Monday, 10 August 2015

People of the Book edited by Rachel Swirsky

Another collection of short stories I picked up on sale at the local comic book store during that one sale every year where such things appear. I thought Jewish science fiction sounded really interesting, and the authors on the cover sold me.

Of course, having read it, this book is mostly Jewish fantasy, folklore brought to life. There are only, if I'm remembering correctly, two science fiction stories in it. That's a little disappointing, but in general, the quality of the stories in the collection was very high. Still, there isn't more Jewish science fiction out there?

Of what stories there are in this books, some are historical fantasy, like Rachel Pollack's take on Jacob. A fair amount is set during the Holocaust, including a really interesting story about cities dancing that I quite enjoyed. The Niels Bohr story was not as interesting, although not terrible.

Much of it is modern, relying on aspects of Jewish folklore coming into the contemporary world. There are a bunch of golems, at least two dybbuks, and one kibbutz. (Although that one is actually one of the two science fiction stories, written by Lavie Tiddhar. Also one I liked a lot.)

There is a sense of melancholy about many of the stories, of separation from the world. I've been trying to put my finger on it more precisely, but I wouldn't want to rely on stereotypes instead of puzzling it out, and so I will only say that as a collection, there is something in the writing that makes this hang together than some other anthologies I've read.

Perhaps my favourite story, though, deals with a classic of Christian children's literature. I love C.S. Lewis' Narnia book, but apparently Gaiman was bothered by the same aspect of it I am - that Susan gets exiled from Narnia because she becomes too obsessed with material things. For circumstances in which "material things" are synonymous with "girly things," bringing a troubling level of gender judgment into the mix.  His short story deals with that, and I don't know if it would be appealing to someone who didn't know the Lewis books, but I was very taken by it.

I've read very little Michael Chabon, which is strange, given how much I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It would perhaps surprise no one that his story circles around golems. It's presented as a non-fiction Golems I Have Known. And who am I to nitpick his stories of finding golems and having their power sources show up in his mail?

I realize I am pretty much just talking about the big name authors, and that's fine, because I'm not going to stop when I get to Peter S. Beagle's short story, which is an interesting mix of angels, art, and something else. I liked the twist, is all I'm saying, and I will not give it any more away than that. But if an angel shows up claiming to be sent by God to be a Jewish painter's muse, what are you going to do?

Overall, a strong collection. I just wanted a teensy bit more science fiction. (I'm not counting that sort of steampunk tale as science fiction. To me, that's still fantasy.)


  1. I think you might enjoy Jewish Comix Anthology

    1. That looks amazing! If only I had disposable income....