Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature, Sheldon Teitelbaum & Emanuel Lottem, eds. (Mandel Vilar Press 978-1-94213-452-7, $24.95, 336pp, tp) September 2018.
From the Introduction:
“The State of Israel may be regarded as the quintessential science fiction (SF) nation—the only country on the planet inspired by not one, but two seminal works of wonder: the Hebrew Bible and Zionist ideologue Theodor Herzl’s early-twentieth-century utopian novel Altneuland (Old New Land).
Only seventy years old, the Jewish state cranks out futuristic inventions with boundless aplomb: wondrous science-fictional products such as bio-embeddable PillCams, wearable electronic diving gills, hummingbird spy drones, vat-grown chicken breasts, microcopter radiation detectors, texting fruit trees, billion-dollar computer and smartphone apps like Waze and Viber, and last but not least, those supermarket marvels, the cherry tomato and the seedless watermelon.
What Israel has yet to generate—and in this it stands virtually alone among the world’s developed nations—is an authoritative volume, in any language, of Israeli speculative fiction.1 Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature is intended to remedy this oversight. The book will pry open the lid on a tiny, neglected, and seldom-viewed wellspring of Israeli literature, one we hope to be forgiven for referring to as ‘Zi-fi.’
Zi-fi: We define this term as the speculative literature written by citizens and permanent residents of Israel—Jewish, Arab, or otherwise, whether living in Israel proper or abroad, writing in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, or any other language spoken in the Holy Land.
In the main, however, this volume spotlights a small but growing pool of Israeli writers who have pursued deliberate vocations as purveyors of homegrown Hebrew-, English-, and Russian-language science fiction and fantasy (SF/F), and other brands of speculative fiction, aimed at both the local and international markets.
We showcase here a wide selection of stories whose authors range across the entire gamut of the modern Israeli SF/F scene: men and women, young and not-so-young, Israel-born and immigrants, professional writers as well as amateurs; some continuing to live in Israel and some expatriates. More than a few have already published stories overseas; for others this is their first foray into the international arena. Many are part and parcel of Israel’s SF/F fandom (more about which, see below); others are mainstream writers who at some point in their careers decided to use SF/F tropes as the best vehicles for their message and their whimsy. All of them, however, share one thing in common: by adopting the tropes of speculative fiction, they have all bucked, if not kicked in the teeth, a deeply rooted, widely held, and long-standing cultural aversion, shared by a preponderance of Israeli readers, writers, critics, and scholars, to most manifestations of indigenously produced as well as imported speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, and horror.2 It is the underlying contradiction between the aforementioned science-fictional roots and this primal aversion that, we believe, renders the very publication of this book a wondrous event.
Author Hagar Yanai lamented in a 2002 essay in the daily Haaretz that ‘Faeries do not dance under our swaying palm trees, there are no fire-breathing dragons in the cave of Machpela [the Cave of the Patriarchs], and Harry Potter doesn’t live in Kfar Sava.’ Local fantasy is so weak, she declared, that an original series like the Harry Potter books ‘couldn’t be published in the state of the Jews.’3
Hence a paradox: In a nation whose very existence was inspired by an SF/F vision, SF/F was until recently completely beyond the pale, and even now most cultural luminaries shun it. This despite the fact, pointed out by scholar Danielle Gurevitch, that ‘in early Jewish tradition, fantasy literature . . . [involving] marvelous acts, magic, and miracles aimed at hastening the Redemption, as well as a rich diversity of unbelievable stories of journeys to the Holy Land . . . was a driving force in the nation’s history and thinking.’4
Scholar Adam Rovner reminds us that whatever value they place on imagination, and however much they may have stigmatized some forms of fantasy, all nations and countries become the incarnations of fabulous stories told by their inhabitants or their invaders. This was certainly true of England, for instance, which took its cue from Arthurian legends, and it is also true of the early incarnations of the biblical Jewish homeland, which derived inspiration from the Book of Joshua. ‘Zionist historiography and literary history,’ says Rovner, ‘have long demonstrated the intimate bond between what is now alliterated as nation and narrative.’5
On the other hand, in present-day Israel, as during the nation’s prestatehood years, ‘willingness to open the door to weird strangers and unusual occurrences that benefit nothing but the spirit of whimsy is minimal,’ says author Gail Hareven.6
How come? Where did this allergic response to imaginative fiction come from?
Several explanations have been offered. One is the simple importation of the aversion to SF/F from abroad. After all, we must admit that for many a year, Western culture had regarded SF/F with mild condescension, to say the very least. Until quite recently it was not culturally accepted as High Literature: fit for teenage boys (not girls!), lacking in veritable literary qualities, ignoring the exigencies of ordinary life, or worst of all, escapist—choose or add your favorite condemnation—for which alleged faults it has not historically passed universal muster. It was (and often continues to be) ghettoized, relegated to special-interest shelves in bookstores and libraries. This attitude was carried forward to and prevailed in prestatehood Israel, thoroughly unmodified. Furthermore, since cultural influences tended to spread rather slowly to and through the Jewish state, it has persisted well after the attitudes towards SF/F in the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance, became more congenial.
Yet another explanation hinges on the unusual contempt normative Judaism held even for its own nondidactic and lighter-hearted forms of literature. The Hebrew word for ‘imagination,’ dimion, did not appear in this sense in the Hebrew language until the twelfth century, in Maimonides’s Guide to the Perplexed, despite the fact that seminal biblical and postbiblical Jewish texts often resorted quite freely to narrative embellishment. Frequently they crossed over into outright fantasy, either to fill in gaps in the original Torah narrative or to resolve textual contradictions.
Such imaginative works included Midrashim (exegetic tales); Meshalim (parables and fables); Aggadot (rabbinical legends); and medieval apocalyptic literature, including hagiography, Ma’asei Merkavah (mystical theories of creation), or apocryphal and pseudepigraphical Heikhalot texts describing heavenly journeys, such as the maqama—rhymed prose narrative—by Abraham Ibn Ezra (twelfth century), Hai ben Mekitz, about a journey to the six planets of the medieval solar system and their imaginary inhabitants. The sages nevertheless dismissed this massive corpus as ‘mere stories and profane matter.’
It is possible, of course, that outright faith even in the most outlandish events trumped whimsy, obviating any acknowledgment of the fantastic. Magic and sorcery, despite the miraculous deeds of Moses, Elijah, and other biblical figures, were and continue to be considered off-limits by most observant Jews. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” commands the Bible (Exodus 22:18).
While admitting the existence of grains of truth in both these explanations, we would prefer to emphasize the inherent tension between having a dream and actually living it. Forging a semblance of Herzl’s Altneuland vision in a long-ravaged ancestral homeland very nearly forced the nascent Jewish republic, by dint of human cost alone, to deplete its imaginative reserves. ‘If you will it,’ the latter-day prophet (depicted on the cover of his book in his role as space-bound SF/F writer cum ideologue) famously declared of his proposed Jewish state, ‘it is no fairy-tale.’7
The publicistic intent implicit in Herzl’s choice of classical late-nineteenth-century science-fictional romance as a vehicle for proposing the Zionist enterprise to the masses, however, probably added an inconvenient literary fillip to the nation-building effort—one that, although inherently fanciful, regarded unfettered imagination as anathema. The very idea that Israel might have been inspired by a science fiction novel would have rankled. Consequently, Altneuland was deliberately misconstrued by Zionist ideologues as sui generis.
Creating a nuts-and-bolts nation, whether or not inspired by a literary fantasy, called on resources of faith of a much more practical nature. This task proved totally consuming, utterly grueling, costly in blood as well as resources, and fraught with calamity. Implementing the Zionist project left little capacity and even less taste for imaginatively unfettered ventures, whatever their pedigree. An avowedly pragmatic lot, the Zionists remained painfully wary of pie-in-the-sky schemes and stars-in-your-eyes stories.
The Zionist enterprise, moreover, was from the outset an all-out effort: each individual was expected to make his or her contribution to the fulfillment of the joint dream to the utmost of their abilities, regardless of personal cost, desire, ideal, or proclivity. It was a dream of a new nation, a rightful member of the world community, living in peace and harmony with its neighbors; of a new, just, vibrant society, where everyone has equal rights and duties and works for the common good; of a newly revived language, Hebrew, used for any and all purposes, lofty or mundane, to replace the various languages spoken by Jews in the Diaspora; and of a new person, the sabra: an independent, strong-willed, prickly, hard-working, idealistic individual, the diametric opposite of the downtrodden Diaspora Jew. Epitomized in the character of Uri, the hero in Moshe Shamir’s 1947 novel (later a play, then a movie) He Walked through the Fields, and depicted in numerous other stories, poems, novels, plays, and films, this idealized new breed of Jew became perhaps the greatest hope and ultimate achievement of Zionism.8
There was no room in this scheme for freeloaders, including people who wished to write about imaginary worlds or predicaments. They had no moral right to pursue their idiosyncratic leanings; what they should write about must relate directly to the building of the new nation. Criticizing its faults in their stories was allowed, even encouraged; extolling it was still more welcome. Divert from these options, and no one would publish or indeed read your work.
Furthermore, the leadership of the highly politicized Yishuv, the Jewish community in prestate Mandatory Palestine, had become, since the turn of the twentieth century, increasingly socialist in orientation. By the late 1920s the political domination of the labor movement was nearly complete. The significance of this in the present context lies in the fact that both socialism and Zionism put a great emphasis on the role of intellectuals in the shaping of a new society—with a new culture and a new kind of people—and the combination of these two ideologies tended to make this emphasis even stronger.
Well before the Jewish state came into being, therefore, Israeli writers were expected to render the outlandish fantasy of a Jewish homeland in starkly mimetic, or naturalistic, literary terms. This is an activity commonly referred to by fantasy and science-fiction writers (that is, when they don’t avoid it as a tiresome cliché) as worldbuilding.9 Yet this necessity, paradoxically, required stripping a then-fifty-year-old body of Hebrew literature of its artificial biblicism, its romantic strivings, its unduly nostalgic, unrealistic, idealized concerns and tropes. These characteristics, some argued, had rendered nineteenth-century Hebrew literature dangerously escapist. To counter this tendency, ideology demanded that writers, poets, and other artists depict the Zionist mission—as unlikely and fraught an undertaking as the Exodus from Egypt—with all the grit and realism they could muster.
Ideological control was rather exacting, even though few would say it aloud. The Yishuv had always been a democratic polity, and theoretically any artist, poet, author, or thinker enjoyed complete freedom of expression. Yet social pressures were overwhelming: it was the intellectuals’ sacred duty to inspire and be inspired by the common venture, enrich and if so inclined criticize it, and above all imbue the younger generation with the values, attitudes, and aspirations of their elders. Deviation from this role was frowned upon, sometimes fiercely, and on a more practical level, those not inclined to hew to such strictures could hardly find the means (for instance, a publishing house) of reaching out to the general public. Institutional publishers with telling names like Am Oved (“A Working People”) or Sifriyat Po’alim (“Laborers’ Library”) had very clear agendas. But even private-sector, bourgeois publishers regarded themselves as part and parcel of the Zionist enterprise.
Thus developed a cohort of gatekeepers that effectively controlled the Yishuv’s cultural output: publishers, literary magazines’ and journals’ editors, literary critics, professors of literature, and so on. This small but highly influential group had a final say over what the public could read, and steeped as they were in ideology, Zionist-socialist or just Zionist, their say was practically final.
Needless to say, aversion to speculative literature was but one of the gatekeepers’ endearing qualities; in fact, it was quite a marginal facet of their overall control, since they had very few cases to contend with in that sphere. Much more than that, they were the keepers of ideological and moral purity.10 Consider the case of Dr. Yaacov Winshel (1891–1980), a well-known physician who also dabbled in writing. In 1946 he authored a novella, The Last Jew, which offered up one of the first postwar alternative history scenarios postulating a Nazi victory in World War II—a forerunner of what would become a distinguished SF subgenre. Winshel was able to find only a minor publisher for this work, which was simply ignored by the Yishuv’s literati. Ironically, the reason for this cold shoulder had little to do with the novella’s literary quality, nor even its genre affiliation. Alas, Winshel was a prominent member of the Revisionist movement, a disciple of its leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The Revisionists were Labor Zionists’ mortal enemies (sometimes literally so); therefore, Winshel’s writings remained firmly outré.
Although susceptible to a secular messianism that promised redemption through national renewal, the Labor Zionists in those days turned their backs on the mystical, supernatural aspects of the Hebrew Bible. They had no use for miracle-ridden Hassidic lore. Yet they also despised outright the supposedly more rational Judaism professed by the Mithnagdim, the fervently religious but excessively dogmatic opponents of Hassidism. They believed that religiosity in all its guises had helped instill and perpetuate Jewish rootlessness, passivity, frailty, hyperintellectuality, dependence, and helplessness, brought to its horrific culmination in the Holocaust. Instead, the founders focused on geographical, historical, and archaeological accounts of a continuous Jewish presence in the Holy Land that could, they believed, ultimately be validated by empirical means.
Not surprisingly, speculative literature—what the rest of the world commonly referred to as fantasy, science fiction, and horror—did not have any kind of place in the world of Hebrew-language belles lettres, or even in what counted as popular literature. Certainly, some Israelis read commercial fiction in translation or in the original language of publication, and this may have included some SF/F. But indigenously produced genre fiction, mainly in the form of the particularly low-rent, originally Yiddish, offshoot of pulp fiction called shundt, ‘trash,’ held no possible relevance to the ongoing effort of building up the nation and consolidating its gains—or to the attempt to accrete a vibrant Hebrew corpus of literature. Consequently, it found neither reputable publishers nor widespread readership.
According to Hebrew University sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda, an expert on social deviancy, Israel’s cultural commissars designated science fiction as a particularly egregious example of cultural inauthenticity.11 Apparently unaware that Herzl had modeled his utopian novel Altneuland on Theodor Hertzka’s utopian work Freiland, while seeking to emulate the success of American protosocialist Edward Bellamy’s 1888 bestseller Looking Backward: 2000–1887—a genre classic of no uncertain stature—they regarded SF/F as a childish distraction. Ironically, some of these very same people had championed the wholesale importation of Russian, particularly Soviet, literary forms and tropes that had informed their evolution as revolutionaries. The more left-wing ideologues among the Yishuv’s literary gatekeepers saw a parallel between Labor Zionism’s nation-building enterprise and the supposed success of the efforts to create a Workers’ Paradise in the USSR.
These proclivities extended as well to the types of books selected for translation into Hebrew. To be sure, publishers were expected to import, translate, and publish works from the accepted Western literary canon. Otherwise, they published books that ostentatiously reflected the supposedly uplifting, revolutionary spirit of the times in the Soviet Union (yet another form of wild fantasy, in retrospect) or the perceived decadence of its adversaries. In a publisher’s note added as a postscript to the Hebrew translation of Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, for instance, the publishers (the aforementioned Sifriyat Po’alim) felt duty-bound to explain to their readers—this as late as 1960—that ‘the author purported reassuringly to show us the triumph of the spiritual-moral strength of the spokesmen for that great nation [the United States], but truthfully, he gave us reason for much anxiety. It turns out that even the honest and decent ones among them are consumed by hatred [of the Soviet Union],’ and so on.
Meanwhile, light entertainment and easy diversions were left largely to the aforementioned shundt, to the cinema, to the communal campfire, to sing-alongs, and, much later, to television. Indeed, TV serves as perhaps the best example of Israeli cultural gatekeepers in rearguard action. Until as late as 1966, it was simply banned in Israel, because Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion feared that it would ‘distract children’s minds, so that instead of studying and expanding their knowledge, they would be captivated by vulgar entertainment.’12 And even after TV had been introduced (well after the Old Man had left office), for twenty more years the country had just two channels, both under government control. The transition to the current situation, with numerous public as well as commercial channels, cable, satellite, and, ultimately, streaming venues, was motivated by the same forces—to be discussed below—that have made Israeli literature much more variegated.
Once the State of Israel came into being in 1948, writers of the younger generation—the so-called Dor haMedina, or Statehood Generation—should have been able, one might have thought, to reverse the trend. After all, the Zionist dream was fulfilled: there was a Jewish state in place, so perhaps the time had come for its intellectuals, specifically writers and poets, to let loose their imaginations. The ground was ready, one might have concluded, for a poststate literary scene more enamored of fancy. Alas, the kind of fabulation these men and women engaged in proved quite unlike any genre of speculative literature the world has ever seen.
For with each passing year, the normalcy Israel so desperately yearned for proved ever beyond its grasp. The country emerged from its formative War of Independence without recognized borders. Palestinian and other Arab opponents vowed to rectify what they termed the Nakba, or catastrophic defeat, with future rounds of warfare—as many as it would take to rid the region of its non-native Jews. Similarly, the Israelis awaited Round Two (and then Round Three, and Four, and . . . ), which they hoped would end with more tenable borders replacing the unsustainable cease-fire lines of 1949.
The more uncertain the country’s prospects, the more its storytellers strove to enshrine the boring, mundane, quotidian realities that eluded them—thus the wholesale appropriation of a peculiar literary genre governed by Eastern European conventions of social, political, and psychological realism. The fact that in Israel such conditions could rarely be found outside of isolated pockets dissuaded few.
Early Israeli literature therefore, author and scholar Elana Gomel and others have observed, restricted itself to desultory ruminations over the narrower aspects of kibbutz life; to bourgeois melodramas set in Tel Aviv; to depictions of the dire predicaments of nearly destitute Sephardic and Mizrahi immigrants dispatched to peripheral regions; to often self-serving reminiscences of the prestate underground; to the then still shame-inducing Holocaust, encapsulated by the biblical expression ‘as lambs to the slaughter’ (this attitude would change, drastically, only during the Eichmann trial in 1961); to the exigencies of army life; and, infrequently, to various romanticized aspects of daily life.13
‘Our generation’s Israeli literature,’ argued author and critic Ioram Melcer, ‘adheres to the framework of Israeli reality, and barely exceeds it. Israeli time, Israeli man, Israeli sociology, Israeli problematics, the ideological partition in Israel—or in other words, the Israeli existence and essence—are the main referential framework of the greater part of Hebrew Literature written in Israel.’ The template set, realism itself, as Gomel comments, was slated to become a particularly Israeli form of fantasy, one that would become more inventively inward-looking and self-reflective (often to the point of ignominious narcissism) with each passing decade.14
All this should not be misconstrued, we must stress, as a reflection on the quality of the literary output achieved by these writers, poets, and playwrights or their predecessors. Authors such as Moshe Shamir, Yizhar Smilansky, Hanoch Bartov, Nathan Shaham, and Aharon Meged, and poets such as Avraham Shlonsky and Nathan Alterman, alongside others, many others, have produced literary masterpieces while working within the constraints mentioned above. Still, there is no denying they were constrained in ways their successors are not.
In Structural Fabulation, scholar Robert Scholes defined his subject matter as the ‘fictional exploration of human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science.’15 Israeli fiction, by contrast, imagined a Jewish commonwealth made perceptible by degrees of normalcy that cannot properly exist or endure under the conditions extant in the Middle East. Israeli literature celebrated the banal, often ignoring or downplaying those local and regional circumstances that threatened most strivings toward routine, everyday existence with implosion or worse. With apologies to Scholes, we might call this perhaps unique subgenre ‘Fabulistic Realism.’
The story so far can be recast in terms of a particular and problematic concept central to speculative fiction since its very inception: Utopia. ‘Israel,’ argued sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, ‘was [however briefly—Eds.] considered the only successful materialization of utopia in the world.’ As such, notes Gomel, Israel ‘represents a horizon of expectations, a vision of perfection against which the muddle of actual history inevitably appears as a mere transitional and fleeting stage. . . . Israel exists in the same generic continuum of other post-apocalyptic and post-utopian texts.’ Denizens of the Jewish homeland have been seeking physical, psychic, or digital respite from the unrelenting hostility endured over the course of the last one hundred years (the catchphrase often used by Israelis in this context is ‘a villa in the jungle’). Israelis, writes cultural observer Diana Pinto, now think of themselves as ‘living in [their] own cyberspace at the very heart of a globalized world, [their] postmodern future being built on scientific innovation.’16
Social scientists Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak believe that these trends and inclinations augur big trouble for little Israel’s utopia.17 The country, they argue, is overburdened and overwhelmed by competing voices, centers of power, and belief systems. It is also caught in a wind tunnel, wherein echoes of perennial arguments imply more internal Sturm und Drang than the stabilizing effects of existing institutional, cultural, and political checks and balances can damp out.
A continuum that, as per all utopias, can never achieve its stated goals poses special existential difficulties. The whole point of reinhabiting the ancient Jewish homeland was to avoid the Territorialist approach that would have rendered East Africa, Argentina, or upper New York State refuges for stateless Jews.18 The Land of Israel, in whole or in part, was not incidental to this process of repatriation. It was essential.
* * *
Israeli readers have distinguished themselves as among the most voracious anywhere. But for them, experimentalism, egotism, and whimsy, which they had disdained before the establishment of the state in 1948, remained a non-starter afterwards. The self-appointed literary gatekeepers remained in place and continued to rule the roost as before. There was still no tolerance for cultural (never mind personal) deviancy. There could certainly be no room for apocalyptic musings, especially since these were not the stuff of fantasy but of hard-core reality, and therefore intolerably discomfiting. As SF/F author Larry Niven once said, ‘I don’t know how to frighten Israelis.’ Under such circumstances, notes Hareven, Franz Kafka himself never would have forged the literary career he chose had he fulfilled his dream and settled in the Land of Israel.19
As for importation, there were a few notable exceptions; some scientific romances by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs did slip past the watchtowers (most of them directly to the bookshelves dedicated to young readers), as did some works by mainstream authors, such as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as short stories by André Maurois, on the strength of those writers’ reputations. But commercial literature, popular fiction, and dime-novel subgenres remained, for ardent Zionists, unfit for serious people bent on building a nation.
How, then, do we get from all this to a solid compendium of Israeli speculative fiction? Like so many things big, shiny, and, to skeptical Israeli eyes, somewhat preposterous, SF/F initially came from America. It arrived first in the guise of 1950s B-movies and then in a quirky trickle of Hebrew translations that often bankrupted their overly optimistic purveyors. A trio of short-lived magazines published during the late 1950s and early 1960s met the same end.
At the time, even translated modern SF novels were few and far between, appearing almost exclusively in the Hebrew version of shundt called roman za’ir (tiny novel)—in other words, pulp literature. Original works were unheard of, and fantasy existed only on children’s bookshelves. Asimov? Clarke? Heinlein? Not a chance. Science fiction was so rare that no one even knew quite what to call it. Israeli fans would spend a generation arguing the respective merits of mada bidioni (fictional science) and mada dimioni (imaginary science). The former ultimately gained the wider currency (although some continue to argue against it).
In the early sixties, one of the editors (E.L.) fell upon a Hebrew translation (in pulp format) by the late Amos Geffen of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. Fascinated, he started looking for more of its ilk, but to little avail. It was only when he went to London in 1970 for his graduate studies that he discovered the wealth of modern SF/F. The realization that all one needed to do in order to get the kind of books one liked was to go ’round the corner to the nearest W.H. Smith’s proved a life-changing revelation.
The only putatively Israeli SF to emerge during that period came from the pen of Mordecai Roshwald. This Polish-born writer and academic, who lived in Mandatory Palestine/Israel from 1933 to 1955, published his apocalyptic opuses, the hair-raising nuclear war-themed Level 7 (1959) and the satirical A Small Armageddon (1962), in the United States and England, respectively. These generally well received novels, written abroad and not directly reflective of his Israeli experiences, have yet to be translated into Hebrew.
Two Israelis who ultimately defied these strictures by experimenting with science fiction—poet and filmmaker David Avidan and prose writer Yizhak Oren—consequently found themselves marginalized and were only posthumously granted critical reconsideration.
The sea change would come, however, during the mid-1970s. Between mid-1967 and late 1973, Israel fought three major wars, not to mention numerous border clashes with terrorists and cross-border Israeli retaliatory raids. The Six-Day War in June 1967 filled most Israelis with arrogant pride, not to say hubris, and fueled no dearth of messianic illusions. To many, the Zionist dream was realized in full during those six short days—not coincidentally, some would say, the same amount of time it took God to create the universe. Conceivably, the time had come to stride forward. Having become “a regional superpower,” Israel could now afford to normalize its society, economy, and culture.
This too proved an outright and dangerous fantasy, as demonstrated by the gruesome War of Attrition of 1968–70, followed by the near-disastrous Yom Kippur War of October 1973. Israel’s superpower illusions lay shattered. More importantly, the traditional hegemony had clearly failed its faithful adherents, not to mention the country as a whole. Even the military, the consensual symbol of social cohesion, national unity, pride, and sense of mission, had failed to deliver on all its promises. Authority was now up for grabs.
The immediate consequences were political. In 1977 the Labor Party, which had long held the helm of the Yishuv and then the State of Israel, lost the general elections. But fracture lines spread much farther than the political arena. The national economy changed, evincing occasionally dizzying levels of growth and an increase in conspicuous consumerism. The electoral demise of the Labor Party led to a shift from socialist to liberal economics and, though lifting the economic prospects of many, to a growing inequality in income distribution. A once cohesive Israeli society broke down into competing tribes (as, for instance, 12 left-wing idealists, right-wing nationalists, Orthodox settlers, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, freebooting liberals, and Israeli Arabs of various religious and political persuasions. Most of them, needless to add, are further split among themselves). Education, too, became more fragmented and commoditized. Culture, ever both the reflection and the harbinger of social change, followed suit.
Traditional hegemony in culture, as in politics, rapidly lost ground. Diktats from above about what was proper in literature, the stage, music, and the visual arts were losing their authority. Weeds began to proliferate in the cracks. Political satire, for example, hitherto moderate and well behaved, now became vicious. The stage was thus set for a more widespread appearance of SF/F in Israel, first of all in translation (a corps of native writers was yet to emerge). But from the mid-1970s on, mainstream Israeli publishers infused bookstores with some several hundred fairly expensive translations of commonly accepted genre standards.
At the same time, mainstream Israeli literature was changing apace. Until then, under constant ideological and geopolitical duress such as Israel’s, those Israeli writers who found themselves stifled by traditional notions of Hebrewness, and sought respite in globalization and multiculturalism, remained stifled. But now, as literary scholar Rachel S. Harris observes, despite their manifold cultural origins and varying geographic orientations, the cohort of writers that emerged from the 1970s on and began publishing at the start of the following decade sought to ‘redefine Zionism and to create a new, more inclusive Israeliness’ under the aegis of so-called Post-Zionism.20
Later on, having gained access to the Internet, some of these newcomers showed themselves eager to transact with the rest of the planet on their individual terms.21 Along the way they also appear to have successfully wedged open Hebrew literature, once the sole domain of European Jews, almost exclusively male. It now extends entry to women with feminist and nonfeminist, secular or religious worldviews and to non-Ashkenazi writers functioning in Hebrew, English, and other languages.
In the process, they have also opened forums and markets and afforded legitimacy to religious Jews often averse to secular literature; to Hebrew-speaking-and-writing Arabs; to Russian-speaking Jews and non-Jews, and to people with a variety of sexual orientations. Soon they will give voice—if voice is still to be given rather than wrested—to the ingathering masses of French immigrants and to other skittish European-Jewish communities considering egress from an increasingly anti-Semitic Europe. More recently, we have seen the first glimmerings of writing by authors of Ethiopian descent.
Most important, from the perspective of this book, not a few among these writers have taken up commercial genres and subgenres, including detective stories, erotica, police procedurals and techno-thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, and even horror, with an aplomb that would have been unthinkable a mere generation ago. Some of them, in fact, have become extraordinarily adept at genre skipping, segueing from the detective format to science fiction to magical realism with a fluidity once inexpressible in Israel.
This has unnerved many among the older-generation Israeli literati. Writers, readers, publishers, critics, scholars all seemed increasingly prone to motion sickness. Ultimately, however, Israeli literature spared itself the fate of terminal navel-gazing and self-delusion under the lingering influence of earlier generations of literary critics. This impulse, though, endures to the present day and accounts for the existence and grudging acceptability of some limited forms of indigenous speculative fiction—the kind that, like Orwell’s 1984 or Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, addressed recognizable social and political concerns head-on. As Israel’s late president Shimon Peres intoned to an international writers’ conference in Jerusalem in 2008, Israeli writers were latter-day prophets whose job was to admonish the nation. ‘We like to be rebuked,’ observes Hareven, ‘and we especially like to envision ourselves as people of conscience who want to be rebuked.’22
Rebuked, but not duped.
With the floodgates breached and the watchtowers shaking on their foundations, the gatekeepers were rapidly losing their power (faint vestiges of which, due to flailing attempts to maintain some modicum of relevancy, still reverberate within the Israeli cultural landscape). The road to SF/F lay open.
First, starting in 1975–76, came two series of translated SF hosted by mainstream publishers: Massada’s was edited by journalist, translator, and later publisher Amos Geffen; Am Oved’s, by journalist and translator Dorit Landes with—for a short time—poet-businessman-lawyer-scholar Ori Bernstein. The White Series (so called for its earlier covers), now edited by Landes alone, became and remains a mainstay of Israeli SF/F.
Other major publishers soon joined in, notably Keter, whose series was originally edited by philosophy professor Adi Zemach, and Zmora-Bitan, which was the first to include modern fantasy as well (most notably Tolkien’s). A few more publishers, while not launching dedicated SF/F series, still saw fit to include some genre titles in their lists of translated fiction.
A handful of magazines accompanied this boom, the most notable and enduring of which, Fantasia 2000, ran to forty-four issues, from 1978 to the end of 1984. Organized fandom, usually considered integral to the development of a viable SF/F scene, would not come into existence until the mid-1990s. Individual readership, however, was another matter.
Under the stewardship of editors Aharon and Zippi Hauptman and Eli Tene (and with modest assistance from both editors of Zion’s Fiction), Fantasia 2000 replicated many of the didactic hothouse functions of its American counterparts such as Astounding and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It did so while surpassing those pulp digests in production values and approximating those of the large-circulation magazine Omni.
A glossy monthly with a subscription base of two thousand, plus peak newsstand sales of about three thousand, Fantasia launched a vigorous letters column, book and film reviews, a popular science department, author interviews and profiles, and, most significantly, the first glimmerings of homegrown SF/F. In a country of only 3.6 million at the time, it approached the typical per capita subscription base of its American, certainly its British, counterparts—no mean feat for a niche publication, otherwise ranked the second most expensive on Israeli newsstands at the time.
Fantasia 2000 took on, consciously and conscientiously, the task of cultivating local talent. The results were mixed. Not a few prospective writers sought to emulate American and British magazine SF/F, producing anodyne stories with clunky plots and nondescript characters. Very little about these offerings could be construed as particularly Israeli, or even Jewish, except by dint of authorship. But there were some standouts. In 1980, short story writer David Melamed published Tsavo’a beCorundy (A hyena in Corundy), an accomplished collection featuring several stories first published in Fantasia 2000. But the book received little critical recognition, leading Melamed ultimately to flee the genre. Hillel Damron, a filmmaker for the Histadrut, the national trade union, published the novel-length version of his memorable short story ‘Milhemet haMinim’ (The war of the sexes) in 1982. Shortly after, Damron immigrated to the United States, where he self-published several mainstream novels in English.
Other notable Fantasia 2000 alumni included geneticist Ram Mo’av, Ruth Blumert, Yivsam Azgad, Ortsion Bartana, and Mordechai Sasson. Sasson’s story, ‘The Stern-Gerlach Mice’ (1984), featured in this anthology, is a typical example of the original stories published in Fantasia. Editor Aharon Hauptman pursued a career as a futurist and is currently a senior researcher in the Unit for Technology and Society Foresight at Tel Aviv University. Gabi Peleg, Fantasia 2000‘s last editor, went on to computer programming. Illustrator Avi Katz, who had joined Fantasia early on, later contributed covers to HaMemad haAsiri of the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy (ISSF&F, on which see below) and to the Jerusalem Report, and still later provided art for this anthology.
Despite the emergence of a nascent fan scene, and the staging of the country’s first SF/F convention in 1981, the bloom fell off the boom in 1982. That was when the June War with Lebanon helped sink an already strapped international convention in Jerusalem. Subsequently, the Israeli economy plunged into hyperinflation. (For example, the newsstand price of issue no. 33 of Fantasia 2000 (July 1982) was 37 shekels; issue no. 44 (August 1984) cost 750 shekels. In terms of purchasing power, these sums were roughly equivalent). In 1984, Fantasia ceased publication, having lost a major part of its readership.
The next attempt at a commercial SF/F magazine, Halomot beAspamia (Pipedreams in Spain, the place where castles are built, according to both Hebrew and English idiom), would begin publishing original Hebrew fiction in 2002 under the aegis of Nir Yaniv and Vered Tochterman. That effort, too, folded in 2008, to be revived in early 2016 as a web-based publication. An English-language fanzine, CyberCozen, published in English since 1988 by a fan club based in the town of Rehovoth, can be found online.23 Israel’s first SF-oriented website was created by Yaniv for the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy in 1996.
The boom and bust cycle of Israeli SF/F faithfully reflected the vicissitudes of the Israeli economy (itself often subject to the vagaries of intermittent military crises). This view was taken by sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda, who attributed downswings to lingering ideological rejection by the wider culture of pluralism and its suspicion of individuated social subcultures. The cultural gatekeepers had lost much of their power, but they still held some of the keys to publication, controlling as they did the editorial boards of major publishing houses and various influential, if little read, literary magazines.
This went on until the mid-1990s, when the Internet hastened the ultimate fragmentation of the Israeli cultural matrix. As scholar Oren Soffer observes, its advent, and especially the penetration by cable and satellite television, resulted in a proliferation of global or, more specifically, American influences. These factors have been blamed by observers for a decrease in social cohesion and the reinforcement of (sub)group identity and individualism. These, Soffer says, ‘appear to be part of the social and cultural processes linked to the decline of national solidarity and, alternately, to the reinforcement of individual trends and consumer culture.’24 Decentralization is still going on, helped by the diminished ability of the nation-state to supervise and control media messages.
Not surprisingly, Israel’s remaining cultural gatekeepers now found themselves with their backs against the wall. Although still intent on setting and patrolling the border between canonical and pop literature, they simply no longer had a single point of entry over which to stand guard. The walls themselves had become permeable, leading to a gradual yet unavoidable fragmentation of national identity. ‘Realism,’ says Elana Gomel, is now ‘the Israeli fantasy.’25
The social margins, as cultural commentator Stuart Hall argues, had paradoxically become highly charged and increasingly powerful places, especially insofar as the arts and social life are concerned.26 Not surprisingly, science fiction fandom, which combines the two, suddenly began to flourish in Israel.
A more robust fan scene started emerging during the mid-1990s. In 1996, Hauptman, editor and translator Amos Geffen, and others joined the prolific translator (and Zion’s Fiction coeditor) Emanuel Lottem in founding the ISSF&F. Within the next few years several narrower special-interest groups took to the fore as well, including Starbase 972 (catering to the Israeli Star Trek fan contingent) and the Sunnydale Embassy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom). Both are now moribund. The Israeli Tolkien Community, the Israeli Society for Role-Playing Games, and AMAI, the Israeli Manga and Anime Society, all currently active (the last despite the oddly expressed displeasure of the Israel Defense Forces, which for a time refused to recruit its members), have shown greater staying power.
The ISSF&F, among its other achievements, has regularly staged several annual conventions, notably ICon, Olamot (Worlds), Me’orot (Lights), and Bidion (Fiction), some as collaborative events with one or more of the groups mentioned above. Its major thrust at international recognition within world fandom was to have been ArmageddonCon, intended to usher in the new millennium at Har Megiddo, known worldwide as Armageddon (on the correct date, namely midnight on December 31, 2000); alas, it had to be canceled because of the outbreak of the second armed Palestinian uprising, or Intifada.
Like other such organizations, the ISSF&F inaugurated a semiprozine, HaMemad haAsiri (The tenth dimension), which took over where Fantasia 2000 had left off in publishing original fiction by Israeli writers. It also features short original fiction on its website. In 1999 the ISSF&F inaugurated the annual Geffen Prize—named for its cofounder, revered translator and editor Amos Geffen (1937–98)—for the best original and translated SF/F material published in Hebrew during the previous year. Another award, the Einat Prize for hitherto unpublished short work in Hebrew, was launched in 2005 by the ISSF&F with the support of a private family-based foundation. Genre aficionado Ron Yaniv publishes the Geffen nominees and winners annually as ebooks in a private venture. The Geffen Prize volumes began publication in 2002. In 2009 the ISSF&F replaced HaMemad haAsiri with the annual softcover volume Hayo Yihyeh (Once upon a future) to showcase new and unpublished short stories written for the most part in Hebrew. The scarcity of venues for short fiction in Israel in general affords these collections added import.
One area in which the ISSF&F utterly failed was its attempts (in which coeditor E.L. was involved) to persuade educators and Ministry of Education officials to include SF/F in school curricula. Some stories, they argued, possessed sufficient literary value to be included in literature classes’ reading lists. Others could be usefully included in science classes to bring some life into a regimen of eye-glazing textbooks. All these efforts were in vain: the remnants of the Old Guard had not yet perished, nor did they surrender. The gatekeepers still controlled what schoolchildren could read in classes.
On a more positive note, the organization of Israeli fandom proved crucial for budding writers who hitherto felt there was neither readership for their work nor colleagues with whom they could interact. Meeting like-minded individuals at conventions, and reading stories—and later on, novels—by aspiring writers just like themselves, there was no stopping them now. Some of their stories are included in this volume, and more, hopefully, will be showcased in subsequent ones.
More strikingly, several important mainstream writers, including three Prime Minister’s Prize recipients, decided to trade in their chips for a new stake in SF/F tropes and trappings. The late Nava Semel, for instance, published three SF novels (one of them under a pen name), an opera libretto, and a play; Gail Hareven, a masterful collection of short stories; and Shimon Adaf, a mammoth SF/F novel of great wonder and complexity, one that the unusually peripatetic and internationally acclaimed British-based SF/F writer Lavie Tidhar has described as the first Israeli genre masterpiece. Upon first anteing up, however, they discovered that one of the tables in the room had already been taken by such public luminaries as Shlomo Errel, a former naval commander-in-chief, and Amnon Rubinstein and Yossi Sarid, both past ministers of education.27 None of the latter would admit to having actually written science fiction. But their literarily established counterparts showed no such reticence. Their work, brazenly genre, proved exemplary.
The Internet provided an extremely useful tool in the service of genre proliferation. No longer did writers have to submit their creations for editorial consideration; they could publish themselves, either on their own blogs or on any one of several dedicated websites. The most outstanding one, Rami Shalheveth’s Bli Panica! (Don’t panic!), was inaugurated in 2001 and is still going strong.
As Haifa University’s Keren Omry reported in a paper published by the Science Fiction Research Association in 2013, the field has proved sufficiently fertile to attract and sustain academic attention.28 Each of Israel’s public universities currently offers survey courses on speculative literature, both of the foreign variety and increasingly of the homegrown kind. The Department of English and American Studies at Tel Aviv University, for example, hosts a series of annual SF symposia. Students, meanwhile, have been awarded graduate degrees in this field from Israeli institutions, including at least one doctorate so far.
In 2009, moreover, Graff Publishing released Im Shtei haRaglayim Amok baAnanim (published in English as With Both Feet on the Clouds: Fantasy in Israeli Literature by Boston’s Academic Studies Press as part of its Israel: Society, Culture, and History series). Disregarding Ortsion Bartana’s more esoteric tome HaFantasia beSiporet Dor haMedina (Fantasy in literature of the statehood generation, 1986), as well as Rachel Elboim-Dror’s 1993 HaMachar Shel haEtmol (Yesterday’s tomorrow), Im Shtei haRaglayim Amok baAnanim was described by its editors as ‘the first serious, wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated exploration of fantasy in Israeli literature and culture.’29 It did not, however, address Israeli science fiction in a thorough manner, leaving room, we hope, for a companion volume.
‘As the field grows richer,’ writes Omry, ‘so too [do] the pleasure and insights the locally produced genre fiction provides, leaning less and less as of yore on Anglo-American themes, traditions, and locations and becoming more quintessentially and more complexly itself: Hebrew-language Israeli SF.’30
What, then, do Israeli writers write about when they write speculative fiction? With some notable exceptions, many of them write about the end of all things. Or, to be more exact, all things Israeli.
‘In Israel, even more than in any other society,’ observes Baruch Kimmerling, ‘the past, present and future are intermingled; collective memory is considered objective history.’ One important element of this commingling is the once universal belief, still held in certain religious circles, of ‘a miraculous, messianic return to the Holy Land at the apocalyptic “end of days.”‘31
Israelis must contend perennially with the contradictions presented by the secular messianism of the founders of their state (who subscribed to the notion that flaws and corruption in the world, and specifically ‘the Jewish situation,’ must be replaced by a new order), and the unyielding, murderous, even exterminationist opposition espoused, overtly or otherwise, by many of their neighbors. They seek respite from these opposing impulses through the projection of prodigious military deterrence, through resort to nostalgia, and through perennial low-grade anxiety over potential apocalypse.
For Israelis, engagement in apocalyptic thinking is no mere fear mongering or neurosis. Just consider the Holocaust, which functions as a cogent engine for this activity. In Translating Israel, Alan L. Mintz extols the work of lauded author Aharon Appelfeld (1932–2018), whom he says ‘most unequivocally [took] the Holocaust as a field of imaginary activity,’ that is, speaking of the unspeakable.32 Mintz asserts, moreover, that ‘if messianism, even misplaced messianism, is the “positive” paradigm of the Jewish apocalypse, the Holocaust, both as an event and as a symbol, is its negative pole.’
The notion of examining the extermination of two-thirds of European Jewry through the prism of SF/F may, as the late Israeli literary critic Gershon Shaked—a prominent figure among the gatekeepers mentioned above—once observed, seems grotesque. The fantastic, writes Gary K. Wolfe, ‘by its very nature violates the norms of realism that have dominated not only Holocaust texts but virtually the whole body of what has been received and taught as “serious” literature for the past two centuries.’ Yet some British and American novels, such as Len Deighton’s SS-GB, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies, J.R. Dunn’s Days of Cain, and Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, as well as Lavie Tidhar’s A Man Lies Dreaming, have done so innovatively, proving Shaked misguided, if not hidebound, though not as misled as those who argued that the only fitting response to the Holocaust was silence.33
If the Holocaust is to remain ‘a continuing confrontation with unimaginable evil,’ adds Wolfe, it must ‘be reimagined for succeeding generations on their own terms.’ Nonsurvivors find themselves at a particular disadvantage, since the Holocaust still remains, as Judith P. Kerman has observed, almost ‘too fantastic to contemplate.’ Which is why almost every account reports refusal by so many European Jews to believe the specific and generally accurate warnings they had received, even as they were herded onto the trains that transported them to the death camps and into the gas chambers that awaited them. ‘When the real is so fantastic, what literary effects will succeed in making it credible, and in helping the reader comprehend its human meaning?’ she asks. And Jews outside Nazi-dominated lands simply refused to believe that such a thing could take place at all. In July 1943, for example, a gentile refugee from Poland, Jan Karski, arrived in Washington DC, and was interviewed by Justice Felix Frankfurter, perhaps the most prominent Jew in the United States at the time. After hearing Karski’s eyewitness report on what was going on in his homeland, Frankfurter said: ‘I am unable to believe what you have told me.’34
The Holocaust was the first wholly industrialized genocide. Science fiction emerged as a response to industrialization and the impingement of science and technology on modern life. Nowhere has there been a greater travesty involving these three elements, bolstered, it should be noted, by the insidiousness of near faceless bureaucracy. It stands alongside the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as one of the elementally apocalyptic events of our time. Polish-Israeli author Mordecai Roshwald understood this intrinsically. So did firebrand Amos Kenan, who described future Holocausts in Shoah 2 (1975) and Block 23 (1996).
One of the tasks undertaken by Israeli speculative literature has been to expose both these dangerously juxtaposed motivations—an atavistic paganism and, perhaps to a lesser extent, religious and secular messianism and romanticism—that led to the Holocaust. Given the country’s utopian origins and Hebrew literature’s unstinting examination of the Zionist enterprise and its fallouts, the main burden for assuaging these anxieties has defaulted to the dystopian novel. As Rovner declaims, ‘There is nothing new in Jewish literature about predicting the end as a means of forestalling it.’35 Just read the Book of Jonah.
Dystopian literature serves as the main exception to the rule that most Israelis disdain the fantastique. It may not have proved as wildly popular in Israel as in the contemporary West, where adults and youngsters alike thrill to the hyperbolic drama in novels and films of cataclysmic Hunger Games/Mad Maxian continuums. But as Rovner observes in his seminal study of Israeli end-time literature, ‘nearly 40 years’ worth of apocalyptic Hebrew fiction has in fact been translated into English worldwide.’ Examples, several of which we address below, include Amos Oz’s novella Late Love (1975), Orly Castel Bloom’s Human Parts (2004) and Dolly City (2010), and Ari Folman’s graphic novel adaptation of his 2008 Academy Award–nominated film Waltz with Bashir. (Folman would go on to film a combined live-action/animated version of the late Polish-Jewish writer Stanislaw Lem’s satirical SF novel The Futurological Congress (1971), released in 2013 as The Congress.)
This would seem to fly in the face of the trend among English-speaking Jews (identified by Alan Mintz) to disengage from Israeli literature that does not reflect their heroic idealization of Israeli society. ‘I would argue,’ contends Rovner, ‘that the central reason these literary works were selected for translation [into English] is precisely because they acknowledge that Israeli reality falls short of the Zionist ideals of cultural rebirth and national security. To clarify further: what explains the existence of these works in translation is that readers in the Diaspora seek to reinforce the mythology of Israel’s heroism and military prowess, while at the same time they seek to retain a martyrology of Jewish victimization.’36
Misgivings over past military actions going as far back as Israel’s War of Independence, incessant terrorism, the overwhelming shadow of the Holocaust looming over Israeli imagination—and that cast by a fortress hillock overlooking the crossroads linking Europe, Asia, and Africa in the heart of Israel—have also helped bring apocalyptic tropes to the fore. Trapped between an unsustainable longing for the halcyon days of what Israeli singer Arik Einstein nostalgically called ‘Good Old Eretz Israel’ and the imminent expectation of cataclysm, a significant portion of Israeli literature, Rovner says (referencing modern Hebrew literary scholar Arnold Band), is impelled by a ‘nostalgia for nightmare.’37
Though wary of engaging in bouts of unfettered fancy, Israeli writers were certainly well aware that Orwell, Huxley, and Burgess had crafted their respective literary nightmares while incurring the wrath of the writerly classes mostly because of their political underpinnings, not just on the basis of genre. Doubtless they were protected both by their literary reputations and their seriousness of intent in issuing cautionary storm warnings.
It didn’t hurt Israeli dystopianism that one of the first Hebrew books to dabble with some of its tropes was written by one of Israel’s most respected authors. In 1971, Amos Oz published a novella, Ahavah Meuheret (Late Love).38 More psychological than classically prescriptive or cautionary, Late Love placed modern dystopian imagery and descriptors squarely on the map of contemporary Hebrew literature. Oz thereby reset the standard Zionist tableau, imbuing it with tropes borrowed and deployed, it sometimes seems, from dystopian and pulp science fiction. However distasteful to then-current Israeli literary sensibilities (and probably to Oz’s own stated intent), neither this new vocabulary nor the novella itself could be ignored.
If Israeli dystopias eventually gained a measure of local acceptance, as Gail Hareven observes, it is because they had ‘a point, that [they had] some sort of connection to “the burning reality of our life,” that [they examined] some fractured symbol or in short, as Gogol put it, “that it benefit the country.”‘39 Indeed, even detractors of 1984, Brave New World, and A Clockwork Orange clearly understood that these books did not merely offer fanciful jaunts into the future but were in fact very much about the imminent realities of the day.
This did not assuage all literary concerns. One of the editors of this book (S.T.) interviewed author Amos Kenan in 1984 about his novella The Road to Ein Harod, a near-future political thriller. Kenan bridled at the presumption that this book, though awash with SF/F tropes, qualified in any way as science fiction. ‘Look outside,’ he barked. ‘This is documentary journalism.’
It comes as no surprise that two of the best received and most enduring examples of Israeli dystopias—Kenan’s Ein Harod and Binyamin Tammuz’s Pundako shel Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah’s inn)—should have been published in 1984. That year’s advent, after all, provided cause for worldwide reflection and stocktaking. Israel, moreover, remained mired in the morass of its ill-conceived invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which was to defy extraction or hoped-for results for years to come. Its official title, Operation Peace for the Galilee, was as brazen an example of Newspeak as anything Orwell ever devised.
The First Lebanon War profoundly embittered Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora, many of whom recognized it as an adventurist folly that had little to do with its stated aims. Misgivings over then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s scheme to reconfigure the entire Middle East, outrage over Israel’s inadvertent culpability in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the perennial sense of helplessness and vulnerability pervading Israeli society, the emergence of the first suicide bombers, the intimations of a tottering power structure culminating in the never-officially-explained abdication of Prime Minister Menachem Begin—all these found voice in dystopian visions.
A generation later, Ein Harod begat an Arab-Israeli response in Sayed Kashua’s Hebrew-language novel VaYehi Boker (Let It Be Morning, 2004).40 This book is set in the Arab-Israeli columnist’s hometown of Tira, to which the unnamed protagonist, who nevertheless shares much of his biography with his author, retreats after being terminated by a left-wing Israeli newspaper in Tel Aviv. Where once he waxed nostalgic, now Kashua, one of the small number among Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs who enjoyed an urban, middle-class existence, confronts his alienation from the narrowness, parochialism, and despondency of traditional Arab-Israeli hometown life. His protagonist’s sense of entrapment increases severalfold when the town is surrounded by a military force bearing orders to shoot anyone trying to cross their lines.
The reader may be excused for interpreting this predicament as a metaphor for, or even a symptom of, the fraught Israeli Arabs’ condition. But Kashua, whose earlier book, Aravim Rokdim (Dancing Arabs, successfully adapted for film in 2014) earned acclaim in Israel and abroad, is never obvious or hidebound. The book concludes with the protagonist’s discovering, to his horror, that the encircling army belongs to a Palestinian Authority engaged in a land swap with the Israelis as part of a final peace settlement.
Tammuz’s Jeremiah’s Inn took a different, and to some Israelis no less alarming route to the apocalypse: an Ultra-Orthodox takeover of the nation.41 The plot transpires in an Israel temporally farther afield: one dominated by an array of warring fundamentalist rabbinical courts headquartered in a physically, religiously, and socially fragmented Jerusalem. At once hilarious and horrifying, the book is written as a pastiche of rabbinical parables. While certainly readable by anyone literate in Hebrew, it is befittingly written in parts in the archaic Hebrew style traditionally (as well as currently) used in rabbinical circles for religious discourse. As this style has no equivalent in English (nor, perhaps, in any other language save Ecclesiastical Latin), the prospects for an English-language translation are not favorable.42 In 1987 author, playwright, and television host Yitzhak Ben-Ner published HaMal’achim Ba’im (The angels are coming), a novel, inspired by his 1977 short story ‘Aharey haGeshem’ (After the rain),43 that melds elements of Ein Harod and Jeremiah’s Inn with Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Ben-Ner depicts a Jewish state buckling under the boot of a fundamentalist government that enforces its will by directing pogroms against the secular residents of Tel Aviv and other coastal environs. The fantastic tropes incorporated into the text include a pair of imaginary dwarves; a policewoman of extraterrestrial origin; a protagonist who emerges from a severe beating with new healing powers brought on by the slow appearance on his forehead of a blue Star of David; a country no longer threatened by Arab animosity, but which has subsequently turned upon itself; and a high-tech sector that colludes with or deliberately ignores the centrifugal forces tearing society apart.
The reception extended to Ben-Ner’s opus is illustrative of the Israeli literati’s nearly implacable abhorrence of SF/F tropes. Initially, Gershon Shaked, already mentioned above as a primo literary gatekeeper, had touted Ben-Ner’s talent for ‘crafting of realistic plots and the accurate presentation of human situations.’ But then, in 1987, Ben-Ner subverted his literary standing with HaMal’achim Ba’im, a hard-core science-fiction dystopia, leading to considerable wringing of writerly hands and gnashing of teeth. ‘How much longer will our readers . . . put up with the pranks of our writers?’ asked one put-upon pundit. ‘Is it not time to turn our backs to a literature that treats us this way?’44
It would take years for this attitude to change, as an increasing number of books garnered greater public attention and acclaim. In 2008, for instance, Assaf Gavron published Hydromania, an ecothriller (translated into German, Dutch, and Italian) set in 2065 and depicting a desperately parched and dramatically truncated Jewish State facing imminent destruction by invading Arab forces. The book offers a handy example of the notion that Israelis are more open to genre forays if these address societal concerns. The Italian newspaper La Stampa, for example, observed that Hydromania ‘captures and unfolds the two fundamental obsessions of the country: the fear of being crushed by the immense Arab world and the fear of dying of thirst.’
In 2013, to offer another example, Yali Sobol, son of renowned Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol and lead singer of the prolific Israeli band Monica Sex, published Etzba’ot shel Psantran (A pianist’s fingers). The novel, yet another variation on the by now standard leftist Israeli dystopian theme—this one following the advent of yet another war—envisioned the tormenting by thought police of artists, Post-Post-Zionists, leftist columnists, kibbutz remnants, and the last remaining subscribers of Haaretz.45 For leftist columnists, kibbutz members, and Haaretz readers observing the country’s inexorable shift to the right, such scenarios bespeak very real anxieties.
Orly Castel-Bloom’s novel Dolly City (1992; translated in 1997) presents another, albeit more extreme, case. Dolly City, a nightmarish stand-in for Tel Aviv (named for the book’s eponymous protagonist-murderess), ‘the most demented city in the world,’ is a singular creation. Here, explains Castel-Bloom—in a stripped-down style that many claim changed (some would say diluted) the tenor of Hebrew literature forever—everyone is on the run. And ‘since everyone is running, there’s always someone chasing them, and since there is someone chasing them, they catch them, and when they catch them, execute them, and throw them into the river.’46 Dolly, a surgeon, spares her son this fate, but only by inoculating him with poisonous microbes, carving a map of Israel on his back, and relieving a German baby of his kidney for transplant into her hapless boy. In no uncertain terms she strives to imprint her own Israeli nightmare on his still maturing flesh.
Castel-Bloom’s Grand Guignol gives way to what at first appears to be a more sober and less flamboyant engagement with the purely dystopian in Halakim Enoshiyim (2002; translated as Human Parts, 2004).47 The book appeared ten years later, during the Second Intifada, when Palestinians armed with explosive belts regularly rendered Israeli civilians into unidentifiable mounds of bloody flesh at the push of a vest button. In her scenario the government proves unable to contain the carnage, the prime minister collapses, and the cabinet succumbs to paralysis. Suddenly, the country falls prey to a triple-whammy: an outbreak of the ‘Saudi flu,’ eight-foot snowfalls, and hailstones the size of baseballs. The weather, it turns out, was caused by an undersea volcanic eruption; the outbreak of disease, by an Arab biological assault. As ocean liners careen down Tel Aviv avenues (an image that would later resound in Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv’s surrealistic novel The Tel Aviv Dossier), the country teeters on the brink of dissolution.
In 2010 the acclaimed Israeli poet and novelist Shimon Adaf published a novel, Kfor (Frost), set in a far-future Tel Aviv in which a group of yeshiva students portentously begin to grow wings. Author and editor Nick Gevers applauded the novel’s ‘vivid description of life in Israel as well as . . . its subtle, incisive treatment of the fantastic as a phenomenon and as a literary genre.’ Adaf is represented in the present volume with the story ‘They Had to Move,’ selected from the commemorative thirtieth anniversary issue of Fantasia 2000.
Perhaps the most sustained exploration of the nexus between Israel and the apocalyptic, however, can be found in Gail Hareven’s accomplished SF/F collection HaDerech leGan Eden (The road to heaven), published by Keter in 1999. In ‘Lir’ot et ha’Nolad’ (literally, ‘to behold the newborn,’ a Hebrew expression used to describe foresight), for example, a far-future society cognizant of impending end-times projects youngsters approaching their majority to near the end of human existence, where, it is hoped, they will witness glimmers of the causes of disaster and survive long enough to return home with useful intelligence. Gail Hareven is the most accomplished, and one of the few unabashedly genre savvy, of those mainstream Israeli authors to have discovered the promised land of SF/F.
Israeli theater has proved particularly amenable to representations of apocalypse. Literary scholar Zahava Caspi argues that this is because the stage is adept at showing the symptoms of the profound existential traumas that Israeli society has suffered since the Yom Kippur War of 1973.48 The sense of redemption that emerged from the 1967 Six-Day War, and the sense of despair that followed the Yom Kippur War so soon afterwards, created an opening for messianic attitudes, in particular. Overall, theatrical representations of the apocalypse, especially during the 1970s, offered an outlet for what some might construe as a prodigious case of societal PTSD.
Caspi identifies two waves of apocalyptic theater in Israel, one corresponding to the Yom Kippur War near-defeat and the other to the Lebanon War and the First Intifada during the 1980s. Notable examples included Shmuel Hasfari’s 1982 play Tashmad (the Hebrew date corresponding to 1984), about a plan by Israeli settlers to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque and replace it with a new temple; Motti Lerner’s Hevlei Mashiah (Premessianic tribulations), in which such a plan comes to fruition, sparking a regional war; Yehoshua Sobol’s 1988 Syndrome Yerushalayim (Jerusalem syndrome), which portrays Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 as an analogy to the situation in the occupied territories today; Hanoch Levin’s Retzah (1997; translated as Murder: A Play in Three Acts and an Epilogue, 2005), which depicts an endless procession of violent actions and reactions in the Middle East; Shimon Bouzaglo’s 2002 production of Geshem Shahor (Black rain), which ends with Israel under atomic attack; and Tamir Greenberg’s Hebron (2007), in which the earth denies burial to children killed in the conflict, spewing forth their bodies in a gallery of flames that engulfs the town of Hebron.
Nava Semel’s And The Rat Laughed,49 which deals directly with questions of the Holocaust and specific memories of that event, was afforded an operatic adaptation by the Tel Aviv Cameri Theatre with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, staged in April 2005. The narrative transpires after a ‘Great Ecological Disaster’ inaugurates a cybernetic society in the micro-nation of TheIsrael at the onset of the twenty-second century.
Israeli author Savyon Liebrecht, also well known for her preoccupation with the Holocaust, creates an equally harrowing scenario in her novella A Good Place for the Night, which we include herein. Adam Rovner classifies the story as ‘futuristic Holocaust fiction.’ If these stories present a variety of Israeli necropolises, Etgar Keret’s Tel Aviv, insofar as it figures in his 1998 novella HaKaytana shel Kneller (Kneller’s Happy Campers), is Limbo. A multivalent variation on Keret’s theme can be found in Ofir Touché Gafla’s 2003 Geffen Prize–winning tour de force Olam Basof (The World of the End). In it, a ghostwriter who cannot abide the death of his wife follows her into the afterlife. Michael Weingard of the Jewish Review of Books describes the book as “Orpheus and Eurydice meets Alice in Wonderland.”50
Another recurring theme in Israeli speculative literature, alluded to above, is that of the alternate (or counterfactual) history. Literature itself is inevitably counterfactual by nature. As Rovner observes, ‘It represents possible worlds rather than a description of real states of affairs. Literature’s figurative language employs the creative potential latent in everyday language in order to open a horizon of new possibilities. . . . Gifted men and women marshal the incantatory power of words to vitalize the imaginary and render phantasms substantial.’51 The Arab-Israeli conflict as actually played out was never really foreordained. ‘No sequence of events ever is. Matters could always have turned out otherwise. . . . Inevitability is a chimera, a product of organizing contingencies into a narrative that elides the haphazardness of existence.’
A number of allohistorical accounts have been published in Hebrew. Fans of Pulitzer Prize–winning American writer Michael Chabon, the author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, winner of the 2008 Hugo and Nebula Awards, may be surprised to learn that Israeli novelist and playwright Nava Semel covered similar, though certainly not identical, ground four years earlier in her own novel, Isra-Isle. In Chabon’s opus the remnants of a defeated Israel settle temporarily in a small autonomous region of Sitka, Alaska, in 1941, where they live in various degrees of disharmony with the local Inuit and Native American populations. In Semel’s novel, they live in upstate New York on an island settled by Native Americans. Both narratives, not incidentally, rely heavily on the conventions of detective fiction, SF, and alternate history.
Following on Semel’s consideration of a Territorialist solution to the Jewish problem, Yoav Avni considers the fortunes of a Jewish state based on the so-called Ugandist solution tabled by the British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain in 1903. The story, its original title ‘Herzl Amar’ (‘Herzl said,’ the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Simon said’), transpires in a Jewish republic in East Africa whose problems in 2005 seem quite au courant with those of present-day Israel. For example, the Jewish state is planning a withdrawal from Maasai tribal territories while dismantling two of the country’s oldest Jewish settlements, threatening a civil war. The book’s protagonists, meanwhile, are completing their tours of duty in the IDF, intent upon backpacking to the Middle East, and specifically to the eternally moribund Holy Land, a magnet for post-compulsory-service pilgrims and transients.
In A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), Israel’s immensely prolific and preternaturally peripatetic author Lavie Tidhar presents us with Hitler as a hack private eye after decamping to Great Britain following his failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. In The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism, Gavriel D. Rosenfeld says of his first encounter with a Hitler-victorious counterfactual, Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992), that while the conceit startled him, the book itself was hardly a tour-de-force. At best, he attests, it was entertaining, a common descriptor of Len Deighton’s SS-GB and other such work. We may say much the same for former Israeli left-wing politician Yossi Sarid’s aforementioned novel Lefichach Nitkanasnu (‘Accordingly, we are here assembled,’ a memorable phrase from Israel’s Declaration of Independence), another bestseller in Israeli terms.52 The book begins in 1948 and extends in year-long-segments well into 1967. What, Sarid asks, might have happened had the Zionist establishment extended a more complete and fitting welcome to Jewish refugees from Arab states who began to show up in 1950 after expulsion by their Arab neighbors? What, moreover, if they had been treated not as an unwelcome afterthought deserving of across-the-board underclass status, but of the same material assets and support afforded German and European Jewry? The what-ifs go on and on.
Themes and motifs aside, you will find in Zion’s Fiction a cornucopia of good to great stories. Generally speaking, these may be divided into two categories: stories written by mainstream and genre authors. Among the former you will encounter Gail Hareven’s superlative story ‘The Slows,’ the only Israeli SF story ever published in The New Yorker (getting any SF/F story into The New Yorker is no mean feat, even in an issue dedicated to the genre). Others authors of the same ilk include Savyon Liebrecht, Nava Semel, and Shimon Adaf. But the majority of the stories were written by authors who grew up, in the literary sense, within SF/F, including Rotem Baruchin, Yael Furman, Guy Hasson, Keren Landsman, Eyal Teler, Lavie Tidhar, and Nir Yaniv, to mention but a few. Like so many genre authors worldwide, they were fans first, published writers later on. Their emergence and their impressive output are the reasons that made us offer this anthology to the wider readership they deserve.
One final point we wish to make concerns Russian-language SF/F writers now living in Israel. The Russian immigrants are reputed to supersede their native-born compatriots, no slouches themselves, in their consumption of books. And of all the kinds of books Russians love to read, SF/F ranks pretty highly. Highly enough that many of them view Israeli reticence over speculative fiction, indigenous or otherwise, as inexplicably nekulturny—”uncultured,” one of the worst insults in the Russian vocabulary.
For the moment, most of them still prefer to remain ensconced within a Russian-speaking milieu. Their SF/F fanzines, journals, and live-action role-playing clubs operate largely under the Israeli radar. The majority of Israelis have absolutely no intimation as to how this hidden literary geyser will soon erupt as their progeny swap Russian for Hebrew, and, should their parents’ literary predilections endure, change the nature of Hebrew belles lettres forever.
‘I think the proportion of Russians to Israelis remain[s] roughly the same since the Great Aliyah of the 90s,’ says the Ukraine-born Israeli scholar and writer Elana Gomel (whose story ‘Death in Jerusalem’ we are delighted to present in this volume). ‘But I have no doubt that it has already significantly increased the appreciation of, and interest in, SF in Israel. The growth of festivals like ICon . . . the number of young Israelis who read/write SF (interestingly enough, often in English, even though it’s not their mother tongue), the emergence of Israeli comics, etc. In my classes on SF about half the students are “Russians” (even though many of them grew up or were born in Israel).’
For them, we wait. And with them, we dream.”
- First coined by M. F. Egan and subsequently espoused by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach and Robert A. Heinlein, the term speculative fiction was generally intended to deemphasize the technological aspects of a great deal of earlier science fiction. Heinlein defined the term as a subset of SF involving extrapolation from known science and technology “to produce a new situation, a new framework for human action.”
- Horror, currently referred to as dark or weird fantasy, is a rarity in Israeli speculative fiction, although a few, among them Asaf Ashery and Orly Castel-Bloom, have valiantly tried their hands at it. Many Israelis will argue that they live with enough daily horror to avoid subjecting themselves to additional, imaginary torments.
- Quoted in Michael Weingrad, “Riding Leviathan: A New Wave of Israeli Genre Fiction,” Jewish Review of Books, Winter 2014, http://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/602/riding-leviathan-a-new-wave-of-israeli-genre-fiction. Yanai would subsequently set matters aright with the publication of two unabashed fantasy novels, HaLivyatan MiBavel (The leviathan of Babylon, 2006) and HaMayim shebein HaOlamot (The water between the worlds, 2008).
- Danielle Gurevitch, “What Is Fantasy?” in With Both Feet on the Clouds: Fantasy in Israeli Literature, edited by Danielle Gurevitch, Elana Gomel, and Rani Graff (Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2012), 13.
- Adam L. Rovner, In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel (New York: NYU Press, Kindle Edition, 2014), Kindle Location 161 of 8224, retrieved from Amazon.com.
- Gail Hareven, “What Is Unimaginable?” in With Both Feet on the Clouds, 45.
- Usually, this is rendered in English as “If you will it, it is no dream.” Herzl, however, used the German word Märchen, fairy tale.
- Leon Uris’s protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan (Exodus), was a feeble caricature of this idealized image.
- See Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss, Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (New York: Abrams Image, 2013).
- Some cases in point for this kind of bowdlerism include a 1938 translation of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover with no sex scenes and a 1924 translation of Wallace’s Ben Hur from which all references to Jesus and Christianity (including, of course, the subtitle, A Tale of the Christ) were carefully expunged.
- Nachman Ben-Yehuda, “Sociological Reflections on the History of Science Fiction in Israel,” Science Fiction Studies 13 (1986): 75.
- Quoted in Oren Tokatly, Mediniyut Tikshoret beIsrael [Communications policy in Israel] (Tel Aviv: Open University Publishing House, 2000), 85.
- Elana Gomel, “What Is Reality?” in With Both Feet on the Clouds, 33. The term Mizrahi applies to Jews from Middle Eastern countries, many of whom are able to trace their lineage to the Babylonian dispersion, not to be confused or conflated with Sephardic Jews, whose forefathers had lived in Spain and Portugal for centuries prior to their expulsion in 1492 and 1496, respectively, and who generally dispersed southward and eastward. In fact, these are two distinct subcultures.
- Ioram Melcer, “Why Doesn’t It Rain Fish Here?” in With Both Feet on the Clouds, 194; Gomel, “What is Reality?” 32.
- Robert Scholes, Structural Fabulation: An Essay on the Fiction of the Future (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975).
- Baruch Kimmerling, The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 8; Elana Gomel, “What Is Reality,” 33–34; Diana Pinto, Israel Has Moved (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2013), 1.
- Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel (New York: SUNY Press, 1989).
- Very early on, the Zionist movement was almost split by a conflict between two opposing views: the so-called Territorialists held that the Jewish Problem required an immediate solution and were willing to accept any territory that may be offered, notably British Uganda. The Zion’s Zionists faction, on the other hand, insisted on the Land of Israel as the only possible place in which the desired solution could be implemented. Herzl himself initially supported the former view but then yielded to the Zion’s Zionists to prevent the dissolution of his fledgling movement.
- Hareven, “What Is Unimaginable?” 46. This, however, has not stopped allohistorical speculation on the matter, as in “What If Frank Had Immigrated to Palestine,” in Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, What Ifs of Jewish History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 187–214. Larry Niven quote from a panel discussion on the Doomsday Asteroid at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovoth, Israel, March 20, 2007, according to editor E. L.’s recollection. 30
- Rachel S. Harris, “Israeli Literature in the 21st Century: The Transcultural Generation: An Introduction,” Shofar 33, no. 4 (Summer 2015): 1–14, 200, quote from p. 1, retrieved from Proquest electronic database. Post-Zionism refers to a sense that by restoring Jewish sovereignty in the State of Israel, the Zionist movement has fulfilled its destiny and may therefore be designated as complete, hence obsolete.
- Sheldon Teitelbaum, “Out of Science Fiction, a New View of Contemporary Reality,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1988.
- Hareven, “What Is Unimaginable?” 45.
- “About CyberCozen,” http://www.kulichki.com/antimiry/cybercozen.
- Oren Soffer, Mass Communication in Israel: Nationalism, Globalization, and Segmentation (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015), 2.
- Gomel, “What Is Reality?” 36.
- Quoted in Soffer, Mass Communication, 14.
- Shlomo Errel, Undersea Diplomacy (Tel Aviv: Maariv Books–Hed Artzi Publishing, 2000); Amnon Rubinstein, The Sea above Us (Tel Aviv: Schocken Publishing House Ltd., 2007); Yossi Sarid, Accordingly We Are Here Assembled: An Alternate History [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books, 2008).
- Keren Omry, “SF 101,” Science Fiction Research Association Review 306 (Fall 2013), retrieved from author’s website.
- Gurevitch, Gomel, and Graff, eds., “Introduction,” With Both Feet on the Clouds, 9.
- Omry, “SF 101.”
- Kimmerling, Invention and Decline, 16, 23.
- Alan L. Mintz, Translating Israel: Contemporary Hebrew Literature and Its Reception in America (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001), 50.
- Gershon Shaked, “Facing the Nightmare: Israeli Literature on the Holocaust,” in The Nazi Concentration Camps (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1984), 690; Gary K. Wolfe, “Introduction: Fantasy as Testimony,” in The Fantastic in Holocaust Literature and Film, edited by Judith B. Kerman and John Edgar Browning (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2015), Kindle edition, loc. 137 of 4490.
- Judith B. Kerman, “Uses of the Fantastic in the Literature of the Holocaust,” in Fantastic in Holocaust Literature and Film, loc. 325 of 4490. Felix Frankfurter quote from Stanford University News Service, News Release, March 7, 1995, http://web.stanford.edu/dept/ news/pr/95/950307Arc5338.html.
- Adam Rovner, “Forcing the End: Apocalyptic Israeli Fiction, 1971–2009,” in Narratives of Dissent: War in Contemporary Israeli Arts and Culture [e-book], edited by Rachel S. Harris and Ronen Omer-Sherman (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012), 209.
It is very interesting to note that a similar trend can be discerned now in the Arab world, where “a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction [emerges] from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring. Five years after the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere, a bleak, apocalyptic strain of post-revolutionary literature has taken root in the region. Some writers are using science fiction and fantasy tropes to describe grim current political realities. . . . ‘There’s a shift away from realism, which has dominated Arabic literature,’ said the Kuwait-born novelist Saleem Haddad. . . . ‘What’s coming to the surface now is darker and a bit deeper.'” (“Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel,” New York Times, Books Section, May 29, 2016.) A notable example is Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel (Arabic, al Kamel, 2013; English translation, Penguin Books, 2018).
- Rovner, “Forcing the End,” 206, 209.
- Ibid., 99, 206; Arik Einstein, Eretz Yisrael haYeshana vehaTova, Phonodor album 13038, 1973.
- Amos Oz, Late Love, in Unto Death, translated by Nicholas de Lange (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975).
- Hareven, “What Is Unimaginable?” 30.
- Sayed Kashua, Let It Be Morning (New York: Grove Press, Black Cat, 2006).
- Compare Robert A. Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, in which the United States is a theocracy ruled by a self-proclaimed Prophet.
- Not that this would stop similarly themed novels from Amit Godenberg, Ir Nidachat [A city withdrawn], 2015; Yishai Sarid, Ha’Shlishi [The third one], also 2015; or Dror Burstein, Teet [Clay], 2016.
- Yitshak Ben-Ner, “Aharey haGeshem” [After the rain] (Tel Aviv, 1977).
- Gershon Shaked, Gal Ahar Gal baSipporet haIvrit [Wave after wave in Hebrew narrative fiction] (Jerusalem, 1985), 168; Avraham Hagorni, “A Dwarf and a Half” [in Hebrew], Davar, November 20, 1987.
- Yali Sobol, Etzba’ot shel Psantran [A pianist’s fingers] (Tel Aviv: Kinneret Zmora Bitan Dvir, 2012); Weingrad, “Riding Leviathan.”
- Orly Castel-Bloom, Dolly City (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010), 76–77.
- Orly Castel-Bloom, Human Parts (Boston: Verba Mundi Books, 2004).
- Zahava Caspi, “Trauma, Apocalypse, and Ethics in Israeli Theatre,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 14, no. 1 (2012): 3.
- Nava Semel, And the Rat Laughed [Tzhok Shel Achbarosh] (Proza, 2001; English translation, Melbourne, Australia: Port Campbell Press, 2008).
- Savyon Liebrecht, A Good Place for the Night [Makom Tov La’Laila] (New York, Persea Books, 2006); Rovner, In the Shadow of Zion, 215; Etgar Keret, HaKaytana shel Kneller [Kneller’s Happy Campers], from the collection Ga’agu’ay leKissinger [Missing Kissinger] (London: Chatto & Windus, 2007) and adapted for film in 2006 as WristCutters: A Love Story and as the graphic novel Pizzeria Kamikaze in 2005; O. T. Gafla, Olam Basof [The World at the End] (2003; translated in English, New York: Tor, 2013).
- Rovner, In the Shadow of Zion, 215.
- Lavie Tidhar, A Man Lies Dreaming (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014); Robert Harris, Fatherland (Billings, MT: BCA, 1992), 372.
—Sheldon Teitelbaum & Emanuel Lottem
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