Peo­ple of the Book: A Decade of Jew­ish Sci­ence Fic­tion & Fantasy

Rachel Swit­sky and Sean Wal­lace, ed.
  • Review
August 31, 2011
It was a lit­tle over thir­ty-five years ago that Jack Dann pro­duced Wan­der­ing Stars, which, for afi­ciona­dos, will always be the Jew­ish sci­ence fic­tion anthol­o­gy. (You haven’t lived until you’ve read the sto­ry of an eleven-armed alien look­ing for a tenth of his kind to make a minyan to say kad­dish for their dying plan­et. It makes sense in con­text.) Wan­der­ing Stars col­lect­ed some of the great names of the time — Isaac Asi­mov, William Tenn, Har­lan Elli­son, Avram David­son — to cre­ate a nev­er less than absorb­ing anthol­o­gy. Peo­ple of the Book—its some­what bland­er title notwith­stand­ing— is a wor­thy suc­ces­sor. Its con­trib­u­tors include some of the best-known writ­ers of sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy around — Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Jane Yolen — as well as some authors known more for their Jew­ish writ­ing than their sci­ence fic­tion or fan­ta­sy chops (Tamar Yellin, win­ner of the Jew­ish Book Council’s Rohr prize, is an exam­ple). The sto­ries don’t dis­ap­point: whether they pro­vide a haunt­ing sequel to the tales of Nar­nia or an extend­ed fan­ta­sia on if the Tsar tor­ment­ed his country’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion with drag­ons, they’re nev­er less than intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing and cre­ative­ly excit­ing. My own favorite may be Peter S. Beagle’s love­ly Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel,” where tran­scen­dent forces encounter a more con­ven­tion­al — but no less mag­i­cal— Jew­ish artist with a very par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive on the world. That’s actu­al­ly a pret­ty good descrip­tion for the vol­ume as a whole, where twen­ty Jew­ish artists work won­ders ren­der­ing the entire can­vas of the imag­i­na­tion— because everything’s avail­able to the prac­ti­tion­ers of these gen­res — into sto­ries that linger in the mem­o­ry well after the book is done.

Discussion Questions