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.