aberration: Anthy and Utena in the Utena movie, dancing in the flooded rose garden above their reflection. (we shall all be healed)
veronica ([personal profile] aberration) wrote2016-02-27 03:14 pm
Entry tags:

wilderness of a city-that-is-to-come

So among the books I managed to collect before coming here was Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is a collection of fourteen stories by mostly pretty well-known sci-fi writers. I really enjoyed quite a few of them, though I think some venture further into "hard" sci-fi than I usually am interested in going. Over on goodreads, some reviews accuse the authors of too often relying on stereotypes. I don't feel like I can say anything on that, though I do think it's fair to note that in this case "Jewish" means Ashkenazi American overwhelmingly (12/14) male authors born in the first half of the 20th century. Most stories do clearly draw from a male Jewish-American experience, so I'd understand that objection, even if I also don't think I'm the one to make it. And as these stories dealt with issues often outside my cultural context, there are likely going to be instances where I didn't pick up on or understand some aspects, so I'll just leave this acknowledgement here. But these are the stories I particularly liked:



On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi by William Tenn – This is one of the, as I saw another describe it, "Jewish in SPAAAAAAACE" stories, and the only one I'll talk about here. (Well okay except for Looking for Kadak, but that's a... different... issue). The main theme concerns Jewish identity and who can be considered Jewish, but, yes, in space. The narrator is Milchik the TV Repairman on Venus, where there's a Jewish colony following the Third Exodus because the Vegan aliens (it took me a very long time to understand that this meant the aliens came from a place called Vega, and not that they don't eat animal products) came to Earth and said their religious founders once walked this land too, somehow. Which essentially means a diaspora gone intergalactic, but our narrator seems to be talking to us as part of some kind of interview about the First Interstellar Neozionist Conference which had recently met on Venus. For reasons that are Definitely Not About Antisemitism And Just Efficiency, the conference delegates weren't permitted to stay anywhere but the Jewish enclave on Venus, and so mostly had to room with the Jewish residents there, leading to this exchange between Milchik and his aspiring rabbi teen son:

Milchik: Why are there a bunch of brown pillows with tentacles in the bathtub?
Son: Those are the Bulba delegates from Rigel IV! I'm their interpreter :D :D :D
Milchik: ... they're Jewish? How can brown pillows be Jewish??
Son: Oh papa, you're so old-fashioned! We have blue Jews now and –
Milchik: Okay but blue is one thing but certainly having arms and legs and a face isn't so much to ask!
Son: Papa seriously this is just embarrassing.

With the remainder of the story being the various deliberations over whether the pillows with tentacles can in fact be Jewish. With a lot of interruptions due to other controversies, some impassioned speeches (including those made via tentacle), and Venus' very clever, open-minded rabbi.


The Golem by Avram Davidson – A weird-looking stranger shows up on an older couple's porch, announces he was built by their former boarder Bud whom he Definitely Did Not Kill No That Was Totally Natural Causes but now he's here to destroy them and all mankind and HE'S NOT A HUMAN, OKAY and... the couple only pay attention to this fearsome robot golem long enough to tell it to stop interrupting them while they're trying to talk, until the husband gets annoyed and hits it on the head, breaking it.

Basically, I enjoy anything that includes attempts to be menacing that fail completely.


Unto the Fourth Generation by Isaac Asimov – A man wanders around New York, haunted by the name Levkovich in its various (other) anglicized incarnations. This is pretty much the gist of it, but I liked the premise and its execution.


Trouble with Water by Horace L. Gold – I'd say this is one of the few stories where the protagonist's Jewishness is more or less incidental to the story, rather than a main theme. (I've seen a lot of discussion on this more broadly recently, and I think people get this kind of confused, so – by this I mean that his being Jewish is a prominent part of the story, but not what the story is about). The protagonist, while fishing off Long Island, is a jerk to an Irish water gnome who curses him so that water is repelled from him. Which is VERY QUICKLY A MAJOR PROBLEM. The many ordeals resulting from this include a nice subversion of the authorities-think-the-supernaturally-cursed-person-is-insane trope (with someone thinking to say "well, have you tried pouring water on him? OH LOOK AT THAT") and the guy learning that he can only drink beer now because Irish water gnomes apparently hate alcohol. WHO KNEW.


Gather Blue Roses by Pamela Sargent – Probably the least fantasy/sci-fi-ish of the stories in here, it at most borders into slightly magical realist. It's also one of only two stories in this collection written by women. The other, about a guy whose Nice Jewish Daughter is marrying a Martian, didn't add much to that kind of story for me. This is also the only Holocaust story (or after, really, but as is part of the point, "after" is complicated). And to be honest, I'll admit I also wanted to include at least one of the stories by women here. But I did find that this one had some interesting and poignant moments.


Jachid and Jechidah by Isaac Bashevis Singer – This was actually probably my favorite of these stories. It's the most outright fantasy/cosmological, with a view on life and death that plays out in strange but still beautiful ways. I don't want to say that much more on it, just because I think it's probably best to go into it with the same dreamy, disconcerted approach I had.


I'm Looking for Kadak by Harlan Ellison – Yeah so Jewish alien caterpillars (just go with it) want to sit shivah for their dying planet before leaving it. But they're one short of a minyan, and they're the only Jews left on the planet. Their dead fellow (because apparently the dead in this alien caterpillar species can still randomly interject advice, leading to my favorite line of "Shut up, you're dead") suggests Kadak, some guy they all kinda hated and who left a while ago. Our narrator is tasked with tracking Kadak down, and after an intended comedic journey with some ... unfortunate incidents (male rape is... not... hilarious, even if it is insect aliens), he does find Kadak. But unfortunately Kadak is no longer an alien caterpillar, but an alien butterfly, and this metamorphosis occurred less than thirteen years ago.

They do, eventually, figure out a way to work around all of this. And my issues aside, overall I did find this story pretty funny and entertaining, albeit probably because I enjoy dealing with procedural rules and... alien insects, sure.

(And it included "Ellison's Grammatical Guide and Glossary for Goyim," which yes I did read and found helpful.)



And I'm really behind on this now, but my general progress for reading in 2016 is also here.

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