Sci­ence fic­tion com­bines well with Judaism — a reli­gion that’s always been open to ques­tion­ing, dis­cov­ery, and flex­i­bil­i­ty. Many fans know about Wan­der­ing Stars, the first Jew­ish sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy anthol­o­gy com­piled by Jack Dann. Oth­ers may fond­ly recall Marge Piercy’s futur­is­tic fem­i­nist golem para­ble He, She, and It or Mary Doria Russell’s The Spar­row, a team-up plan­e­tary explo­ration with a Sephardic Jew. Few­er know about Asimov’s Peb­ble in the Sky, Har­lan Ellison’s Golem100, Har­ry Harrison’s The Daleth Effect, Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside, Jack Dann’s The Man Who Melt­ed, and the long list of indi­rect­ly Jew­ish releas­es by Pol­ish author Stanis­law Lem and the Russ­ian Stru­gatsky Brothers.

There’s also a great deal of Israeli sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy (the anthol­o­gy Zion’s Fic­tion offers an excel­lent sam­pler of top authors). Indeed, indi­vid­ual short sto­ries are more com­mon than nov­els and fan­ta­sy is much more com­mon than sci­ence fic­tion (a won­der­ful mas­ter list of all of the above is avail­able). Still, one can find time trav­el adven­tures, alt-his­to­ries, Jew­ish aliens, clones, and robots. With such a vari­ety, I’ve cho­sen to focus on specif­i­cal­ly recent sci­ence fic­tion nov­els — from space opera to near future dystopias — all of which explore how the Jew­ish peo­ple would change and be changed by new technology.

Robert Zubrin writes a satire akin to 1984 in The Holy Land: A Tale of a Uni­verse Mad Enough to Be our Own. It depicts the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict through a sto­ry in which aliens pur­chase land in Ken­newick, Wash­ing­ton, which they con­sid­er their ancient home­land. They add tech­no­log­i­cal won­ders while liv­ing peace­ful­ly with the locals. Sens­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty, cor­rupt war­mon­gers in the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment send in inad­e­quate­ly armed Amer­i­can troops to be slaugh­tered and rad­i­cal­ize their chil­dren to become sui­cide bombers. This work of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nates the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East.

Daniel M. Kimmel’s Father of the Bride of Franken­steinhilar­i­ous­ly com­bines the two tit­u­lar tropes to ana­lyze con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. Phil Levin, har­ried Jew­ish father,narrates his daugh­ter falling in love with a Franken­stein cre­ation, (named Frank) who decides to con­vert to Judaism. Amid prej­u­dice from many sources, their rab­bi busi­ly address­es issues about Frank’s body parts’ past as well as the con­cept of his soul — whether he has one and whether (with Frank’s delight­ful­ly self-dep­re­cat­ing humor) it’s Jew­ish. In a twist rec­og­niz­able to many read­ers, it’s the sec­u­lar par­ents who have nev­er heard of many Jew­ish cus­toms as they try sup­port­ing their daugh­ter through her jour­ney. It’s a light, fun romp that’s very relatable.

The Unin­cor­po­rat­ed Series fol­lows the ancient Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Aish HaTorah, spread across five aster­oids, asa rev­o­lu­tion unfolds in the Kollin Broth­ers’ space opera. In book three, The Unin­cor­po­rat­ed Woman, one of the few sur­viv­ing rab­bis, Gedalia Wild­man, calls on the Jews to evac­u­ate in a great dias­po­ra, fol­low­ing the rab­bi like Moses to a new home. Dis­cus­sions on con­ver­sion and cir­cum­ci­sion by nanobot add in a rec­og­niz­able Jew­ish ele­ment but also brings these sto­ries into the future.

Joel Rosenberg’s The Met­za­da Mer­ce­nary Corps series tells the sto­ry of space Jews.” Met­za­da is an inhos­pitable plan­et whose inhab­i­tants are descend­ed from Israeli refugees. Instead of becom­ing the traders and lore­mas­ters seen in Asimov’s Foun­da­tion and many oth­er series, they become high­ly sought-after war­riors. The heroes, mer­ce­nar­ies with a shin­ing rep­u­ta­tion, fight to keep their colony safe in a strong metaphor for mod­ern Israel. They also keep kosher and obey Tal­mu­dic law. Like the Kollin books, this space opera seems designed for Jew­ish SF fans in particular.

Israeli author Lavie Tid­har wrote the short sto­ry cycle Cen­tral Sta­tion about his space port near Tel Aviv. They are a poly­glot com­mu­ni­ty of humans, cyborgs, and dis­card­ed robots who most­ly get along with each oth­er and advances in tech­nol­o­gy. Through it all, Boris Aharon Chong, an Israeli born from many cul­tures much like the sta­tion, strug­gles with bear­ing the weight of all his family’s mem­o­ries. This works as a metaphor for trau­ma from the Holo­caust, war, and oth­er acts of violence.

Mary Robi­nette Kowal’s Lady Astro­naut series won a Hugo Award. A plan­e­tary dis­as­ter moti­vates earth’s space pro­gram to launch a gen­er­a­tion ear­li­er, so female com­put­ers are recruit­ed, includ­ing Elma York. She’s kosher and keeps Shab­bat, and lat­er holds a Passover seder on the way to Mars. The book empha­sizes inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty as Elma learns to lis­ten to Black astro­nauts and teach­es young peo­ple that space and sci­ence are for every­one. It’s a sweet, heart­warm­ing adven­ture trilogy.

Jew­ish Teen Dystopia Novels

Teen dystopi­an nov­els come in many vari­a­tions. Some take place on a near-future earth, one in which an oppres­sive gov­ern­ment enforces bru­tal laws until teen heroes top­ple the sys­tem. Oth­ers take place on alien worlds or colony ships. In the last few years, young adult pub­lish­ers have been empha­siz­ing diver­si­ty and also intersectionality.

Alex London’s Proxy fol­lows rich kids com­mit­ting crimes that con­demn their proxy – an eigh­teen-year inden­tured ser­vant – to pun­ish­ment in their place. As the soci­ety riffs on the bib­li­cal con­cept of the scape­goat, Syd­ney Car­ton is men­tored by Mr. Baram, an old­er Jew­ish man who tells Syd­ney of his great bible-inspired des­tiny. In fact, Sydney’s birth name is Yov­el (Jubilee), a word that ref­er­ences free­ing the slaves. The pair strug­gle toward freedom.

The Cureby Sonia Lev­itin has pairs of twins grow­ing up in a dystopi­an future in which love, song, dance, and emo­tion are all taboo. The hero, Gemm 16884, is sen­tenced to death for his obses­sion with these for­bid­den feel­ings. Their only chance at sur­vival is to take a men­tal trip to a moment of his­to­ry that can teach him to change. On this mis­sion, Gemm is a six­teen-year-old Jew in Stras­bourg, 1348, a sto­ry that ends in bru­tal tragedy, though with a trace of hope for the future.

Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day spent 2020 described as one of the most prophet­ic sci­ence fic­tion nov­els: it describes a 2020 plague shut­ting down Amer­i­can life. Young peo­ple grow up only hug­ging their fam­i­lies, nev­er attend­ing the­aters and large gath­er­ings, and cre­at­ing large online com­mu­ni­ties con­trolled by the mega­cor­po­ra­tions. Still, Luce Can­non defies the new assem­bly laws to give small con­certs in per­son. As the sto­ry grad­u­al­ly reveals, she was born Cha­va Leah Kan­ner in a strict Hasidic com­mu­ni­ty where she was for­bid­den to sing and play or fall in love with women. As she bat­tles to express her­self, a par­tic­u­lar­ly touch­ing moment at the High Hol­i­day cer­e­mo­ny of tash­lich leads her to heal­ing and a moment of epiphany.

In Phoebe North’s Star­glass, a ship of entire­ly Jew­ish pas­sen­gers seeks a home­land in space. Onboard, every­one is com­mit­ted to a Jew­ish life; at the same time, many of the mitzvot have been twist­ed into dark­er forms. A rev­o­lu­tion is brew­ing, with the young peo­ple strug­gling towards a bet­ter life in which they can return to spirituality.

Danielle: Chron­i­cles of a Super­heroine by Ray Kurzweil fol­lows a young Jew­ish prodi­gy as she trans­forms the cur­rent world. As the hero­ine makes a dif­fer­ence through small acts, her father reminds her of the Talmud’s words, that who­ev­er saves a life has saved the whole world. She top­ples unjust gov­ern­ments, paci­fies the Mid­dle East, wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and jolts rab­bis out of their fun­da­men­tal­ism in favor of help­ing oth­ers. The book ends with projects to help young peo­ple remake their own world.

Folk­lorist Valerie Estelle Frankel won an Indie Excel­lence Award and a USA Book News Nation­al Best Book Award for her Hen­ry Pot­ty par­o­dies. She’s authored over 60 books on pop cul­ture, ana­lyz­ing Jew­ish sci­ence fic­tion super­heroes, Star Wars, Har­ry Pot­ter, Hamil­ton, Hunger Games, Doc­tor Who, Sher­lock, and many more. She teach­es at Mis­sion Col­lege and San Jose City Col­lege. VEFrankel​.com.