Lavie Tid­hars most recent book, An Occu­pa­tion of Angels, is now avail­able. He will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Author Blog.

I’ve got a feel­ing that, in years from now, with many nov­els, novel­las, and col­lec­tions all out (I’ll have 3 nov­els out just next year, if it’s an indi­ca­tion), when oil becomes scarce and there’ll be a Chi­nese colony on the moon, I’ll still be that Hebrew­Punk guy.

I should prob­a­bly explain…

A few years ago, I became irri­tat­ed enough with fan­ta­sy fic­tion to do some­thing about it. When I get asked about it, I nor­mal­ly say it was the vam­pires what did it. It used to dri­ve me insane that the under­ly­ing assump­tion of – well, pret­ty much all – vam­pire nov­els and movies, was that Chris­tian­i­ty worked.

After all, we all know what vam­pires are afraid of. Cross­es and holy water, right?

Which is strange, and a lit­tle uncom­fort­able, if you hap­pen to be Jewish.

Because, like the Aryan elves of fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture, there is a whole plan­e­tary mass of under­ly­ing assump­tions of cul­tur­al dom­i­nance behind those sil­ly sto­ries about unre­al things”. And Jews don’t belong, they seem to say, in fantasy.

This goes back a long way, of course. The most impor­tant edi­tor of Amer­i­can sci­ence fic­tion was John W. Camp­bell, revered to this day, with a bunch of awards named after him. By all accounts he was a love­ly, if some­what eccen­tric, guy (he launched L. Ron Hub­bards Dia­net­ics – lat­er Sci­en­tol­ogy – in a 1950 issue of Astound­ing Sci­ence Fic­tion, after all). There was only one thing about Camp­bell – he thought the best peo­ple were white, west Euro­pean peo­ple, and he felt that the read­ers” wouldn’t appre­ci­ate Jew­ish names in his mag­a­zine. Isaac Asi­mov, the most famous Jew­ish SF writer to this day, writes about it in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy – and how lucky he was to get pub­lished under his own name – but at least one oth­er writer wasn’t so lucky. Jews could write this kind of stuff, as long as they weren’t too Jewish.

I mean, no one wants that, right?

And so, back to vam­pires, afraid of Chris­t­ian sym­bols, afraid of water blessed by a priest.

What if, I thought, you had a Jew­ish vam­pire? He wouldn’t be afraid of this stuff, surely?

That sounds awful­ly racist!’ my moth­er told me when I hap­pened to men­tion it to her. Like the worst blood libels, all the things that were attrib­uted to Jews through­out the years!’

Which was part­ly the point, of course. I want­ed to re-claim fan­ta­sy. I want­ed to play with the idea of the Jew-as-blood-drinker, the awful racial stereo­types, and at the same time with the under­ly­ing assump­tions of white, Chris­t­ian supe­ri­or­i­ty in gener­ic fan­ta­sy fic­tion at the same time.

A few years ago, too, I ran into Neil Gaiman at the time of his Amer­i­can Gods launch. Every kind of fan­ta­sy arche­type is in there, but for one. Where are the Jews?’ I asked, and watched him squirm a lit­tle and final­ly say, Well, there’s a golem in it. What else is there?’

So I want­ed to answer that ques­tion, too. What else is there? And I didn’t want to write a main­stream, lit­er­ary nov­el. I want­ed to write pulp. I want­ed to re-imag­ine pulp fan­ta­sy in a dif­fer­ent uni­verse. As one review­er said on read­ing the even­tu­al prod­uct, my mini-col­lec­tionHebrew­Punk, the sto­ries read as though they had appeared in the 1940′s in mag­a­zines such asYid­dish Excite­ment Quar­ter­ly andThrilling Hebrew Tales!

But of course, we didn’t have those mag­a­zines. The Yid­dish pulps had all but dis­ap­peared, and Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture became con­cerned with heavy mat­ters, with the real­is­tic approach, with issues. The issues I was inter­est­ed in were those that came into your post box every month with a pic­ture of a mon­ster on the cover.

So I set out to write what would become Hebrew­Punk.

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I only slipped once. I end­ed up going lit­er­ary with the last sto­ry. At least, I think I did.

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The first sto­ry came seem­ing­ly com­plete. It was called The Heist”. It was, as the title sug­gests, a heist sto­ry (I want­ed each sto­ry to fit a very spe­cif­ic genre). It was pulp, almost comics-like, almost drawn rather than writ­ten. It intro­duced a gang of immoral, under­world fig­ures: the Rab­bi, who had the pow­er to make golems; the Rat, my Jew­ish vam­pire (and we all remem­ber the rats in Fritz Hippler’s Nazi mas­ter­piece” The Eter­nal Jew, right?); and the Tzad­dik, a rene­gade from the Lamed-Vav, the 36 right­eous men of Jew­ish legend.

Three anti-heroes, hired for a job no one else want­ed to do. It didn’t have much of a plot. I had fun devis­ing a blood bank guard­ed with holy water sprin­klers and cross­es cut into the walls (no match for my guy!), assem­bling my team, and send­ing them off on one last mis­sion, and, o course, noth­ing quite works out as it’s sup­posed to.And once I had fin­ished it, I knew – at that very moment – that each of these char­ac­ters required their own story.

I next took the Rat back to his ear­li­er days in Tran­syl­van­ian Mis­sion” – a World War II sto­ry with Jew­ish par­ti­sans, an elite Nazi com­man­do unit made of were­wolves (nat­u­ral­ly!), and the Nazi quest to awak­en Vlad Tepes, AKA Drac­u­la, from slum­ber. It was easy to write – my fam­i­ly comes from Tran­syl­va­nia, and in the moun­tains one might still see the name Heisikovitz on a tomb­stone (my orig­i­nal fam­i­ly name). And the Nazis noto­ri­ous­ly did hunt for myth­i­cal objects and were obsessed with the occult. So I got to have fun with that.

My Tzad­dik end­ed up in 1920 Lon­don, a time of Jew­ish gang­sters, of a roar­ing drug trade… and of ram­pant racism. As it hap­pened, it was also my break­through sto­ry, since it sold – rather to my amaze­ment – to Sci Fic­tion, at the time the high­est-pay­ing, high­est-pro­file genre mag­a­zine in exis­tence (it was spon­sored by the Sci Fi Chan­nel). I got a big check for that one…but then the cor­po­rate boss­es pulled the plug, and The Dope Fiend” was the last sto­ry ever pub­lished there.

Make of that what you will.

The sto­ries were pub­lished indi­vid­u­al­ly, but I always knew they were meant to be gath­ered togeth­er. I final­ly pitched the idea to Jason Size­more, head of a small pub­lish­ing house in the U.S., Apex Books, and he thought it was worth giv­ing it a shot. I sat down and wrote the final sto­ry, Ugan­da”, which fol­lows my rab­bi in 1904, fol­low­ing a vis­it from Her­zl him­self, and join­ing the Zion­ist Expe­di­tion to British East Africa to decide on the suit­abil­i­ty of that area for pos­si­ble Jew­ish colonization…

And here, I think, I sinned. Because, while it is pulp, glo­ri­ous pulp, it also became some­thing of a state­ment, an exam­i­na­tion of Jew­ish states, and a com­par­i­son of sorts with the one we did end up with in British Man­date Pales­tine instead…

I was able to view – and lat­er, incor­po­rate into the text – the actu­al expe­di­tion report, a sto­ry far stranger, and more fas­ci­nat­ing, than any­thing I could devise. In fact, with each of the sto­ries, I delved deep into the actu­al his­to­ry – whether it was the des­per­ate war against the Nazis in 43, or the hid­den world of Jew­ish gang­sters in 1920, or the strange, for­got­ten expe­di­tion to Africa on behalf of the Zion­ist Con­gress in 1904. Because being Jew­ish is being a part of his­to­ry – a secret his­to­ry, a for­got­ten his­to­ry, a lot of the time – as though Jews were the notes scrib­bled on the mar­gins of his­to­ry, faint but always there when every­thing else pass­es and is gone forever.

The book, at last, was pub­lished. It had a suit­ably gar­ish, pulpy cov­er (by the awe­some Melis­sa Gay) which tru­ly belonged on the cov­er of Thrilling Hebrew Tales. We weren’t sure about the title – Hebrew­Punk was meant tongue-in-cheek, but I saw sev­er­al peo­ple miss out on the irony – but we went for it nev­er­the­less. It sold – mod­er­ate­ly – and con­tin­ues to sell (mod­er­ate­ly). And it made its way into the pages of none oth­er than the Ency­clopae­dia Judaica (if only in pass­ing men­tion). You know you’ve made it when you’re in that book!

And if I get to be remem­bered for any­thing, and it just hap­pens to be for Hebrew­Punk, I don’t think I’d mind too much.

Lavie Tidhar’s Hebrew­Punk is avail­able on Ama­zon in paper­back and Kin­dle edi­tions. His first nov­el, The Book­manis out now, and will be fol­lowed next year by Cam­era Obscura. 

Lavie Tid­hars most recent nov­el is Osama (PS Pub­lish­ing). It has been com­pared to Philip K. Dick’s sem­i­nal work, The Man in the High Cas­tle by both the Guardian and the Finan­cial Times. His oth­er works include steam­punk tril­o­gy The Book­man, Cam­era Obscu­ra and the forth­com­ing The Great Game, all three from Angry Robot Books, the novel­la Jesus & The Eight­fold Path (Immer­sion Press), and the ground-break­ing Jew­ish fan­ta­sy col­lec­tion Hebrew­Punk. He grew up on a kib­butz in Israel and has since lived in South Africa, the UK, Van­u­atu and Laos. He cur­rent­ly lives in Lon­don, and tweets too much.





Thrilling Hebrew Tales! On Jew­ish Vam­pires, Golems, Tzad­diks, and Hebrew­Punk

Search­ing for Osama

Remem­ber­ing How to be a Jew

His­tor­i­cal Fig­ure Fix­a­tion

Being Com­pared to Philip K. Dick

Jews In Narnia