asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Zion's Fiction.

My friend Professor Michael Weingrad reviews this first-ever anthology of Israeli science fiction and fantasy. In particular, Michael does a compare-and-contrast study with a recent anthology of Jewish (as opposed to Israeli) SF, and brings out some differences between Israeli and Diaspora Jewish culture (literary and otherwise).

Whether or not you like the pun in its two-word main title—try saying it quickly—Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature is an impressive English-language collection of stories originally written in either Hebrew or English. It includes tales of invasions both alien and angelic, dystopias in which childrearing is outlawed in favor of technologically produced adulthood, a marriage between Death and a Jerusalem maiden, and other inventive imaginings.

To grasp the special virtues of this effort, it helps to contrast it with the last major anthology of a similar kind, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy, published in 2010. Although two contributors to that earlier work were British and two others—the Israeli-born Lavie Tidhar and the Kiev-born Israeli writer and scholar Elana Gomel—also appear in Zion’s Fiction, most of the other contributors to People of the Book were Americans, and so were the volume’s editors. That difference tells, and in what follows I mean to pursue it. ...

But the most common thematic thread in People of the Book, running through almost half the stories, is Jewish faith itself, both as a subject and as a problem. Some stories are antagonistic, even hostile: Rachel Pollack, for instance, sets up a simplistic dichotomy between the biblical Joseph, a compassionate and open-minded dreamer, and the prophet Moses, a narrow-minded legalist known mockingly as “the Burning Beard.” Others describe, in sometimes sentimental fashion, faith abandoned and then renewed. But most trade in an ironic or indifferent agnosticism. One such tale, which curiously exhibits no overt signs of fantasy, focuses on an American Jewish couple who, ambivalent about circumcising their twin sons, decide to split the difference and circumcise only one.

In the Israeli collection, by contrast, Judaism and religious faith figure as preoccupations in only one angry story that imagines biblical law magically instantiated—requiring, for instance, that homosexuals, or people who eat shellfish, be immediately blasted out of existence. But in general Zion’s Fiction has far fewer shared motifs than does People of the Book, and is much heavier on science fiction than on fantasy. Israeliness itself is worn easily: some stories take place in the country or have distinctively Israeli characters, but in others the characters are at home in a generic sci-fi context and bear Anglo-American names like Alexandra Watson. Nor is Israel usually the subject matter. We don’t get the East European schmaltz of the American volume, and even the Holocaust, while providing an important symbolic framework for a few stories, is never treated directly.

One theme that does run through almost half of the sixteen stories in Zion’s Fiction, and is perhaps the most “Israeli” thing about it, is a palpable concern with the themes of decision, consequence, and alternative life possibilities. ...

Read the whole thing at the link. And remember, Tel Aviv is the only major city in the world named for a speculative novel.
Tags: books, hebraica, israel, science fiction
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