The Third Resignation – Gabriel García Márquez

“The Third Resignation” (short story) by Gabriel García Márquez

English Publication History: Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories (Harper Row, 1978; Johnathan Cape, 1979), Short Stories (Perennial Library, 1985; Penguin, 1996)

Original: Spanish (1947, La tercera resignación)

Translated by Gregory Rabassa, 1978

Synopsis: As a young boy, he was once had a terrible affliction: death; after his diagnosis, his body’s functions were maintained while his mind sat spinning like flywheel fully alert. Now nearly twenty years later on his twenty-fifth birthday, his body still supine, he is laid like an offering to a morbid god, yet today something is different. Fully an adult in terms in maturation, he begins to putrefy. A second death is coming, one which is difficult to reconcile with: after his second bodily death, is there then a third mental death that he may not be prepared to approach? Or will he hear the nails driven, the soil dug, his flesh eaten by worms?

Analysis: Society loves to celebrate transitions; the more the merrier: baby to toddler to child to tween to teen to young adult to adult; nursery school, to kindergarten, to primary school, to middle school, to high school, to university;  first haircut, first Christmas, first birthday, first plane ride, etc. On through to adulthood, our lives are filled with transitions and firsts, but thereafter, we settle into our so-called lives in which we begin to celebrate others’ transitions rather than our own.

As above, age and school are stratified to highlight transitions, but death is one transitions that is black and white: once alive, now dead. As transitions taper off toward our full maturation, our transitional significance to others tapers off, too; though our lives may be filled with effervescent change, society sees our lives as stable, pretty much over the hump of change… the only lingering changes remaining being marriage, over-40, retirement, and death.

In “The Third Resignation”, García Márquez stratifies death in parallel with the stratification of age: child, teen, adult; motor death, body death, mind death. As much as we’re often unprepared to enter the realm and responsibilities of adulthood, the man in the story is scared of what his final transition may entail: Is there life after the transition into adulthood? Is there another kind of life after mind death? Does death become further stratified? Death of ego, death super-ego, death of id.

Review: Morbid yet philosophical, it’s a great combination that exhibits the author’s fascination with death; even more so, it sets the tone for a long history of short fiction that explores the human element in terms of subtle motivation that requires an attentive mind while reading and an attentive mind while reflecting. Just because the 26 stories in the collection are short doesn’t mean that they don’t offer as much as a full-length novel. The stories here are ripe for contemplation, the first of which being “The Third Resignation”.

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After Dark – Haruki Murakami

 

After Dark (novel) by Haruki Murakami

English Publication History: After Dark (Alfred K. Knopf, 2007; Vintage, 2007; Bond Street, 2007; Harvill Secker, 2007; Thorndike, 2007; Anchor, 2013)

Original: Japanese (2004, アフターダーク)

Translated by Jay Rubin, 2004

Synopsis: Alone but not outwardly lonely, a girl sits in a restaurant reading a book. Though the time nears midnight, she seems unhurried to catch the last train home as with so many others in the city of millions. Outwardly, again, she’s just face in a restaurant; she’s one of a million of women in one of a score of Denny’s in one of the world’s largest cites: Tokyo. Here, nothing in unique. Only when a male passerby identifies her does she earn attention… and a name and a relationship: Mari, the sister of the Eri, who the passerby knows as an acquaintance. With identities established, the two go their separate ways.

Soon, Mari is approached by another unfamiliar face who is an acquaintance of the prior man. Considering Mari to be fluent in Chinese, she woman elicits help in order to deal with a situation stemming from an injured Chinese prostitute at a love hotel. Mari then descends into the seedier side of city complete with mafia, johns, and those who find employment on the operations side of such establishments. Regardless of the chasm between their current lives and backgrounds, Mari finds a familiar air of association with the prostitute, the hotel’s manageress, and the assistant; however, there are those amid the night’s secretive pervasiveness who elude Mari’s scope of relevance: the mafia figure who picks up the prostitute and the unnamed john who assaulted the same prostitute.

As the night deepens, Mari experiences the depth of those with whom she comes into contact. Like effervescence, life emerges to the surface, popping in Mari’s mind with chromatic intrigue, compelling her to disclose her own history, albeit slowly and sparsely. Divulging mostly to Takahashi, the man who recognized her in the Denny’s, Mari opens up her familial history regarding Eri, a beautiful but elusive sister, one who has led her own life both in limelight and recent hermitage. Though Mari tells her story, she resists baring her soul, which seems caged by the non-existence of her relationship with Eri.

Meanwhile…

…Eri sleeps peacefully, a static body of beauty and dreamstate. Her unplugged TV stirs to life portraying a translucently masked man who silently observes as he sits in the middle of a wide open floorspace. Soon, he disappears while Eri is ethereally transported to the same space, where she wakens to a self-induced panic; exhausted though, she settles once again into  slumber.

…the john who attacked the prostitute hammers out computer code in his open office. Shirakawa’s meaningless work reflects his errant way of life, one transfixed on remorseless debauchery and emotionless family life. His so-called follows through its motions as a pendulum swings: predictable yet ripe with gravitational potential.

Analysis: During our waking hours, we live in the realm of civilization; if not working with, commuting with, or co-inhabiting with our fellow humans, we’re at least exposed to the product of the same civilization in the forms of television, music, literature, furniture or even the city’s sound pollution. When dusk gives way to starlight, when humans return to the safety of home, our body clocks wind down to an obverse alarm, one which incites a return to slumber. With eyes closed, our minds recede inward–further, further–into the depths of our selves, wholly leaving behind civilization. Asleep, we are alone–alone, finally–with only our histories and unconscious associative thoughts.

Rather than a placid lake of reflection, our dreamstate selves wonder amid the unforgiving terrain of thought, complete with streams of thought, quagmires of lost love, oceans of personal history, and other such analogous geography (you get the point). Lost amid the geography of the mind, we are actually confronted by our selves. Subjective truth lies near here in his topography, a trove of which is entirely absent during the day’s tumult. On rare occasions, epiphanies way well forth, suddenly exposing a truth like rare ore that glimmers in the long-hidden sun.

As for Mari, she ignores the truth that dreams ensure. Stalwart to such truth, she stays awake through the night immersed in her outward solitude while shunning the inward solitude of sleep. The night, however, can be just as illuminating as a dream because the city, too, sleeps. While Tokyo recovers from its daily organization of chaos averted, its nocturnal cells replenish its character, a city that seeks its own truths just as humans do. One of these truths is one of its citizens: Mari. With each person she meets, Mari is able to see the shifting facets of herself, which brings her closer to the kernel of her sororal dilemma with Eri.

Eri, in her months-long catatonia, finds herself dreaming, and in that dream, experiences herself as she acted in her real life: self-obsessed. Serene she may lie, but her mind stirs with roiling realization. Others view her as physical perfection, attention which she considers to be of primary importance, thus creating an self-obsession bent on a steady state of the same perfection; however, this perfection is unhappiness. Her life is empty, a shell.

So, too, does Shirakawa experience his own shell. Perhaps a sociopath even though married, he lives his life under the burning lamps of the city rather than that of the sun. In his nocturnal hermitage, any errant to his routine is an infraction on his sense of steady perfection, something which his work demands in one sense. His one brush with humanity in the depths of night paints a demented picture, yet the fallout doesn’t stop him from returning to his mindless bliss at work, at the mini-mart, in the cab, and at home in front of the TV. Having escaped subjective truth for another night, Shirakawa only hides from the predator that is his history; he, a ripe prey for change.

Unimpeded by other schemes, this hint of things to come takes time to expand in the new morning light, and we attempt to watch it unobtrusively, with deep concentration. The night has begun to open up at last. There will be time until the next darkness arrives. (201)

Review: So very atmospheric, it’s a story that demands association just as dreams compel us to look inward. The story won’t do the work for you, so many may be disappointed that everything isn’t tidily strung together in the conclusion, but the open ending, again, compels us to look again, not only at the details of the story, but inward to our selves. The association lies deep. The novel is a great moment of reflection.

Likewise, the novel really captures the intangible essence of the city after dark, something which I’ve experienced in both Tokyo and Osaka, until 1am at least. Though tapering in vitality, the city retains its pulse, much like our own slumber maintains our heartbeat. The novel oozes authenticity and atmosphere.

Edge – Koji Suzuki

Edge (novel) by Koji Suzuki

English Publication History: Edge (Vertical, 2012)

Original: Japanese (2008, エッジ)

Translated by Camellia Nieh and Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, 2012

Synopsis: Eighteen years ago, Saeko lost her father, thus leaving her without parent yet with ample funding due to her father’s translations, publishing, and writing. His disappearance spurred her to deeply investigate his life and to understand the those methods of investigation, which helped her to become an excellent journalist. A recent spat of human disappearances is investigated by Saeko, an investigation which gains her fame within media circles, but the disappearances themselves in the public sphere overshadow her minor fame. Hashiba, a television executive, takes a liking to thirty-something Saeko, a relationship that treads softly with neither party discussing their private lives. Her involvement with the man causes her to look again into her father’s disappearance, which may have involved a woman, a facet of truth that she garnered from her father’s journal found at the site of a family’s vanishing. Soon, with some inventive research, it’s found that a combination of tectonic forces, sunspots, and magnetic neutrality is causing people to vanish one way or another.  Fearing reprisals of quackery, the team keeps their discoveries to themselves… only later to learn of more than 100 missing from a botanical garden. The US president has gathered a team, and Saeko and Hashiba–ever with frisson between them–gather their own scientists to better understand the intangible threat.

Analysis: In regards to fear, “out of sight, out of mind” takes on a curious form in Edge. In our real world, “out of sight, out of mind” plays a psychological element to our everyday lives. When guns are hidden, we don’t consciously fear a shooting, murder, or hold-up. When the elderly are hidden in nursery homes, we don’t fear our own decay or death. When nature’s predators are killed, we no longer worry about attacks as prey. So, we hide the guns and pretend there aren’t any, we keep the elderly hidden to believe in immortality, and we kill the beasts to crown ourselves the fittest to survive. Meanwhile, while these material fears lessen, immaterial fears–intangible yet forceful–still prey upon us: bankruptcy, cancer, climate change, etc. These fears are man-made, products of success as a species.

Few are the intangible fears that are natural (i.e., an asteroid impact, to name one). In Edge, however, the characters are met by two immaterial fears of death stemming from psychological reflection of their reality: sudden human disappearances (the primary element to the plot) and the alteration of the universe’s physical laws (the much lauded plot according to the book’s summary, but more of a framing device). It’s this intangible fear that Suzuki seems to do so well in his Ring trilogy, which I haven’t had the privilege to read yet.

Call me one who relishes a mystery, one who thrives in uncertainty, one who wallows in “directionlessness”, one who… you get the idea. The mind needs to fill in its own gaps of understanding to make fear more visceral, more relevant. When intangible fears are named, probed, necropsied, diagrammed, and cataloged, the intangible fear begins to feel very tangible with almost book-like familiarity. In Edge, everything point of fear has some logical underpinning. The human disappearances begin to feel like segments from 1980s-1990s Unsolved Mysteries. The paranormal begins to feel very normal, like how sensationalized news makes our normal yet remarkable lives feel otherwise dull.

Review: When I said that “In Edge, everything point of fear has some logical underpinning”, it wasn’t a compliment. In modern SF novels, some authors like to add an bibliography in the back that backs the science used in the novel. I suppose this either 1) makes the book better based on reality rather than fits of fancy or 2) as a resource for others to discovery more of the book’s science in depth. These bibliographies are often peer-reviewed articles from professional journals. In Edge, however, the bibliography can be immediately disregarded (in terms of “based on real science”) when Graham Hancock is seen, who “specialises in pseudoscientific theories involving ancient civilisations, stone monuments or megaliths, altered states of consciousness, ancient myths, and astronomical or astrological data from the past” (Wiki).

In addition to pi being made from irrational to rational (one of the the book’s opening premises), the novel delves into ancient civilizations, some correlation between sunspots and earthquakes, clairvoyance, and other pseudoscience. It tries hard to incorporate some far-flung theoretical science into this mishmash, but the end result is a disorganized array of half-hearted attempts of injecting interesting slants to the story. It’s a mish-mash that could have used some more time distilling before bottling, leaving the reader hungover from its dregs.

They Had to Move – Shimon Adaf

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“They Had to Move” (short story) by Shimon Adaf

English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (2008, unknown)

Translated by Emanuel Lottem, 2018

Synopsis: Aviva and her young brother No’am were living their debilitated mother when their long-lost Aunt  Tehila comes to take them under her wing. Aunt Tehila seems to be younger, more beautiful, more graceful than what their memory had imposed, but she does offer haven and, to boot, a library. Aviva’s aunt’s initial library holds little for either herself or No’am until she’s led through a small door into a chamber nestling a collection of old Fantasia 2000 magazines and other oddities, each of which used to belong to her Aunt’s exes. Grasping her locket, Aviva chooses one edition for her brother, who is eager to read more; however, rather than selecting them for himself, No’am insists that Aviva choose for me, by which he is always satisfied. Compounding this with No’am recent troubles with the local boys–not as the victim, but as the culprit of the fights–Aviva decides to follow her brother into the woods, where she discovers something inexplicable, all surrounding her brother’s ghostly assistance.

Analysis: Inspiration isn’t bipolar–it can’t be switched on or off; rather, inspiration is often the timely convergence of place, situation, and mindset.

I was a late-bloomer in terms of reading science fiction. It seems many readers discovered it at a young age and now attach nostalgic feelings to the habit. I, however, picked up reading when I was 25.

Time: April 2006

Place: Gecko Books, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Situation: for want of a long-holiday book

Mindset: reflecting on my similarities to my father

I’ve known since I was a child that my dad reads science fiction. He used to read to me in bed, the cover of one book I strikingly remember but have never been able to find (green, orange, black, and green colors featuring a moonscape and astronaut). He tried to encourage me to read when I was a teenager (Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer), but I was never inspired to pick it up. I had even bought my dad a few SF books from a secondhand bookstore for his birthday, titles of which I read, found interesting, and bought for him while knowing his favorite authors.

Prior to 2006, I had been reading non-fiction: crime, Buddhism, and philosophy. It wasn’t until 2006 that I found myself in front of similar shelves with similar books wanting something to relax to, but with a need for myself rather than for my dad. I immediately went to Greg Bear–another of my dad’s old favorites from the 1980s–and chose The Forge of God. Boom. Hooked.

Similarly, this short story hold two parallelisms to inspiration. The first: No’am is in the right time, place, and situation to experience his inspiration or sorts. Lonesome and bullied, No’am turns to his stories to find escapism, only to find something more potent and useful. The second: The source of the SF magazines (an actual series of SF magazines produced in Israel’s native language, including original stories and translations of classics). Tehila says it used to belong to one of her ex-lovers (Shi’mon [metafiction: same as the story’s author?]), but the truth of the magazines’ origin is muddied between lovers and magazines, which she loves, keeps, then kills before objectifying the lover/story. This line of parallelism is oddly reflective to what the author probably experienced while growing up, reading SF, and “helped him consolidate his identity as a reader” (285) when he was young. It’s unclear to me who the author is exactly reflected in, but there’s a distinct sense that this is important to the story’s plot.

Review: The familiar yet odd parallelism as mentioned above adds a distinctive feeling to the short story that imbues it with more than a standard plot of a “boy with powers” story, something semi-young-adult-fiction-ish. I wouldn’t take the story at face value; rather, consider what the story would mean to the author. I’ve read a lengthy interview with the author after reading this story, and my impression of the author fit very well with the interview. Thus, if it was the author’s intention to convey his inspiration through science fiction through this very story, it was successful and provided a mental puzzle that intrigues.

 

My Crappy Autumn – Nitay Peretz

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“My Crappy Autumn” (novelette) by Nitay Peretz

English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (2005, unknown)

Translated by Emanuel Lottem, 2018

Synopsis: Ido’s autumn went from shitty to surreal very quickly. This portion of his life started with the unexpected break-up with his long-time girlfriend; thus, having lost the only thing he truly loved, Ido begins a downward spiral marked by sloth, gluttony, and utter disregard for others–in other words, his misery keeps him afloat in addition to the thoughts of a quick exit with a gun purchase. His depression is unfazed by the sudden conversion of his roommate to a popular prophet, one apostle of which is a talking donkey who becomes popular on TV. Further, aliens, who seem to be linked to the new prophet, also leave Ido unfazed. His rock is his mother, a typical overbearing mother stubborn to the ebb of time. Though the relationship is a strained one, Ido can sense some timelessness in otherwise turbid times.

Analysis: Many forms of entertainment are sensationalized. It garners our attention; we seek its roiling affairs of the heart. Daytime drama used to epitomize this, but it seems much of our news media has taken its cue from the former, thus dissolving the fine line between information and entertainment, between relevance and decadence. Sordid affairs are brandished over the news to captivate the social element of out brain rather than the intellectual or curious kernels. As a result, we now have the tendency to focus on our own personal drama, which distracts from the more important things around us.

Regardless of our drama, however, for the most part, the turbulence eventually tapers off and our lives return to a sense of normality; the deeper the drama, the greater sense of normality is felt upon that return. For Ido, though his drama is deep, so are the peripheral circumstances of his roommate-cum-prophet, a talking donkey, and aliens. Just as his life had once been one of routine and complacency, it’s almost assured that his life will snap back into normality in due time. With this mother as anchor, through the tumultuous seas of drama may rock his boat, there’s a reaffirming sense of permanence in the deep.

Review: Not only is the story of zany fun, but it also offers a fair amount of food for thought (e.g. the relevance of the talking donkey) and sympathy (e.g. for Ido’s troubles). It’s artistic merits are well veiled by the otherwise fast and interesting pace, which may compel the reader forward through the story rather than stopping to smell the roses while on the journey,

A Man’s Dream – Yael Furman

“A Man’s Dream” (short story) by Yael Furman

English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (2006, חלום של גבר)

Translated by Nadav Miller Almog, 2018

Synopsis: Three people live in a personal hell, the dreams of which are summoned by Yair, a man with an unconscious fixation. When Yair dreams of a person, that person is transported from wherever they were to materialize next to him. Unfortunate for Galia, she seems to be Yair’s current fixation, having been displaced from her own own sleep (leaving her sleeping next to him), her commute (leaving her car careening without a driver), and ever her work (leaving her meeting without her attendance). His wife, Rina, continually pesters him about his fixation, but neither her nor the authorities seem to be able to do anything about it without causing him death. As a so-called Dreamer, Yair knows the trouble he causes, but the frustration is only truly reflected upon Galia’s reactions, which have now come to a boiling point.

Analysis: Evidence of emotional guilt rarely becomes more physical beyond a blush, tremor, or verbal outburst. Knowing something is wrong doesn’t the wrong-doer from doing that something. It becomes a battle of the ego and the id, the conscious desire and the unconscious desire. In terms of Yair, his unconscious desire for Galia doesn’t stop when he consciously deems his dream-state behavior to be wrong. The ember of guilt rages with greater friction between his ego and id, thereby manifesting Galia more often and at more inconvenient times. Yair is unable to resolve this friction as the outlet for “fulfilling” his desire may only exacerbate the situation, leading him and Galia down a path with two forks: allow the obsession to wax or wait for the obsession to wane.

Review: Yair plays something like an absent-minded grandfather in the story. He acts like he’s done no harm, urges himself to do better, yet fumbles upon the same folly time and time again. Though both Galia and Rina are the victims of his unconscious fixations, the reader can relate to Yair. It’s not his fault that he’s a Dreamer. Considering the damage he’s doing to Galia’s life, should his own life by restricted in any way for his inborn gift/curse/power/disability? At first, it’s a fun and curious story, but deeper down it’s a story imbued with gender equality, victim rights, and accountability.

 

White Curtain – Pavel Amnuel

“White Curtain” (short story) by Pesakh (Pavel) Amnuel

English Publication History: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May-June 2014), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection (2015, St. Martin’s Griffin), The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 28 (201, Robinson), Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Russian (2007, Белая штора)

Translated by Anatoly Belilovsky, 2014

Synopsis: When younger men, Dima and Oleg shared two loves: that for theoretical physics and that for a girl named Ira. Many years later after their theories had a practical value, Dima seeks out Oleg who has become a so-called prophet for his ability to splice realities in the multiforce in order to improve the lives of others. Dima’s arrival is one laden with sadness as he wife had just died, an event Oleg was very much aware of as he had tried in vain to find a reality in which Dima’s wife did not die; however, instead of of finding that reality, Oleg went to 176 funerals. After an argument about a finite multiverse, Dima leaves rejected and Oleg facing frustration… until Dima receives a phone call.

Analysis: In fiction, “what if” is wondrous tool used by authors to explore a detailed alternative to our reality. At its best, it’s escapism shrouded in an intellectual exercise, something that keeps me coming back to the genre of science fiction. When we apply “what if” to our own lives, however, it can become a rabbit hole of escapism into regret in which we explore alternative branches of our lives while ignoring the present reality; it’s a useless exercise of pain, like visiting a sadistic physical therapist (true story).

In “White Curtain”, it’s possible to splice realities which may or may not be infinite according to the story. If this rabbit hole of exploring alternative realities shifted from theory to application, the hole would only grow deeper and darker. The teasing question of “what if” would then become “when can I” or “how can I”. It’d only be a matter of money, something which I would parallel to cosmetic surgery. Once you go under the knife to “improve” one thing, where do you stop? For most people, when the money runs out, but for those with deep pockets… is there happiness at the bottom of the hole? For both cosmetic surgery and alternative realities, once having a foot in the hole, the answer or “yes” can never be found. Like Buddhist doctrine teaches: happiness is in the here and now.

Review: The story has a familiar feel to it, perhaps a feeling that shared with other stories written in Russian. I’ve read a handful of Russian SF short stories, and the tale of old scientist colleagues meeting up again to discuss the avenues of their old research seems to be a recurring trend. So, there’s a familiar combination of love and science among scientists who were once friends in addition to science heavy dialogue, which detracts from the emotion of the story. It’s not my favorite story in the collection, but it’s certainly one that has a resounding conclusion, if not a tad predictable.

A Good Place for the Night – Savyon Liebrecht

“A Good Place for the Night” (novelette) by Savyon Liebrecht

English Publication History: A Good Place for the Night (Karen and Michael Braziller Books, 2006), Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (2002, מקום טוב ללילה. אנגלית)

Translated by Sondra Silverston, 2006

Synopsis: Isolated amid chaos the train car, a woman named Gila emerged from the dark a lonesome soul along with another man equally bent on confusion and sobriety. Their location has no name, just as their time has no momentum; only faces have names, and these trickle into their ramshackle encampment with stories of death and decay from nearby villages. Memories of their own lives lost to the destruction weights heavily, but current struggles surmount the burden of the past: food, weather, insanity, and progeny. The initial man and woman who found themselves safe in the train have since formed an emotional bond, but the latter of four struggles continues to abrade their peace of mind because she’s as barren as the earth post-catastrophe. With long-term need for descendants to continue their bloodline and all of humanity, they cast their eyes to the others around them. What relative peace had been held over this community will be rent asunder for the greater needs of humankind sans humanity.

Analysis: In the Old Testament,the Pillar of Fire led the Israelites during the Exodus from Egyp. It was not only a manifestation of God as a beacon of light, but it also acts as a source of inspiration, fear and love. In “A Good Place for the Night”, however, a pillar of wind if the recurring element which serves contrarily to the Pillar of Fire: where the latter offers a way forward to safety, the former abducts to elsewhere. This pillar of wind seems to stalk Gila’s home, herself with memories of Holocaust Memorial Day. Though it has yet to capture her, it has the tendency to pick up the lone boy in its vortex. It can be interpreted that the pillar isn’t a natural one, but a supernatural one that is selective in its kidnapping. Is the supernatural capture one of condemnation from humanity unto death, or is the ensnaring one of rapture?

Review: What little there is in dialogue is fenced in by lengthy descriptive paragraphs that ricochet between current routine daydreaming and current actions. At 29 pages, traction is hard to find given the structure of the story: starts in the future, meanders between the past and present, before ending at the culmination of events that leads to the beginning of the story. Half-way through, I had to restart the story only to experience the same lack of traction. It’s not a story to breeze through, but the final sequence of events is lucid and offer contextual frame for the rest of the story.

The Stern-Gerlach Mice – Mordechai Sasson

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“The Stern-Gerlach Mice” (short story) by Mordechai Sasson

English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (1984, title unknown)

Translated by Emanuel Lottem, 2018

Synopsis: Though initially annoyed by the panhandling robot, who has nearly become a household slave at the whim of Nana for the pittance of a rusty nail, the Tin Beggar becomes a savior of sorts when it detects a mouse in the kitchen; however, it was no ordinary mouse. The giant creature was found collecting inventory of the kitchen before diminishing its size and scurrying away. Soon, a horde of similar mice, led by an orating mouse, overrun the house and neighborhood. An uneasy truce is drawn up between the human and rodent dwellers, but the attack has left some unexplained phenomena, such as one man’s ability to read minds, perhaps as a result of his run-in with a be-gadget-ed scientists mouse.

Analysis: Though the title highlights mice and the story unfolds to highlight the same mice, it’s the Tin Beggar that steals the show: a State-born robot that must beg for metal in order to sustain itself.  Though intelligent and supportive, it (and it can be assumed others like it) is denies welfare and rights by the State, including a ban on any art produced due to its life-like superiority to human-produced hyperrealism art. Only when this specific Tin Beggar shows a feat of heroism is he given his needed sustenance from the State.

The Tin Beggar, named Chambalooloo, seems to be a stateless person, or a stateless entity; thus, it is denied privileges that full-fledged citizens can enjoy. It begs for spare parts and can only offer its art and chore-doing in return. Capable of so much more, yet Chambalooloo is left to beg and produce mere portraits, “ephemeral, perishable art” (162). When Chambalooloo saves the day, city hall revamps the robot to a gleam, though the State doesn’t grant it much more and it is still taken advantage of in the end.

Remember the Wild Boars in June/July, the twelve boys and their coach stuck in the cave in Thailand? They were stateless, only a few in comparison to the 486,440 official stateless people in the country. With their heroic emergence from the cave, the State granted them citizenship. In that same province, there were “more than 27,000 pending cases of stateless people who have applied for Thai citizenship”, yet it was the Wild Boars who could jump the queue to be granted citizenship first. This is great for the boys’ lives and families, but we have yet to see the long-term effect of their limelight in the media. Will they be taken advantage of like Chambalooloo’s art?

Review: “Zany” is a great word to describe this story. It’s ripe with originality that flows well. You could compared it to the works of Cordwainer Smith for its zaniness, but I’ve never cared for Norstrilia or a few stories in Space Lords. Sadly, it seems that Mordechai Sasson on produced two short stories, including “The Conman and the Tin Beggar”. It would be a great Jerusalem to explore in more detail, but the universe that Sasson created is sadly limited to only two stories, only one which is in print in English.

In the Mirror – Rotem Baruchin

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“In the Mirror” (short story) by Rotem Baruchin

English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)

Original: Hebrew (2007, במראה)

Translated by David Chanoch, 2018

Synopsis: Since Danielle was young, she’s understood that the family mirror heirloom grants her choices in life: to live with her reality, or exchange it with an other-dimensional self. She shirks its use as it saps her vitality, save for more dire circumstances, one of which has just occurred not to her, but to her partner. Though the cat belongs to them both, its sudden death is a great hardship on Liron. Unable to accept her partner’s pain, Danielle resorts to using the mirror in order to make the life Liron experiences more tolerable to Danielle. The choice, though, lays in the mirror as she needs to confront her other self with the knowledge that she will be inflicted undue pain upon her. As she touches the mirror, their realities swap. Life carries on as if the cat had never died, but Danielle sees her other self casting glances into the mirror, becoming aware of a lingering suspicion.

Analysis: When our proximity to pain is close, it’s easier to make sacrifices than when it’s distant. Though the action could be seen as altruistic, the sacrifice may lessen the pain of the sufferer in addition to relieving our own suffering, vicariously. However, when that same pain is distant or faceless, it’s easy for us to make decisions that affect that or those persons. The pain we can see (i.e., our relatives, our partner) affects us more than the pain we can’t see (i.e., trickle-down policies).

Danielle temporarily sacrifices her health to benefit Liron, who knows nothing of the shift in the quality of her life. Danielle’s sacrifice goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but the overall effect on her life with her partner is better off. In contrast, however, is Danielle’s other-dimensional self who suffers from the decision to swap lives; her life goe from normal to catastrophic (oops, a cat pun) when her cat suddenly dies and her partner is the one who is suffering. While it’s hard for Danielle to make them decision knowing that the effect it will have on her other self, she considers her own tangible suffering in the here and now with Liron. The other side of her sacrifice is one of selfishness.

Review: The five-page story starts with the catalyst (damn, another cat pun): the cat dies and Danielle’s partner enters her bizarre phase of mourning. This catapults (argh, yet another cat pun) the reader into Danielle’s dilemma. It’s a short, sharp shock and the pain inflicted stays with the reader.