“Burn Alexandria” (short story) by Keren Landsman
English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)
Original: Hebrew (לשרוף את אלכסנדריה ,2015)
Translated by Emanuel Lottem, 2018
Synopsis: An aberration of the physical world appeared amidst the rubble; while detected upon its unheralded arrival, it can now be neither seen nor unseen–a spherical void. Shir and Romi of the Silent Unit, which is assigned to sabotage alien arrivals on Earth, enter the dark sphere, the inside of which is larger than possible. Greeted by a hologram, they grow skeptical that this aberration is of alien origin and soon their suspicions are confirmed when they meet a frazzled librarian named Nuphar. With the intention of recording history in occasional eras, the time-tunneling library arrives in the time of Shir and Romi, only to be left in the dark as the world outside is just as dark: desolate, depopulated, deprived, and nearly wholly without humans, which include Shir and Romi, who are mere flesh on metallic skeletons, fashioned regrowths due to their work of sabotage. Nuhar is stricken by the truth, thus rallying the humans in her library to decided what to do: carry on through time detailing or history, or actually doing their proper job of raising humankind through its ashes.
Analysis: Recorded history goes back thousands of years to the invention of writing systems, but communication through art, such as engraving and cave painting, has been around for tens of thousands of years. The obsession to record and to to remember, even to be recorded and to be remembers, has a continual place in human civilization to the point, now, where anything mundane can be recorded, stored, and retrieved… look at the garbage on YouTube, Twitter, and, well, everywhere. So much shit piled up for no reason other than the ability to record, store, and retrieve. Libraries, thankfully, have more discretion.
The most famous of all libraries–the Library of Alexandria–was built “to show off the wealth of Egypt” and, to a lesser degree, be the locus of research. Nowadays, the opposite is true: Libraries exist as hubs as public research, repositories of respected opinion, truth, and fiction. Rarely are any modern libraries built to endure the ages, to weather the storm of time in order preserve the collected knowledge of humankind (perhaps the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, CD3WD, and Internet Archive). The purpose of these archives is to secure knowledge in order for future generations of lesser privilege can resurrect the same knowledge to better their own lives for all of humankind, or so I like to think. Once that is carried out, the archive will have achieved its goal and, thus, eases to be a repository (from the verb “reposit” which means “to store”) and becomes a retrieval (from the verb “retrieve” which means “to find and bring back”).
The eighth incarnation of the Library of Alexandria, as in “Burn Alexandria” serves a similar function–it must weigh its nature as a repository versus that as its fate as a retrieval.
Review: For someone who loves books, shelves, libraries, research, fiction and science fiction (e.g. time travel, aliens, and apocalypses), this story is an amalgamation of all these loves. It’s not only fine in form, something that’s shiny and dazzles, but it’s also one that serves in form: It delivers a message of inference and parallels in addition to highlighting the artistry of speculative fiction in Hebrew, especially by a female author. This is another gem of a story from this collection.