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.