When Sheldon Teitelbaum was in sixth grade at the St. Laurent Talmud Torah campus, he spied a copy of Robert Heinlein’s YA novel, Red Planet, in the school library on a shelf perched just beyond his reach. He promptly asked to borrow it, but the recalcitrant librarian wouldn’t even let him take it down for a peek, leaving him in the dark as to the very name of the genre the book belonged to. Heinlein, he learned to his chagrin, was for seventh graders.
Thus began a lifelong infatuation with science fiction, fantasy, horror and, yes, spacesuits.
Fifty-four years later, the 66-year-old Teitelbaum, a Los Angeles resident, stands with his co-editor Dr. Emanuel Lottem of Tel Aviv to publish the world’s second compilation of Israeli science fiction and fantasy in English translation. The first volume, published in 2018 to rave reviews in and out of the science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) world, was called Zion’s Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature (Mandel-Vilar Press). The new volume, due out in September, will be titled More Zion’s Fiction: Wondrous Tales From the Israeli ImagiNation.
Teitelbaum is an award-winning journalist and longtime former Israel Defense Forces officer who served as a senior writer for The Jerusalem Report and was a frequent contributor to The Los Angeles Times, Wired, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and other front-ranking publications. Among various other accolades, he received Canada’s first Northern Lights Award for Travel Writing in 1997 for his account of the Canadian high arctic’s early engagement with the Internet.
The Zion’s Fiction project grew out of an interest in Hebrew-language SF/F he cultivated as a member of the editorial board of Fantasia 2000 (1978-1984), the country’s longest-lived and otherwise most seminal genre magazine.
“Quite apart from offering a range of American speculative fiction stories to Hebrew readers otherwise limited in the short fiction available to them,” wrote Teitelbaum in an email to The Suburban. “Fantasia took it upon itself to serve as a hothouse for local writers. The results were not always pretty, but Israeli SF/F has trended sufficiently upward during the last 37 years to justify the Zion’s Fiction series and any others that may come in its wake.”
Do not take Teitelbaum’s word for it. Gary K. Wolfe, Emeritus Professor of Humanities at Roosevelt University and a reviewer for the SF/F trade magazine Locus, intoned that “Teitelbaum & Lottem have done an admirable job of balancing… various voices and traditions, recognizing both mainstream writers who occasionally venture into the fantastic and writers clearly aware of the genre they’re working in.”
“The introduction to “Zion’s Fiction” and an introduction by Robert Silverberg, one of the living masters of the SF genre,” wrote Jonathan Kirsch in The Jewish Journal, “are admirable works of literary history and commentary in themselves, and they provide an illuminating context for the stories that follow. But the stories, of course, are the real attraction, and “treasury” is exactly the right word to describe what we find in the collection. Buried in these fascinating exercises in imaginative fiction are glimpses of the anxieties and aspirations of the real Israel.”
Nat Segaloff, the late Harlan Ellison’s biographer, summed up the general sentiment among more than a dozen reviewers. In a direct reference to Ellison’s groundbreaking anthology that launched the so-called New Wave of science fiction in 1967, he branded Zion’s Fiction as “The Israeli Dangerous Visions.”
Where did the idea come from?
“Israel is the quintessential speculative fiction state,” he observes, “the brainchild of several wondrous traditions traceable to the Hebrew Bible through a vast body of Talmudic lore and, ultimately, Theodor Herzl’s early 20th-Century scientific romance, Altneuland (Old-New Land). The more I became familiar with a small but growing body of Hebrew SF accreting in Israel from the mid-‘90s through the next decade, the more I became convinced that the world needed to be reading it.
“International SF/F has really come into its own during the last few decades. But as a number of critics have noted, the Israeli variant is quite unlike its counterparts. Most of it is what’s called “soft” – Israelis don’t do space opera, or “hard SF,” as a rule. As is so often the case in real life, Israelis think of themselves as abidingly pragmatic, not pie-in-the-sky fabulists. They may be wizards when it comes to maintaining a postmodern technocratic republic, but they keep their feet rooted firmly in the ground.
“Whether crafted by mainstream writers or people who grew up in the fan community (roughly half our material was written by women), however, the material in Zion’s Fiction is deeply personal and far darker and often surprisingly gloomier than you’d expect. But if you’re interested in dipping your toes in the wellsprings of the Israeli psyche, this is your ticket.”
By Mike Cohen. Originally published in The Suburban Apr 14, 2021 Updated Apr 19, 2021