Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chanukah Day 8: Guest Post by Esther Friesner

Posted by Simcha 12:22 PM, under | 4 comments

Sadly, Chanukah is coming to an end and it will soon be time to pack up the dreidals, menorahs, colored candles and all of the many Chanukah school projects, until Chanukah rolls around again next year.

I've had a wonderful time celebrating Chanukah here, at SFF Chat, with all of the authors who took the time to participate with an article or interview and with all of you who stopped by to read the posts and share your thoughts and opinions.

But it's not over yet because I still have one more fantastic blog post to present you with, by the one and only Esther Friesner....


Chanukah is upon us again, and color me happy. It’s always been one of my favorite holidays. For a change, this year it does not fall close to December 25, which really gives the lights of the chanukiah a chance to shine out for what they really are—not just a defense against the overwhelming media presence of Christmas.

In case you didn’t already know—which I doubt—this is a holiday about independence, about being who and what you truly are. Fantasy is full of characters who discover their true, heroic nature, even when everyone else thinks of them as negligible underdogs. The Maccabees would have understood this perfectly. They took on a huge empire and won. Not bad when the “smart” money was on the Syrian Greeks. After all, they were richer, better armed, and they had elephants. Elephants! War-elephants are a pretty tough card to trump, and not just because of the trampling and the trunk-swatting and the carrying of armed warriors around. I still recall—with a fine combination of horror and the inappropriate giggles—reading the Megillah Antiochus (which is the text containing the story of Chanukah) and learning about the tragic death of one of the Maccabees who was a victim of, er, being engulfed by pachydermal post-user digestive byproduct.

As impressive as taking on the Syrian Greeks was the fact that the Maccabees also took on one of the world’s first attempts at compulsory cultural assimilation. There were all manner of alluring temptations presented to the people of Israel to abandon their own ways and come over to the Hellenistic side of the Force. (“We have cookies!) And when temptations failed, the mask dropped and there was flat-out coercion. (“You will like our cookies.”) And extreme measures. (“You will like our cookies because we have just made your cookies illegal.”) And threats. (“You will like our cookies even if we have to shove them down your throat.”) And executions. (“Well whaddaya know? He choked on our cookies. Serves him right. Next?”)

Assimilation—particularly attractive assimilation—is still with us. No one wants to feel like the Outsider. The urge to be part of the group might be a holdover from our proto-hominid ancestors when not being one of the Popular Kids meant you were going to end up as leopard chow. There was more than strength in numbers; there was survival.

Even now that we’re (supposedly) civilized, it can be deadly being Different. There are worse things than leopards lurking in the darkness, waiting to destroy those who don’t belong to the group, and they’re subtler about getting their claws into us. It can start with a “joke” about what makes us different—our looks, our minds, our affections, our beliefs, our cultures. The “jokes” aren’t very funny, and they get even less funny as they go on.

It looks a lot easier to stop being the bullies’ victim not by fighting back but by going over to the bullies’ side and becoming one of them. Mmmm, cookies. . .Not the most palatable cookies, but hey! All the cool kids are eating them.

Now make no mistake, I am not completely opposed to assimilation. In its milder, more tolerant form, it can be a positive force. My most recent book, Threads and Flames (Viking/Penguin) is about Raisa, a young Jewish girl from a Polish shtetl who is caught up in the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911. Before the tragedy that shakes her world, she has to deal with adjusting to life in a new country, a process of assimilation that includes good things such as becoming literate, having the opportunity to improve her life through education, being able to get a better job, and finding the resources to make other people’s lives better, too. Yet even as she becomes more American, she holds onto her identity as a Jew. She is able to choose which parts of her life will be changed to be more like everyone else and which will remain different, individual, and special to her and her roots. She is able to work toward a time when Americans will be able to enjoy even more choices.

So a very happy Chanukah/Hanukah/Hanukka to all (with your choice of spelling). Rejoice in choice, be yourself, celebrate freedom, cheer on your favorite underdog.

And have a cookie.

© 2010, Esther M. Friesner

And because I have been looking for an excuse to post this video, I'm going to throw it in over here since it does tie in nicely to Esther's post, giving a lighthearted explanation of the story behind Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chanukah Day 7: Guest Post by Rachel Swirsky & Book Giveaway

Posted by Simcha 5:57 PM, under | 59 comments

Thoughts on Jewish Identity, Jewish Fantasy, and
People of the Book:
a Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy

by Rachel Swirsky

When I was eleven, I remember a boy my age asking, "So which is it? Are you an atheist or a Jew?"
His tone was one of skeptical indignation. He was clearly intimating that he'd caught me in a lie because I'd described myself as both. The weird thing was that my perspective immediately flipped to his. Even as I explained that the situation was more complicated than either/or, that I was both Jewish and an atheist, I saw him as right. I saw myself as a liar.
I suppose that was a tiny fragment of what W. E. B. DuBois describes as double consciousness—a "sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others."
In my own head, I am a Jew and I'm not a Jew. I have the heritage. I've got some of the Ashkenazic cultural markers—the Chinese food on Christmas Eve and the movie on Christmas Day, the Jewish studies classes and the stint on the editorial staff of my college's Jewish newspaper, the Jewish nose which skipped me but adorns my eldest brother ("Sometimes I think it just keeps growing," my gentile sister-in-law confided to me once), the anti-Semitic comments cribbed from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion that end up in my blog comments, the inevitable smattering of Yiddish.

But I don't have the belief. I know the stories, but only because I was interested, and because I briefly joined a bible study run by my Christian day care in elementary school (the only two students who remembered the lessons from week to week were myself and the other Jewish atheist). The faith disappeared from my family in the space of two generations. My great-grandmother was wholly enclosed in a world of Judaism, so much so that during the last ten years of her life (which she spent in a nursing home bed because after breaking her hip at seventy-nine, she'd decided there was no point in learning to walk again because surely she'd die soon anyway) she regularly told my grandfather that she was jealous of the cards the other elderly ladies received on Easter, and wanted to know why she didn't get them, too.

No, I don't know why my grandfather (who told me this after she died) didn't make the obvious move and buy her some cards with bunnies on them once in a while. But the broader point is that, according to my grandfather, my great-grandmother was jealous because she didn't understand what Easter was. She was sufficiently insulated from the dominant Christian culture that it didn't even occur to her that maybe people were celebrating holidays from different traditions.

Granted, my great-grandmother was a singularly cloistered woman—apart from the twenty years in a bed, she was also reported to have spent so much of her life in proscribed city spaces that the sight of large patches of grass made her nervous. And yes, she was wandering a bit at this point; I was the only grand-child whose name she remembered, on account of the fact that I was accidentally named after her. (Yes, accidentally--a story for another time.)

For any and all of those reasons, my great-grandmother didn't see herself as Jew-in-relation-to-other. She saw the world as Jewish.

A number of people have questioned my Jewish identity over the years. A couple of them were religious Jews, but almost all of them have been gentiles. In general, the Christian concept of how religion fits into someone's identity is different than the Jewish concept (though there are certainly similarities between my identity as an atheist Jew and the identities of some lapsed or cultural Catholics I've met). In that moment when I was eleven and talking to the boy who thought I was a liar, I flipped from my Jewish-oriented framework—the one in which I was both a Jew and an atheist—into his Christian-oriented one where I had to be one or the other.

I mention all of this to work my way toward the context of how I understand the question with which Michael Weingrad, writing in the Jewish Review of Books, perturbed the internet (or at least my corner of it) several months ago—"Why Is There No Jewish Narnia?"
Weingrad wonders why "amidst all the initiatives to solve the crisis in Jewish continuity, no one has yet proposed commissioning a Jewish fantasy series that might plumb the theological depths like Lewis or at least thrill Jewish preteens with tales of Potterish derring-do."

In posing this question, Weingrad explicitly dismisses the work of " modern Jewish writers, from Kafka and Bruno Schulz to Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick" who have "written about ghosts, demons, magic, and metamorphoses" because, apparently, "the supernatural does not itself define fantasy literature, which is a more specific genre."

Weingrad argues that fantasy is defined by "The experience of wonder, of joy and delight on the part of the reader, [which] has long been recognized as one of the defining characteristics of the genre. This wonder is connected with a world, with a place of magic, strangeness, danger, and charm; and whether it is called Perelandra, Earthsea, Amber, or Oz, this world must be a truly alien place. As Ursula K. Leguin says: “The point about Elfland is that you are not at home there. It’s not Poughkeepsie.”

Weingrad proposes some explanations for the phenomena he describes, including the Jewish propensity to the see the European middle ages as hostile rather than a flashpoint for nostalgia, and Jewish inability to suspend disbelief when it comes to extremely powerful, supposedly good magical actors, like Harry Potter's wizards, who for some reason did not find it necessary to intervene in historical atrocities like the Holocaust.

Others have challenged Weingrad's assertions in detail, but at this late point in the discussion, I have to admit that my central response to Weingrad is to wonder whether the entire problem is definitional. Weingrad appears to be defining the fantasy genre in such a way that it excludes most Jewish fantasy. Most secondary world fantasy by Jewish authors doesn't count because it's not theologically based in the way Lewis's Narnia is based in Christianity. And apparently for Weingrad, Jewish primary world fantasy doesn't evoke the same sense of wonder as Rowling's Harry Potter.

It seems to me that Weingrad defines fantasy by the terms of Christian writers, and then wonders why Jewish doesn't look exactly like Christian fantasy does.
Well, why should it?
Why is primacy and centrality given to Narnia but not Kafka?
Why is Christian fantasy taken on its own terms, but Jewish fantasy compared to a Christian default?
I'm not saying Weingrad doesn't make any interesting points, but I wonder whether his essay would have been more interesting (though perhaps less popular and controversial) if he had analyzed "some reasons Jewish and Christian fantasy are different" instead of why Jewish fantasy is presumably lacking because it doesn’t emulate a particular form of Christian fantasy.

As Sean Wallace and I were in the process of editing the recently published anthology People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy (Prime Books, 2010), I had the opportunity to read a lot of Jewish fantasy. Most of these stories were originally published as fantasy, so they're certainly part of what I'd define as the genre, whether or not they tickle Weingrad's sense of wonder.

Some of the stories were light, but it's true that most were dark. Many played on similar themes: how to maintain an identity after genocide, how to maintain ethical ground when your loved ones are threatened, and what defines humanity. Golems appeared in many stories, as did the Holocaust. Interestingly, many stories centered on how the minutiae of suburban American life contrasted with tragedies (sometimes the Holocaust, sometimes not), perhaps an echo of survivor guilt.

The obsessions and anxieties played out in Jewish diasporic fiction may not be the same obsessions and anxieties that C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling played out in their fiction, but that doesn't mean there's something lacking in Jewish fiction any more than it means that Rowling and Lewis are lacking for not writing identically to Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, and Lavie Tidhar.

After reading so many Jewish fantasy and science fiction stories, I've decided that they are what they are: Jewish fantasy and science fiction stories, not Christian ones. Some were sad. Some were beautiful. Some were heart-breaking. Some were heart-warming. And yes, some were wondrous.

BIO: Rachel Swirsky is the co-editor, along with Sean Wallace, of the recently published People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy (Prime Books, 2010). Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula and the Hugo, and collected in Through the Drowsy Dark (Aqueduct Press, 2010).

Enter to win a copy of People of the Book, a collection of scifi and fantasy stories by popular Jewish authors, both classic and modern. To enter just leave your name and email address in a comment below.
Giveaway is open worldwide

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chanukah Day 6 : Guest Post by Kate Elliott and Giveaway of Cold Magic

Posted by Simcha 4:13 PM, under | 28 comments

A few days ago I had published a guest post by Ari Marmell in which he ruminates about some of the reasons that his writing never seems to include any Jewish characters or themes. In contrast, in today's post by Kate Elliott, Elliott discusses some of the ways that Jewish elements that have been incorporated into her stories, sometimes even unintentionally.

I've been an avid reader of Kate Elliott's books for many years and am really excited to have her here today.

So take it away Kate....


One of my editors once noted that I always have Jews in my fantasy novels. At first this comment puzzled me.

I write what is commonly called “secondary world fantasy.” By that I mean stories set not on our Earth. Now, a reader could argue that as a writer I tend to write analog-Earths or a “different Earth with magic” or (in the case of the Crossroads Trilogy) a fantasy trilogy set in my science fiction Jaran universe which is a universe based on a version of our future history, and I won’t disagree. I love to examine and re-vision our own cultures and history, partly as a way to examine issues of our own time that trouble, confuse, or interest me, and partly because our own past is such a fascinating and intriguing place that it never fails to horrify and delight and provide a springboard for good stories.

But because I am not writing our historical Earth, my fantasy worlds [Crown of Stars; Crossroads; Spiritwalker (Cold Magic)] do not contain quite the same religions as our Earth does. I always try to write about a diverse world with multiple cultures, which are then usually involved in conflict or change (thus: the plot). I tend to spend most of my time in one “dominant” culture, which has a specific set of customs and an accepted religion, and make forays into other parts of a larger world to get a look into other societies.

However, both in the Crown of Stars universe (the Hessi) and in the Crossroads Trilogy (the Ri Amarah), the dominant culture includes within it an “outsider culture” that is tolerated (or not tolerated) within a larger societal landscape. This outsider culture is made up of a small group of kinship related people who originally came from somewhere else. Their religion and customs and background are different from and seem strange and mysterious to the people who live in the dominant culture. They are often treated with suspicion or conditional trust, and they are best known to the dominant culture as merchants, because that is the way they most commonly interact with the dominant culture. So even though they have a more complex internal culture that is not at all based on money, when others look at them, they see people who are involved in trade.

Oh. All right then. My editor's comment makes sense if one is writing from a non-Israeli point of view (as I am). In both cases I do not write from the point of view of any of the Hessi or Ri Amarah characters (although I have stories I could and hope someday to write from those view points).

That’s not the only way Judaism emerges in my writing.

The world of Cold Magic is a “different Earth with magic,” one in which an extended ice age locked up Northern Europe to the degree that the Germanic and Scandinavian cultures never developed at all. In this world, among other things, the Romans and Carthaginians fought to a standstill back in the day (the story opens in the Augustan Year 1837), and a influx of very rich and powerful immigrants from the Mali Empire of West Africa remade the map of Europa.

There are also no Jews, no Christianity, no Islam.

But the Phoenicians (and descendants of the Carthaginians) are still around. When it came to writing my fantastical variation on history, I drew heavily on the Bible and on ancient inscriptions, because the Phoenicians, of course, were also a Semitic peoples. Ancient Hebrew and Phoenician are closely related languages within the Canaanite group. So they call themselves Kena’ani (straight from Torah). Two of the servants in the household of the main character have names (Evved and Shiffa) based on transliterations of Hebrew words. And when my heroine glimpses, though an open gate, a sacrificial ceremony in which an anonymous woman has made an offering (of a turtledove in this case) in the hopes of gaining the gods’ favor of getting pregnant, I borrowed from Leviticus and the archaeology of ancient Israel. This was a pretty easy jump for me to make because I read Biblical Hebrew (not well) and have a decent familiarity (not scholarly) with Torah and the history of ancient Israel and thus the Eastern Mediterranean of that time.

There is one odd thing I can’t explain, though.

Early on, I gave my heroine Cat and her cousin Beatrice (Bee) the last name of Barahal. The truth is, I saw this name in the paper in the Honolulu Advertiser; one of the administrators of the Honolulu Marathon has the last name of Barahal. For some reason the name stuck in my head, and I used it, even though there was no other reason to except that I felt it was the right name. Her family clan was part of a diaspora that left Qart Hadast (Carthage) when it was conquered by Turanians (Persians). As a clan, it has made its living for the past two centuries as mercenaries, spies, and couriers. In the course of the novel, Cat discovers things about herself that include an ability to travel places others can’t in magical ways which I won’t explain here.

Some months before Cold Magic was published, when the first listings had started to appear online, I received an email out of the blue with a woman whose last name is Barahal. It turns out that the name is Jewish and has an exceedingly unusual history involving a founding ancestor who was a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov (Ba’al being another word shared between Hebrew and Phoenicio-Punic). Barahal is an anagram for the name of this man, Reb Leib Soros (Barahal is the Americanized version). Among other things, he was said to be able to travel astrally (on different planes) across great distances.

Go figure.

I don’t think any of us can truly get away from who we are in the sense of ways of thinking, being, and processing those influences in how we look at the world and what kinds of things flag our attention. That is all that is needed for there to be “Jewish fantasy.” It is the fantasy (and science fiction) written by Jews.

Enter to win a copy of Cold Magic by Kate Elliott by leaving your name and email address in a comment box below.

You can find out more about Kate Elliott and her books by visiting her website or LiveJournal page.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chanukah Day 5: Interview with Ann VanderMeer

Posted by Simcha 2:29 PM, under | 11 comments

I'm delighted to have for you today an interview with Ann VanderMeer, the editor of Weird Tales magazine and the co-editor of several steampunk and fantasy anthologies and of the humorous booklet, The kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals. And somehow Ann manages to accomplish all of this in her free time, when not working at her full-time job. Yes, this woman is amazing and I'm honored to have her here today.

Hi Ann. Thanks so much for taking the time to from your incredibly busy schedule to do this interview with me.

Can you please just start off by telling me a bit about your magazine, Weird Tales?

If I may, I will provide the background on this iconic magazine from our website:

Weird Tales has enjoyed a devoted following for many decades as the very first magazine of Gothic fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Founded in 1923, the pioneering publication introduced the world to such counter-culture icons as Cthulhu the alien monster god and Conan the Barbarian. Weird Tales is well known for launching the careers of great authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Robert E. Howard — hell, Tennessee Williams made his first sale here! — not to mention legendary fantasy artists like Virgil Finlay and Margaret Brundage. The magazine’s influence extends through countless areas of pop culture: fiction, certainly, but also rock music, goth style, comic books, gaming… even Stephen King has called Weird Tales a major inspiration.

How long have you been an editor at Weird Tales and what does the job entail?

I started as the Fiction Editor in 2007 – only the second female in this position in over 80 years. The first was Dorothy McIlwraith in 1940. I was promoted to Editor-in-Chief earlier this year and now have an all-female
editorial team, with Paula Guran as Non-Fiction editor and Mary Robinette Kowal as Art Director.

As Editor-in-Chief, I oversee most all of the aspects of publication as well as the website. I still read and select all the fiction, but my responsibilities now include coordinating with Paula and Mary on the art and non-fiction for each issue (as well as online). In addition, I work on PR as well as other activities to spread the good word of Weird Tales!

You emphasize the fact that you are the second female editor at Weird Tales, as well as your all-female editorial team. Is this situation unique to just Weird Tale or does it apply to other speculative fiction publications as well?

This is not just unique to Weird Tales, but also a new improvement for so many magazines in the field. You are seeing a lot more women in positions of authority all across the board. When I started The Silver Web in the late 80’s I was one of only a handful of women publishing and editing a horror/science fiction/fantasy magazine (and books). Most other publications were headed by men (including Weird Tales, with three male editors). This progress follows what we see in other industries.

For example, I started out my software career back in the 1980’s. When I would attend software conferences, I would be one of 3 women out of 150 attendees. That’s not true today – now it’s about 50/50. Do I still have to suffer fools? Of course, but it’s a lot better that it was. I also played bass in an all-female band (we called ourselves The Guise, pretty silly, huh?). That was rare back them but so very common now. I also played with a lot of other male-centered bands, being the only female and therefore a novelty. But Rock-n-Roll is an entirely different animal (especially punk rock, which is what I played most).

And yes, there are still idiots out there that will judge you based on your gender/religion/skin color, etc. but for the most part I think that we are all being judged based on our work. Yes, maybe we, as women, have to work harder. I think we are not forgiven for mistakes as easily as our male counterparts are, and we are more scrutinized, but overall we’re made so many strides.

How do you select the stories to include in each issue?

A: I read A LOT! I look for stories that have characters I want to know more about as well as a compelling storyline. I will re-read a story before I make a final decision on it. Once a story has been bought, I decide how it will fit with other stories I have in inventory, making sure to have a good balance, etc. It’s important to have the right mix of fiction that compliments the other parts of the magazine.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Reading! I love reading. It really is my favorite thing to do in the world. And I love interacting with the writers. I love to talk to them and get to know them and see what makes them tick.

I read in one of your interviews that in addition to your work at the magazine and your books, you also hold a full-time job? Is this still true? If so, how do you possibly manage to make the time to do all this?

Yes, still working a very demanding full-time job. I work for a computer company as a Software Manager. I oversee the development of new software; the installation, training and support of the new systems. We work primarily in the Boat/Mobile Home/Motorcycle manufacturing field as well as the health care industry with Practice Management Systems and Electronic Medical Records. How do I do it? I have a great, understanding boss and I work ALL THE TIME. Even my vacations are working vacations. Jeff and I usually don’t travel unless it’s for a project/event, etc. We try to take a couple of extra days after a convention, but that doesn’t always work. Technology is great, but it is also a burden – we’re always plugged in and accessible.

Over the years that you have worked at Weird Tales have you noticed a change in the type of stories that writers are producing?

I am now getting more stories from writers all around the world. I used to see this periodically but now it has become a lot more common. And I think this is a great thing.

Are there certain themes or elements of the stories that you receive from international writers that differ from what you receive from American writers?

Writers from other countries often have a different point of view. They don’t see the world through the same popular culture that can sometimes strangle us here in the US. The cultural references they could make would be foreign to me, as it’s not part of my daily life, and this intrigues me. I find it so very interesting to see the world through another pair of eyes and get lost in that experience. But overall, people are people. And relationships are relationships. The best stories are about people and their relationships with others in the world around them.

In addition to editing Weird Tales you have also edited several anthologies, along with your husband, Jeff VanderMeer. How do you go about putting together an anthology, from choosing the theme to finding authors to include?

Each project is different so we’ll approach them differently. Sometimes a publisher will come
to us and ask us to edit a particular anthology (as with Tachyon and The New Weird). Other times we’ll develop our own idea, seek out contributors that we believe fit the project and then our agent sells it (such as the upcoming Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities from HarperCollins).

I can safely state that each project we have worked on is unique in its own way. And most of our books include lots of beautiful artwork. How a book looks is very important to us.

Let me give you an example with a recent project. Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded has just been released. This book is primarily a reprint anthology, however, we managed to acquire some original fiction as well as a first-time English translation of a Danish story. We had an idea in our heads of some of the contributors we wanted to include and so began seeking out their fiction to select just the right stories. We also decided to include art, comics and non-fiction, so we sought out those contributors, too.

And then we did something I think is unusual in the reprint anthology process – we opened up
to unsolicited submissions (within our guidelines, of course). There was no way we could know about every single amazing story out there so by doing this we were introduced to some very fine work we would not have seen otherwise. In addition to writers submitting their own work, we encouraged others to make suggestions. A lot of the stories we included came from this.

An original story was submitted to Weird Tales that I thought would be perfect for this project, so we included it (Ramsey Shehadeh’s “The Unbecoming of Virgil Smythe”). Jeffrey Ford was inspired to write an original for us, and so he did. This further inspired my husband to collaborate with several other writers and artists to create “A Secret History of Steampunk,” another original to this book.

We worked closely with designer and artist John Coulthart to make this book beautiful and showcase all the contributions we had acquired. Jeff and I decided how to organize it, using the artwork of contributors as a driving force behind our ideas. Lots of hours (days, weeks) of work later…..and now it’s out and I am very proud.

You and Jeff also recently put out The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, a fun and entertaining booklet listing various Imaginary animals along with a pronouncement of their kosher status. What kind of research did you do in finding the imaginary animals to include in this book? I know that most of them I had never heard of before.

I spent countless hours searching for different kinds of imaginary animals. I wanted this book to be more than just the usual suspects (you know, unicorn, mermaid, dragon). Because the primary theme is a Jewish one, I did most of my research in Jewish texts (Torah, Talmud, legends, etc). However, it was also vital to me to seek out creatures and beings from as many different backgrounds and cultures as possible. Also, and you might find this funny, I realized that almost every animal we had was not kosher. So it became my obsession to find kosher ones – haha! Very rare indeed.

Yes, I had noticed the fact that the kosher animals were very much outnumbered by the non-kosher ones, but admittedly, not too many of the creatures looked that appetizing anyways. Except for the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (half plant, half lamb) that one I could go for.

Have you done any other Jewish themed writing projects?

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals is the only Jewish book we have now. Who knows what the future will bring? I did, however, contribute an introduction to the upcoming People of the Book anthology, edited by Rachel Swirsky and Sean Wallace.

What are some of your favorite stories or books that you recently read?

The most recent novel I read was Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination. It won’t be
published until next year but I was lucky enough to get a review copy. I loved his earlier A Brief History of the Dead, so couldn’t wait to read this one and I wasn’t disappointed.

The most recent short stories that blew me away are the ones we’re publishing in The Thackery T. Lamsbhead Cabinet of Curiosities. Just this past week I had the joy of reading new stories from China Mieville and Charles Yu. How cool is that? You have to keep in mind that I feel guilty if I am not reading for a project and therefore most of my reading time is spent there.

Which authors have you discovered through Weird Tales that you would recommend that readers look out for?

It’s tough to list as I don’t want to leave anyone out. Off the top of my head I would say: Ramsey Shehadeh, Rachel Swirsky, Karin Tidbeck, Karen Heuler, Eric Lis, Micaela Morrissette, Jeff Johnson, Alistair Rennie, Samantha Henderson…the list goes on and on.

Jewish history is full of exciting, and often tragic, stories that could rival any fantasy novel. Which story from Jewish history is your personal favorite and why?

Hmmm… good question. There are so many that I love and for different reasons. Today I am thinking of the story of Jacob’s ladder (probably because it was last week’s parsha). I have a special fondness for stories with angels, but that’s just me.

What I love most about the stories in the Torah is that all the people we read about are imperfect. I love that Moses screws up and has to suffer the consequences. This speaks to me because it shows that they’re just like us. Similar problems, similar fears. To me the words in the Torah are the stories of the human condition. We can all relate to their issues; like the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau and the lack of confidence that Leah had in herself as she tried to get Jacob to pay attention to her.

And to tie the interview into Chanukah, can you tell me
how and your family enjoy celebrating the holiday?

Usually the family gets together at our house and we make latkes, light candles and everyone gets a new pair of socks! No, really! Socks, for some reason, have become a tradition in my family. We also attend various Chanukah parties in our community and our synagogue has an annual latke bar – where we get to sample various flavors of latkes. Nom nom! Not a holiday for dieting, that’s for sure.

Thanks again Ann for taking the time to answer all of my questions and I really enjoyed getting to know you better and learning some of what is involved in being an editor.

Ann has graciously offered to give one reader of SFF Chat a copy of The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, a fun book for anyone interested in mythological and fantastical creatures, no matter if they keep kosher or not (plus, there are some great recipes...)

To enter just leave your name and email address in a comment below.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chanukah Day 4: The Book by Lavie Tidhar (original short story)

Posted by Simcha 3:59 PM, under | 13 comments

The Book
by Lavie Tidhar

There is a bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London and it’s never open. Its windows are covered in a thick film of dust and spiders grow webbed cities in its darkness. There are books inside that no-one’s ever read; books that human eyes had never seen, books where black ink spells secrets on black paper, books written in darkness that cannot be read in the light.

In the Hebrew Bible, of which all subsequent bibles are merely a translation, the world begins not with Aleph, the first letter, but with Bet, the second. “Bereshit”, it says – In the Beginning. The bookshop on Charing Cross Road has no name or, if it has, there is no sign outside anymore to say so. Through its windows one can see no books, yet they are inside. It has a basement and a boiler-room and a bath no human had ever used. The shop appears deserted, but it is watched. It is studied.

Once every century or so a Fool, a Knave or a Knight dares to venture inside. In 1610 a man by the name of Balthazar Bordeaux went inside. It was 06:45 on a grey cold morning. At regular intervals Bordeaux communicated with his colleagues outside by pushing notes under the door. He was inside the shop for over three hours. From him we have the map of the upper and lower sections. His discovery of the bath had subsequently earned it the designation The Bordeaux on our maps. The paper he used was as black as if night itself was a sheet of paper and was shaken so vigorously that moon and stars and all stray light fell from it into oblivion. It was as soft and as hard as water can be. His last message was received at 09:56. it said: “I found hi-“.

In the books of the bible God is fully present in the Torah: appearing in a column of smoke or fire, parting seas, conversing with Abraham and Moses. By Prophets he only appears in dreams; and in the third and final section, in Ktuvim – in Books – he had fallen silent. Students of the apocrypha recount an argument attributed to the Prophet Elijah, which says that the bible is not yet completed; that somewhere God resides, in hiding or imprisoned, and there he continues to write, underground, a samizdat story of the world. Some say the last letter would be Tav, which closes the alphabet. But some say it would be the penultimate letter, which is Shin. Secret wars had been fought over this. God, so far, had not commented; perhaps, wherever he is, even he doesn’t know.

I want to wish Lavie a huge congratulations in being included in Night Shade Books' fifth volume of T
he Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year for his story "the Night Train."

Lavie's newest book,
An Occupation of Angels, was released last month and you can win a copy of it here. Just leave your name and email address below to be entered.
This giveaway is open worldwide

My Apologies for no new SFF Listing

Posted by Simcha 3:30 PM, under | 1 comment

I just want to offer my apologies to all of you who arrived here in eager anticipation of my weekly list of new scifi and fantasy releases. Unfortunately my computer crashed on Thursday, preventing me from accessing the list of new releases that I had prepared. And so we will just have to hope and pray that the computer tech people are able to save my computer and all of the valuable information contained within its magical wires and oh-too flimsy frame.

This is also the reason why I haven't been responding in a timely manner to the comments that have been left here, and which I love receiving. But the incredibly slooow computer that I'm using in the meantime won't allow me to do anything extra. If I try to do anything but check my mail or sneak in a quick blog post it freezes up on me.

So I just wanted to let you know what's happening here and why my mosts might be sounding extra surly lately.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program....


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