כתבה בג'רוזלם פוסט על מדע בדיוני ישראלי

להלן כתבה מצויינת שפורסמה בעיתון סוף השבוע ( 12 בפברואר 2004 )  של ג'רוזלם פוסט על התופעה התופסת תאוצה של מדע בדיוני בישראל :

 

Aliens no longer
By ALAN ABBEY

The turning point in the rebirth of Israeli science fiction, after a long fallow period, occurred last Succot at I-Con, the annual convention of the country's science fiction fans and writers. Thousands of participants, from costumed geeks to civilians, crowded the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for three days of movies, TV shows, lectures, and shopping opportunities for science fiction, fantasy, and role-playing books and paraphernalia.

The convention's biggest crowd ever packed the cinema hall for its opening ceremony, at which guest of honor Orson Scott Card, a best-selling author from the United States and one of the biggest names in science fiction worldwide, told the crowd how much Israel means to him.

"As long as Israel exists, it says something good about the world. And if Israel ceases to exist it will say something terrible about the world," he said to sustained applause.

But it wasn't even Card's speeches, workshops, and patient hours signing autographs on his translated works long into the night that indicate how far Israeli science fiction has come. What really matters is that the convention added the category of best domestic, original long fiction to its annual Geffen Awards ceremonies. The year before, the convention's organizers added a category for best short story. Prior to that, the only awards (since their inception in 1999) had been for the year's best translated science fiction and fantasy works. Card, who has racked up every major US science fiction award, handed out the Israeli prizes.

"If there's any country on Earth with a history both ancient and forward-looking, it's Israel," he told me. "Few other countries have roots so deep; no other country depends so much upon being able to adapt to changing conditions in order to survive."

Card said those conditions are the ideal ones for science fiction and fantasy to thrive.

"In Israel, American and British sci-fi and fantasy, while I hope they continue to be read, are certainly not enough," he said. "That's why I'm happy to see that Israeli publishers, readers and organizations are publishing and honoring Hebrew-language fiction. I hope it's only a matter of a very little time before the Israeli public realizes how important and good such stories can be."

The awards mean that a stable of local writers is developing a new body of quality, original science fiction with a sense of place and reflecting Israeli and Jewish sensibilities. Israeli science fiction is gaining a new respectability and audience nearly two decades after an earlier burst of local interest faded because of poor translations of foreign science fiction classics and local stories that were derivative at best.

"We're a conspiracy," joked Vered Tochterman, one of the key figures in the new movement. Tochterman is editor of Halomot b'Aspamia (Castles in the Air), a local science fiction magazine that publishes 15 original science fiction stories in Hebrew every two months. The magazine is one of the meeting places and showpieces of the new Israeli sci-fi. The other organizations that comprise the movement are the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, which has its own on-line magazine; Starbase 972, a Star Trek fan club; and the Israeli Society for Role-Playing.

THE INTERNET played a key a role in building the new audience. Until the start of Halomot b'Aspamia, there was no print outlet for domestic science fiction. Publishers shied away from it, fearing it would have a tiny audience. An earlier magazine, Fantasia 2000, ceased publication in 1984 for lack of interest after peaking at a circulation of 5,000.

Inbal Sagiv, who did her master's thesis on Israeli science fiction at Tel Aviv University, said book sales and fan activities declined in the 1980s because of boredom with the genre, the war in Lebanon, and the economic problems that followed it.

"The hardships and inherent dangers of life in Israel [were] reasons for Israelis' inability or reluctance to be fond of SF, a genre that requires a vivid imagination and detachment from everyday life," she wrote.

The genre was not producing much original material. Among the features of the genre in that era were Israeli stories about Tarzan and Flash Gordon, two iconic figures of American science fiction, according to pulp fiction historian Eli Eshed, who has written several books on the subject.

The other fiction produced in that era either was similarly derivative of American pulp "space operas" or focused on dystopian futures in which the ultra-Orthodox ruled the country.

Rani Graff, an active member of the Science Fiction Society who helps promote the group's annual convention, said the genre's few remaining fans began meeting in Internet forums in the mid-1990s, as the Web's appeal began to take hold. People involved in hi-tech, as well as those who read science fiction in English, began finding each other on-line.

Soon after, on-line forums began providing a platform for new stories to come crawling out of the woodwork. The Web's open setting, its minimal barrier to entry (i.e., low or zero cost), and the lively dialogue that followed provided fertile ground for the country's new writers.

"Anyone was able to put up a story and people could say what they liked," Graff said.

Tochterman, Guy Hasson, and others began publishing their stories on the Internet. The Science Fiction Society formed and soon started its own on-line magazine, The Tenth Dimension. People found their way to these virtual meeting places, and interest grew.

"I don't know where they came from," says Hasson. "But they're diehard. They read everything they can get in Hebrew and in English. Maybe because the current reality in Israel is so harsh, an escapist genre like science fiction has a better chance of catching on."

Hasson's story "Hatchling," about a girl's search for her identity and parentage in a computer age, has been published in Israel and in the US, and has been optioned for a film. He said he is now working on the screenplay. Along with his science fiction stories, the 33-year-old Hasson supports himself by writing for the theater. His last show, Sex in the Small City, which he also directed, played at ZOA House as part of the Fringe Festival in Tel Aviv last December. His plays have also appeared in the Acre Festival and the Haifa International Festival for Children and Youth.

IT IS the success of Halomot b'Aspamia that is so encouraging to the country's new crop of science fiction writers and aficionados. The magazine, which has about 1,000 subscribers as well as bookstore sales, has received 600 manuscripts in a year and a half, and has been able to raise the bar on the quality of stories it accepts as a result. Each story must pass muster from a group of eight readers before it is published. The fact that the magazine pays nine agorot a word hasn't hurt either the quality or quantity of the manuscripts that come in.

"We want to change the norms, the way people think," said Tochterman, 33, of Ramat Ishai. She is herself a writer who has published stories in US and UK magazines, as well as in her own periodical. Tochterman won this year's first Geffen Award for long fiction for her collection, Sometimes It's Different.

"We can see the changes. Now we are seeing stories written here that couldn't be written anywhere else."

That sense of place that is developing in domestic sci-fi, as much as the simple burst of interest in writing stories, is also a big part of the revival.

Recent stories are putting science fiction spins on local TV culture, life in the IDF, the political situation, and apocalyptic visions about Israel in the future. Ironically, though, the last two categories are often the weakest, Tochterman said.

"It's difficult to write science fiction stories that are political," she said. "You get the feeling it's all politics and no story."

Tochterman didn't mention it, but Graff pointed out that her story, "Old Man in Peace and Harmony," addresses the P
alestinian situation in a science fiction setting. In the story, told by an IDF soldier, a hostile alien spaceship appearing in Israel forces Israelis and Palestinians to fight against a common enemy. This type of story isn't new, and other authors have played out similar scenarios. The spin is that the wives refuse to accept and understand the bonding between Palestinian and Israeli fighting men in the wake of the aliens' appearance.

The science fiction community is still struggling to find wider acceptance. Some Israeli writers are beginning to make names outside the country. Tochterman's short piece "Hunting a Unicorn" was published last December in Fantasy & Science Fiction, one of the genre's classic US publications.

Dan Hollifield, editor of Aphelion, a US-based Web magazine of science fiction, is optimistic about Israeli writers reaching a wider audience.

"If Guy Hasson is any indication, they're going to create some really good stories," he said.

IN AN attempt to build up interest outside Israel, local aficionados have recently conducted a contest to find new stories that have a strong Israel angle for publication in English in the US and the UK.

Inside the country, some science fiction is beginning to appear in the mainstream press. Hasson has been mentioned in the literary section of Ynet, Yediot Aharonot's Web site. But the genre has a long way to go. Researcher Sagiv's survey of book reviews a few years ago indicated that most reviews spend more time describing the genre as a whole than the publication in question, with the book being just an excuse for this discussion.

"This demonstrates a dismissive attitude toward the SF books reviewed," she wrote.

The small market for Hebrew science fiction also is a limitation, even though Graff is planning to start his own publishing company. He has already bought rights to translate several US novels and doesn't rule out publishing domestic works, as well.

"A novel is a problem," Tochterman said. "It's a lot of work. When you write in English, you have the expectation that you can make it big, and get a lot of money for it. Here, if 2,000 buy your book, you've made it big."

Her prize-winning collection, published by Opus Press Ltd., has yet to sell out its first edition of 1,000. But even though she and others want to earn money for their work, most of the country's science fiction writers and aficionados are in it for love of the genre and the comradeship in their small world.

"We're not in it for the money," Tochterman said. "Science fiction deals with the great questions of life, philosophy, and social questions on a larger and different scope than mainstream literature. It is more interesting to raise philosophical questions when you work on a larger scale and make changes in what you see today. It lets you think and feel."

The first Frankenstein
Jews produced some of the earliest science fiction. Israeli pulp and sci-fi historian Eli Eshed calls the Books of Enoch – apocryphal writings dating from around 170 BCE that describe a man's travels through Heaven and Earth and include apocalyptic visions – the first sci-fi epic.

The 16th-century Jewish folktale of the golem, the "man" crafted by Rabbi Yehuda Loew from clay to protect Prague's Jews, was a source for the most famous science fiction story of all, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The 1924 Czech play R.U.R., which was based on the story of the golem, gave the world the term robot.

The spirit of the golem lives on today, as it were, in the Genetically Organized Lifelike Electro Mechanics (Golem) project at Brandeis University, dedicated to the automatic design and manufacture of robotic life forms.

What we know today as science fiction evolved in the 20th century after such Victorian writers as Frenchman Jules Verne and Englishman H.G. Wells began producing scientific romances. Some of these works, along with many other early sci-fi and pulp classics, such as the Buck Rogers and Tarzan stories, were translated into Hebrew, and helped fuel the Israeli science fiction world, too.

After World War II, American Jews became full-fledged members of the science-fiction pantheon.

Major Jewish writers of sci-fi's classic age in the post-war to Vietnam War era included Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, Robert Bloch (author of Psycho) and Harlan Ellison, who wrote for the original Star Trek series. Their stories rarely had overtly Jewish themes, but concerns for moral and ethical behavior were prominent.

Harry Turtledove takes a prominent role on this list, particularly as he has frequently used Jewish characters in his stories. His humorous story "The R Strain" tells the tale of a rabbi who must decide whether a genetically modified pig that chews its cud and has cloven hooves is kosher.

His recently published story, "Next Year in Jerusalem," supposes a hit squad from the "Second Irgun" secretly infiltrating an Arab-run Palestine to get the remaining Jews to rise up in rebellion. Turtledove even introduced Jewish characters into his recent historical novel, The Sacred Land, which he published under the pseudonym H.N. Turteltaub.

Well-known Jewish writers, including Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick, and Woody Allen have all dabbled in science fiction. Wandering Stars, a collection of stories with overtly Jewish themes by many of these writers, was a surprise success in the 1970s and has been recently republished. A sequel presented lesser lights in Jewish science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Steven Silver, a science fiction critic and writer who has compiled an online dossier of Jewish science fiction (www.sfsite.com/~silverag/jewishsf.html), lists William Tenn (the pen name of Philip Klass), Avram Davidson, and Michael A. Burstein as Jewish science fiction authors exploring Jewish themes.

Burstein's story "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" – a tale about the last Shoah survivor, and his granddaughter's efforts to keep his legacy alive in the face of Holocaust denial – received nominations in 2000 for the two main science fiction awards, the Hugo and the Nebula.

Martin J. Gidron, author of the 2002 novel The Severed Wing, said he doesn't think it is chance that so many well known sci-fi authors are Jewish.

"We are a people with a very strong sense of history and outstanding contributions to the sciences," he says. "The questions of humanity's future that inform so much SF writing have obsessed both secular and religious Jewish thinkers throughout history."

An extensive list of Jewish science fiction authors can be found at http://www.adherents.com/lit/sf-other.html. A thorough list of Jewish "alternative history" tales in which, for example, the exodus never occurred, or the Jews were victorious over the Romans 2,000 years ago, can be found at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/jewishah.htm.

Berlin, 2109
An American-Jewish author reimagines history

Science fiction author Harry Turtledove describes himself in an e-mail message as being nearly two meters tall and looking like a cross between a Byzantine monk and an Orthodox rabbi. Good writer that he is, his description is accurate. I have no trouble finding Turtledove, whose bushy white beard contrasts with wisps of black hair straggling across his scalp, in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

We are meeting to discuss his new book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, an "alternate history" novel set in a 22nd century in which Nazi Germany rules much of the world, and the few remaining Jews live secret lives, like the Marranos in Spain after the expulsion.

Turtledove, a California native, spent five years at the Los Angeles County Department of Education while he pounded out stories in his spare time. In 1993, he published the alternative history novel Guns of the South, in which South African white supremacists travel back in time to give AK-47s to Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. After that, Turtledove quit his day job and began writing full-time. S
ince then, he has won numerous science fiction awards and has even made it onto The New York Times best-seller list.

Turtledove, who writes under more than one name and juggles publishers and deadlines so as not to glut the market, has turned out 60 books in the past 20 years.

Dan Hollifield, editor of Aphelion, an Internet science fiction magazine, says Turtledove isn't as well known as he should be.

"I don't know why that is, unless it's because he makes the reader think about what he wrote and some people find thinking to be too much work," he says.

In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a departure for Turtledove, and not because of its premise. What is different about In the Presence is that Turtledove, who is Jewish, places Jewish characters and themes at the novel's center, instead of on the fringes. His Worldwar series, which pits humans against alien invaders in the 1940s, includes a subplot that shows the invaders revolted by Nazi concentration camps.

In the Presence focuses on several families living in 2109 Berlin. They appear to be good Aryans, but remain Jewish in their hearts and hope to live openly as Jews one day. We enter their lives as the third Fuehrer has died and the new one calls for a rethinking of Nazi principles. The story consciously echoes the Soviet Union's last days.

The book's climax takes place in front of the home of Berlin's radical mayor, who challenges an SS in-house putsch while hundreds of average Berliners defend him with makeshift barricades and their bodies. The episode recalls former Moscow mayor Boris Yeltsin's stand against Soviet tanks while Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was under house arrest at his Crimean dacha in August 1991.

MOST OF the book's action follows the family of Heinrich Gimpel, his wife Lise, and their three daughters. The book opens as Gimpel brings his few Jewish friends to his house to tell his 10-year-old daughter she is a Jew. The girl is initially sickened by the news, as all her life she has heard how terrible Jews are. The tension of keeping the secret plays on the nerves of all the book's Jewish characters.

But despite placing Jews at the book's center, Turtledove is uncomfortable discussing the book's Jewish themes.

"I have some wariness about this," he tells me at the opening of our interview.

Turtledove has a doctorate in Byzantine history, and his novels are characterized by historical accuracy, despite their upside-down premises. He concedes that critics score him for being emotionally distant toward his characters.

"That appears to be the way my head works, so I don't know what I can do about it," he says.

This time, however, the main characters are drawn from his own family. The three Gimpel girls are modeled after his three daughters; he has family friends who lived in hiding during World War II; and he has definite opinions about Germany, even though his own family emigrated to the US from Romania and Belarus at the turn of the 20th century.

Several of the Jewish characters rail against God for allowing such a catastrophe to befall the Jewish people, but Turtledove insists on remaining opaque about his own feelings toward the situation he has imagined.

"And what's the use of praying to a God who has made us fair game all over the world for a lifetime," thinks Esther Stutzman, a character whose husband secretly manipulates Nazi computer records to provide Jews with "Aryan" backgrounds.

When I ask Turtledove for his answer to that question, he dodges it.

"As a writer, you pose the question," he says. "Everybody has to find their own answers for that."

"Do you have an answer?" I press.

"Not on the record," he says. "Can you turn off the tape recorder?"

We chat off the record, and then I try to get at the answer from a different angle. Tape recorder back on, Turtledove distances himself from any ideas that float to the book's surface.

"I don't want to be one of those writers who, to quote Ted Sturgeon, sells his birthright for a pot of message," he says. "The reader will draw his own inferences on what the book is about, and what I think."

We finally get a sense of what Turtledove may believe as he describes Lise Gimpel's difficult annual attempt to forgive the German people during her private commemoration of Yom Kippur. She cannot, of course, fast or pray openly, yet she methodically works through a list of people she intends to forgive.

"She'd never done it, not in her heart. She'd never even come close, and she knew it," he writes.

Then Lise reflects on the perestroika of the new Fuehrer, and wonders if it will lead to improvements in her life.

"'I want to hope,'" Lise murmured, to herself and possibly to God. 'It's been so long. I want to hope.'"

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