Fadi Zaghmout, Heaven on Earth (Signal 8 Press, 2017, 214pp, £14)
Reviewed by Joseph Tomaras
Originally published in 2014, Fadi Zaghmout’s venture into speculative fiction is more reminiscent of Arabic domestic realism, such as Sahar Khalifeh’s The Inheritance (2002) or Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (1956-7) than Anglophone science fiction. Heaven on Earth’s social commentary takes the form of a set of thought experiments: How might the Islamic laws of inheritance apply when death becomes an option rather than ineluctable destiny? How might the balance of power shift within families, between those with and without wombs, if reproduction becomes a rare privilege? Along the way, the novel touches on matters of reproductive rights and freedoms, bodily autonomy, the gap between the luxuriously rich and penuriously poor, social media, and reality TV. But the touches are gentle, caressing the sensibilities of its readership rather than tackling them hard. One need not be a Marxist to find the notion that there could be hungry beggars in a future with food printers and golden longevity pills to be horrifying, but if one does, that horror comes from the mind of the reader, not the voice of the narrator.
Zaghmout’s popularity as a blogger and Twitter personality means he has a necessary place in any survey of contemporary Arabic literature and culture. The publication of Heaven on Earth in English may be a further sign of Anglophone sf’s increasing openness to works from other languages and literary traditions, in this instance, to fiction written from a predominantly Islamic cultural standpoint. The novel therefore has interest as a point of intersection between these developments. It does not stand out, however, as an exemplar of any one of these. For example, Zaghmout’s own influence may be better represented by his other, more realistic novels or by his blog; contemporary science fiction in Arabic by works like Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (2018); or science fiction about gender and reproduction by Anglophone authors such as Octavia Butler or Joanna Russ. Whether to seek it out or not, therefore, will depend upon the comprehensiveness of an individual reader’s research or curricular needs in these domains.