I’m always conflicted when I see collections where the pool of possible contributors or stories has been severely limited; and all the more so if the criteria concern some of the more protected (or subject to discrimination) characteristics, as it is very much tied into political correctness and positive discrimination.
Because, wouldn’t you expect that, the narrower the field is, the fewer ‘good’ stories there would be? And so I do wonder when seeing this – have these authors and/or their stories been selected because or despite of their gender/origin/religion?
I don’t have an answer to the conundrum, but can assure you that you (and I) needn’t worry about this here. Yes, People Of The Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy is limited both in topic of the story, and by being written by authors of Jewish decent. And it’s great – the line-up is stellar (the cover mentions Peter S. Beagle, Michael Chabon, Eliot Fintushel, Neil Gaiman, Tamar Yellin, and Jane Yolen. That leaves out Rose Lemberg and Lavie Tidhar, to begin with, never mind Elana Gomel who should be huge in my opinion …), and the stories run the full gamut from scary to fascinating via classic. There isn’t much I can point at as being weaker, not as well written, or not being worthy of your attention here, as can be the case in such collections, sometimes.
So – this comes highly recommended. Go get it.
Below are short capsule reviews of the individual stories. If that bothers you or spoils your enjoyment then stop here!
The book kicks off with an Introduction by Ann VanderMeer, Editor-In-Chief at Weird Tales, besides much more.
Rachel Pollack – Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt
Rachel is a World Fantasy and Arthur C Clarke Award winner; her story is every so reminiscent of some of Somtow Sucharitul’s ‘Bible Stories for Secular Humanists’. It concerns the distractions and horrors of being able to interpret dreams and predict the future, including one’s own. And of being always right. Joseph is not the most engaging protagonist here. Then again, this might be on purpose, of course. A great start.
Eliot Fintushel – How the Little Rabbi Grew
A tale of caution, of a little boy God talks to (and through), and of his simple Aunt who memorises his words and passes them on to the Old Wise Ones. Who want to learn all the secrets…. As touching as it is sad, as fascinating as it is scary.
Rose Lemberg – Geddarien
Rose is a professor of Sociolinguistics, a prolific writer nominated for a number of awards, and the spouse of the equally well known Hugo-nominee Bogi Takács.
This is a haunting story of a boy growing up in Luriberg, of living cities where the houses dance once a century at Geddarien to music played by their Jewish inhabitants, and of the last of these dances due to a Nazi Pogrom ensuring there’d be no Jewish musicians left to play for the next one. It betrays a deep back-story (Rose has written other stories of Luriberg) and a surprising feeling of hope for the future.
Theodora Goss – The Wings of Meister Wilhelm
Theodora is a World Fantasy and Rhysling Awared winner.
On he one hand this is a classic tale of a friend of Otto Lilienthal who continues his work in the US, seeking a mythical (?) land in the sky. And on the other a coming-of-age story of a girl who hears him play the violin, and demands to learn it, too – and learns so much more than just music. A nicely rounded parable, and a joy to read.
Sonya Taaffe – The Dybbuk in Love
Sonya is another Rhysling winner in this line-up, and apparently has named a Kuiper Belt object.
A Dybbuk is a restless soul of a deceased, who is stuck between life and death; the one in the story is possessing people to be near the girl, nominally 90 years his junior, that he fell in love with. Instead of horror this is a tender, poetic, amazing love story, with a special and unusual denuement; told in a wonderfully poetic language.
Michael Blumlein – Fidelity: A Primer
Michael is a full time physician and a part time writer, one of whose novels (X,Y) has been turned into a feature film.
As the title says, this is an exposition on fidelity and a number of the things around it, told as a mosaic of short fragments from different points of view. Interesting, if not engaging, and maybe a touch too much painting by numbers. Plus – not sure why he felt he needed to explain his symbolism at the end…Yes, you might miss some of the finer details of some of the stories, but this didn’t strike me as a show stopper.
A note on this and the previous story – I found some of the Yiddish lines to be borderline for me in terms of understanding (and they are important to the story being told); as I neither have the cultural background nor the heritage of being Jewish myself.
Jonathon Sullivan – Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane
The author works as a Dr at an Emergency Centre – I was slightly taken aback by the re-animation/Golem joke in the bio!
The story concerns the Holocaust, and the escape of Jews from Denmark. It talks of Golems, both in the shape of Aryan fanatics and less mundane ones. And of a brilliant young man who combines the Kabbalah with the theories of Niels Bohr. It’s fascinating, and told in a very fluid, easy style for such a heavy matter.
Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple – The Tsar’s Dragon
Jane Yolen has won multiple Nebulas and World Fantasy awards, amongst many other, and does not really need introducing, no? This story she wrote together with her son, the musician and Fantasy author Adam Stemple.
It concerns the story of the Russian revolution. Of the Tsar’s dragons, which he sends out to harrow the Jews. And of the dragon eggs Trotsky, sorry, Bronstein, has found and hatched. Marvellous, and I want a novel set in this world!
Elana Gomel – Going East
Elana is a Senior Lecturer at Tel Aviv Unversity.
Untersturmfuhrer Klaus, Scientist, is working on the proof that Jews are shapeshifting alien parasites, as well as in the actual effort to actively exterminate them. And, with them, their mythical creatures, demons, and nightmares.
This is deeply scary, and uncomfortable on multiple levels. Very impressive work – and the only story not previously published in the book!
Ben Burgis – Dark Coffee, Bright Light, and the Paradoxes of Omnipotence
Ben is Professor of Philosophy a the University of Ulsan, Korea.
The story is set in a world where Israel lost the 12 day war, and the Jewish/Palestinian relationship is reversed from what we know in our world. This is an object lesson concerning radicalisation.
Believable, realistic in its premise, and unbearably sad in its inevitability.
Benjamin Rosenbaum – Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality with Air-planes”
A near-victorian grade of title, I’m sure you’ll agree… and another high point in the book for me. A world of war-zeppelins, in an alternate history which has brought about an alternative approach to physics, infused with Eastern philosophies. The story follows the adventures, Phileas Fogg style, of a writer of fantastic stories, sorry, plausible-tales.
Grand, and I want more from the author!
Lavie Tidhar – Alienation and Love in the Hebrew Alphabet
Lavie’s profile has skyrocketed since this collection was published, including winning a World Fantasy and a John W. Campbell Award
The piece at hand is strange, poetic, beautiful, and very sad.
Neil Gaiman – The Problem of Susan
An unusual treatment of the Lion/Witch/Wardrobe story, and of what happened to Susan. Carnal… a classic from one of the masters of re-telling old tales in new shapes.
Peter S. Beagle – Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel
Another Hugo and Nebula winning, Start Trek episode writing, high profile writer, providing us with the longest story in the book. And yet it is much too short, I felt. It concerns an Angel, sent to a painter to be his only muse and model from now on. And, as is to be expected, so much more than just that.
This is grand storytelling, full of clever interchange, humanity, and hope.
Max Sparber – Eliyahu ha-Navi
Max is a playwright and blogger amongst many other things.
How the prophet Eliya came to America, and – ? Not sure. This is weird, and wonderful. American Gods is definitely a reference that came to mind.
Tamar Yellin – Reuben
A boy, observing a visit by his itinerant uncle, evidently the black sheep of the family. Who finds the interactions between his parents, and the (recurring) visitor fascinating, of course.
There are so many things not said, and maybe not understood.
Glen Hirshberg – The Muldoon
Glen is a writing teacher, and award-winning writer himself.
The Muldoon is a horror story, no mistakes. It is told though the eyes of a child, relating the suspense and the horror. But with an attendant streak of hope, reconciliation, and family values holding thing together.
Alex Irvine – Semaphore
A boy picks up his dead brother’s (WW II, lost on a troop transport that was sunk) accidential spelling bee success to work through his grief.
Ways deeper and more affecting than this suggests. And told in a great narrative voice.
Michael Chabon – Golems I Have Known, or Why My Elder Son’s Middle Name is Napoleon: A Trickster’s Memoir
A title that’s a story in itself, I find. From a Hugo, Sidewise, Nebula, Pulitzer winning literary superstar.
A childhood memoir, in the form of a (ficticious?) speech, presumably woven through with half-truths and false memories – he admits to being a professional liar, after all!
As well written and engaging as you’d expect form a writer of his caliber
Matthew Kressel – The History Within Us
Matthew is a writer, publisher, and World Fantasy award winner.
Here he provides us with classic SF, though, reminiscent of a number of stories (in a good way), but especially Harlan Ellison’s The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat, with a sideline of Ben Bova’s Stars Won’t You Hide Me? If that’s not a recommendation then I don’t know…
The book is rounded off with short biographies of all the contributors, and a publication history for the stories included.
Title: People Of The Book
Title: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy
Editor: Rachel Swirsky
Editor: Sean Wallace
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Prime Books
Publisher URL: http://www.prime-books.com
Publication Date: 2010
Review Date: 190221
Price: USD 14.95
Format: Large Format PB
Topic: Jewish SF
Topic: Jewish Fantasy
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.