DiaTribe Review: A Bissel of Jewish Sci-Fi in “People of the Book”

This is a guest post by Aaron Maccabee, a Junior at Central High School. Graduate of Talmud Torah of Saint Paul, and a member of the Beth Jacob congregation.

When I first picked up a copy of People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy (Prime Books, 12/2010), I was intrigued. As a Science Fiction enthusiast I originally thought that I was about to read about UFO’s shaped as Jewish Stars, Astronauts wearing Kippot and flying off into circumcised rocket ships, or a story about the human race fighting off an alien invasion of Nazis. Instead I found a book filled with stories of Jewish mysticism, folklore, history, personal experiences, Midrash and more. The book itself, turned out to be much like a bag of Trail Mix in that you should pick out and choose the best parts, which are the M&M’s (or in this case, the best stories).

Here are my favorite selected pieces:

How The Little Rabbi Grew by Eliot Fintushel:
This is a wonderful story about a young boy who speaks directly to God and the consequences that surround their relationship. Fintushel’s writing style keeps the story upbeat and compelling. The story goes against the common trend in Jewish literature that the elders in the community are the wisest, which was a fun twist. My only critique is that the story does contain “messianic aspects” that reminded me a little too much of Christianity.

Fidelity: A Primer by Michael Blumlein
You will laugh so hard that your stomach hurts, gasp for breathe in shock, and cry in empathy for the character’s pain. This chapter is made up of 17 different sections. Each section ties into the theme of the challenges of marriage, relationships and life (most commonly lust and disloyalty). The stories have been scattered throughout the chapter, a metaphor for the fragmentation and confusion of our world. This is definitely a story that should be read in one sitting.

Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane by Jonathon Sullivan
If the Bohr Atomic Model doesn’t ring any bells, please go on Wikipedia and type in the name Niels Bohr. Sullivan takes us back to the time of the Holocaust, but gracefully inserts Jewish scientist Niels Bohr into the life of a family currently on board of a train. The railcar happens to have a Nazi Gestapo agent searching for Jews. The story is based on Bohr’s escape from German-occupied Denmark. A Science fiction coming of age story with physics, metaphysics, spiritualism, and mysticism. A must read.

Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel by Peter S. Beagle
A beautifully written story from the point of view of a young Jewish boy who visits his Uncle Chaim painting, and observes as an angel become his Uncle’s muse. Dark issues between the artist and the angel soon arise, causing them to turn to their Rabbi for help. This magnificent story takes you on a literary ride that shows how artistry and the attempt to capture Adonai’s glory is yet another connection between man and god.

Eliyahu ha-Navi by Max Sparber
This is the perfect addition to your next Passover Seder. A dark, and unappealing view of Eliyahu the Prophet gets thrown into modern day America in a phenomenal story of how in a modern generation we may have forgotten some of the most vital parts of Judaism. Max Sparber and allows the legend of Eliyahu to come to life, with emotional sweetness and a bit of mysticism that will make you want to read more.

This book is definitely worth the purchase for any Jew who loves fiction and wants a little escape from their normal lives that don’t have any mysticism or fantasy… just make sure to try these chocolate bits of literature.

Disclosure of Material Connection, required by the FTC: TC Jewfolk received a complimentary review copy of the book.