“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.