawless way that’s really believable.. I could already imagine a movie for this. originally appeared on: Bookshelf Confessions I’m not so sure what to think of the book ---The book make me feel like I was about to read something unforgivable - It also almost turned me away because of its premise, but because Matt Ruff is really famous for BAD MONKEYS , I took the risk. It also makes me laugh in a way, that it’s really a twist.. there are: the UAS (United Arab States) instead of US, ABI (Arab Bureau of Investigation) instead of FBI, 11/9 instead of 9/11.. there are a lot more. And I wasn’t disappointed; I was in awe of how good that twist is, that I was actually beginning to think the world he created might be possible! Matt Ruff has created his own story out of history. I wouldn’t go more into the plot, but I assure you, it will keep you on edge--- thinking what would happen next. I was up all night reading and contemplating the events unfolding in front of me. At first it’s hard to get into the story, because the book is an alternate reality..it would really take some time for a reader, to fully grasp the concept and be familiar with it. But once I’m in terms with the characters, the place, I finally realized how complicated and how much time and thinking this book requires the author to complete it. And the result- is a very interesting plot that might be condemned by some but admired by many. The topic/theme of this book, is not easy, but if we just read the book as a work of fiction, let the author take us away from reality… then THE MIRAGE is really a brilliant one. The writing is very good, the Library at Alexandria (Wikipedia) is a good move to keep the reader up to date with the history, and the author’s right-in-time-humor is sufficient to make you stop and smile at the very concentrated moment,. He gives us enough details, enough to satisfy and make us curious altogether. The characters are all significant on the story. We could even see in the picture the infamous Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. I enjoyed the journey to the truth with Mustafa, the hero, how he finds out about the Mirage, and discover things he thought far from possible. The venue- Baghdad is totally different than we used to – it’s modern, with skyscrapers, modern culture, just think of anything that’s opposite. (Anyways, that’s what this book is.>:D). The author’s really good in describing the new face of the city, Mecca, every place in the story is a whole lot new than what we know, and yet, I could totally picture it. It’s vivid and complete. One drawback I guess, is the end. I was expecting it anyways, but I’m thinking that there might be something more ( I’m confusing you, I know--- but I have really confused feelings about the book… ) Last words: It’s amazing… I didn’t even think one could rewrite 9/11 in such a flawless way that’s really believable.. I could already imagine a movie for this.>:D Good book, good plot, lots of characters more than needed maybe, good writing style, and maybe with little changes on the details of the story in between and at the end, this would make it to the top-rated political thriller of 2012. (I’ve written quite long—but trust me, YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS BOOK!!!) Very highly recommended to everyone who enjoys action/mystery/sci-fi stories. I wouldn’t recommend this to children and culture-sensitive people, though.
TheOrbital More than 1 year ago
By now I'm sure you have read some of the other reviews of this book and have a fairly good understanding of the setting and plot, so I won't rehash what everyone else has already covered. What I will say is that I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and given its somewhat abrupt ending I would recommend it to anyone who enjoy alternate-history fiction or just a good sci-fi mystery. For some reason, I found myself comparing this book to the most recent season of the TV show 'Fringe', given it's development of the "alternate universe/over there" world that was introduced in Season 4. If you enjoyed that storyline in 'Fringe' you will definitely enjoy this book. I found the "Wikipedia" entries (called The Library of Alexandria in this book) on various subjects and characters incredibly entertaining, and some of the references to alternate-reality real world people made me laugh out loud. (There is a character introduced in the latter third of the story that absolutely cracked me up given the reference, but I will not spoil that for you - suffice to say that it is a very fitting name given). As I said above, I did enjoy the story despite it's somewhat abrupt ending; and it intrigued me enough that I checked out another one of Mr. Ruff's novels that was an equally great read: 'Bad Monkeys'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The premise is brilliant. Flip 9/11 and the subsequent 00's - Christian fundamentalists from a balkanized America drive planes into cosmopolitian Baghdad's World Trade Towers. I was anticipating - or at least hoping for - a biting socio-political satire, like a few of the alternate world novels that came out of the Soviet bloc, or Vargas LLosa's "The Real Life of Alejandro Mehta"; or a lugubrious chess match between mind and reality like Philip K. Dick gave us, whom the B&N review references with "The Man in the High Castle". But for all it's imagination and clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud mirroring - the Muslim world's current hit rock album is Green Desert's "Arabian Idiot" - it is a heavily (i.e. unrealistically) plotted political "thriller", with winks to the reader aplenty, and despite some of its "still too soon" moments of gravitas, devolves into magical fantasy.
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Rob_Ballister More than 1 year ago
Matt Ruff's THE MIRAGE is an incredibly unique story where the post 9/11 world is seemingly turned inside out by a higher power looking to teach the arrogant United States a lesson. In this book, what we know as the United States is a collection of small, religious based nations constantly fighting each other, and the middle east is the world's true superpower. After fundamentalist Christians bring down the Arab world trade center on 11/9, the Arab superpower invades North America, and fights a long drawn out war against insurgents. But occasionally "artifacts" and other items pop up that show that the Arab-superpower world may not be what it seemed, and that there is an alternate reality where a United States is the superpower. Many of the post 9/11 players make appearances in the Mirage world. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, and even David Koresh all play roles. And a key theme is that while the world they may be a part of has changed, the fundamental nature of the particular person is the same in both worlds. A cold blooded manipulative killer is still a cold blooded manipulative killer; his victims are just different. I particularly liked the inserted "articles" from the "Library of Alexandria," which were modeled after Wikipedia articles and filled in some key gaps in the reader's understanding of the Mirage world. The book has plenty of action, and moves well. It introduces an element of fantasy when discussing how the Mirage was created in the first place, and why, and that did confuse me a bit, resulting in some re-reading. But overall, this was an enjoyable, thought-provoking fiction/fantasy thriller worth the time invested.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bought this book from BN Nook store. Will not run on Nook Tablet.... go figure. I want my money back.