Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Another Planet

My new short story "Hailing Frequency" was just published (and you can hear or read the whole thing online). It's a story about an unemployed geeky dude who moved to Chicago for his girlfriend's job, and then the entire planet got invaded by aliens, and everyone's trying to live life normally, only he doesn't have a life to live yet -- and, yep, it's science fiction.*

It also doesn't have anything to do with Jews.

matthue aliens

In this world where Jewish books are valued at a premium and branding books as "Jewish" can make or break a book, advertising your novel or short story or whatever as a Jewish book is pretty valuable. On the other hand, I just finished reading Joseph Kaufman's The Legend of Cosmo and the Archangel, which is written by a self-proclaimed "ultra-Orthodox Jew" and his Judaism is only secondary or tertiary to the book, behind his being a recovering hippie or a rural New Englander.

(On the other hand, a lot of people think my sidecurls look like antennae, which is a pretty good argument for me writing about aliens.)

There's a huge debate going on in the science fiction world about the split between more literary offerings and more, well, sciencey stories. (For a more in-depth explanation, check out this well-voiced article from the SF periodical Clarkesworld.) Does the television show Lost count as science fiction because there are shady explanations of time travel and otherworldly (or other-reality-ly) dealings? Or does it not, because the focus of the show is on the characters?

I'd submit that it doesn't really matter. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's most popular book, Rebbe Nachman's Stories, is all about beggars and princesses and long walks through dangerous realms -- and virtually no one in the stories is identified as a Jew. (Keep in mind that Rebbe Nachman is one of the original Hasidic masters, not just some Orthodox dude writing fiction on his Twitter account.) Science fiction doesn't need to take place on Mars or in the year 2012, and Jewish books, well, don't need to have JEW printed across the top. (And, conversely, every book with the word "JEW" printed across the top isn't necessarily Jewish. Or good. But that's beside the point.)

Next up on my reading plate is The Apex Book of World Science Fiction -- edited, by the way, by the Israeli writer Lavie Tidhar. I'm kind of in love with it already (okay, it's an anthology, and I've been peeking). My favorite stories are the ones where nothing really matters except the vital parts of the story -- where the characters are like feelings, the setting isn't "Rome" or "Burkina Faso" but is instead a dry swamp, or a child's bedroom. The power of telling a horror story lies in its universality, and the power of an emotional story like Lost is the same -- no matter who you are, and no matter where you're coming from, a good story should be good to you. It should touch you. It should change your life. No matter how Jewish, or SFfy, it is.

* - I'm saying "science fiction" instead of the preferred appellation "speculative fiction," because no one on this website knows what spec-fic means. Sorry, geeks.

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