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.

 

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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.