Zion’s Fic­tion: A Trea­sury of Israeli Spec­u­la­tive Literature

Shel­don Teit­el­baum and Emanuel Lot­tem, ed; Avi Katz, illus.
  • Review
By – October 8, 2018

Zion’s Fic­tion is the first Eng­lish-lan­guage col­lec­tion of Israeli spec­u­la­tive lit­er­a­ture — a genre that encom­pass­es sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, hor­ror, and alter­nate his­to­ry. The lit­er­a­ture in this anthol­o­gy can more specif­i­cal­ly be described as Zi-fi,” a term coined by the collecton’s edi­tors and defined as spec­u­la­tive lit­er­a­ture writ­ten by cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents of Israel — Jew­ish, Arab, or oth­er­wise” liv­ing in Israel or abroad and writ­ing in any lan­guage spo­ken in Israel.

In the book’s intro­duc­tion, the edi­tors posit:

The State of Israel may be regard­ed as the quin­tes­sen­tial sci­ence fic­tion nation — the only coun­try on the plan­et inspired by not one, but two sem­i­nal works of won­der: the Hebrew Bible and Zion­ist Theodor Herzl’s ear­ly twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry utopi­an nov­el Alt­neu­land (Old New Land).

Despite these fan­tas­ti­cal roots, most Israelis have long held an aver­sion to spec­u­la­tive lit­er­a­ture; up until the 1970s and the advent of the inter­net, sci­ence fic­tion was con­sid­ered to be a child­ish dis­trac­tion, not seri­ous lit­er­a­ture. The edi­tors large­ly attribute Israelis’ pre­vi­ous dis­taste for spec­u­la­tive lit­er­a­ture to the prag­ma­tism of ear­ly Zionism.

Many of the sto­ries in the anthol­o­gy mir­ror aspects of Israeli soci­ety and cul­ture; not sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en Israel’s ongo­ing exis­ten­tial chal­lenge, many of the sto­ries are dark and apoc­a­lyp­tic. Moments of lev­i­ty are rare. Space trav­el and aliens appear sparingly.

One of the collection’s most com­pelling sto­ries is Lavie Tidhar’s The Smell of Orange Groves.” The sto­ry takes the read­er into a Tel Aviv of the future, one of space­ports and solar surfers, as well as the lin­ger­ing smell of long-van­ished orange groves. It’s also a future of robot­niks, human rem­nants of for­got­ten wars, and labbed” chil­dren. Oth­er sto­ries of note are Keren Landsman’s Burn Alexan­dria,” about an Earth that has been dev­as­tat­ed by alien inva­sions, and Savy­on Liebrecht’s A Good Place for the Night,” about a holo­caust of unknown ori­gin that wipes out most of Poland’s population.

The com­plex and chal­leng­ing sto­ries col­lect­ed in Zion’s Fic­tion are a wel­come addi­tion to the world of spec­u­la­tive literature.

Inger Saphire-Bern­stein is a health pol­i­cy pro­fes­sion­al with exten­sive expe­ri­ence across mul­ti­ple health care deliv­ery set­tings and the insur­ance indus­try. She has pub­lished a num­ber of arti­cles and papers in the health pol­i­cy field.

Discussion Questions