Zion’s Fiction

About a year ago, a book arrived in the mail. It was right after I had finished some reading I had to do for some projects and right before I was scheduled to leave for my daughter’s graduation in New Orleans. The book went to the back of my desk and I’m afraid it disappeared behind other work that arrived after I returned from that trip. I recently uncovered the book, started reading and couldn’t put it down.

The book is an anthology of Israeli science fiction stories called Zion’s Fiction, edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem and features a foreword by Robert Silverberg. Each story is accompanied by a compelling illustration by Avi Katz.

Here in the United States, with the possible exceptions of England and Canada, it can be difficult to find science fiction first published in other countries, especially if that science fiction wasn’t published in English. I find it fascinating to see how people in other parts of the world see the future and I like to learn about the “what if” questions they’re asking.

Silverberg’s foreword and the introduction by the editors help the reader understand the development of Israel’s community of speculative fiction writers against the backdrop of Israel’s history. After that, the anthology presents sixteen stories, many of which were first published within the last decade.

I enjoyed all of the stories in the collection, but among the standouts were “Burn Alexandria” by Karen Landsman, which tells the tale of a time-traveling, future Library of Alexandria that appears every couple of centuries, Brigadoon-like. In this story, it finds itself in a post-apocalyptic future and the librarians must ask whether there is a point in continuing to go forward.

In “The Perfect Girl” by Guy Hasson, a woman enters a school for psychics and is assigned a job watching the morgue, where bodies are donated for study. She learns to read the mind of a girl who killed herself and learns not only about the girl but about herself.

Some stories look at the choices we make and ask what if we could change the course of our lives such as “In the Mirror” by Rotem Baruchem. Other stories take a hard look at faith and religion and ask what they mean. In “The Believers” by Nir Yaniv, God comes to Earth as a violent, vengeful spirit.

“The Stern-Gerlach Mice” by Mordechai Sasson tells the story of scientists who experiment on animals resulting in size-shifting mice who infiltrate homes in a town to overthrow the humans. In this world, the artists are mechanical beggars who people take advantage of, but these automata may be humanity’s only hope.

In “Death in Jerusalem” by Elana Gomel, a woman literally courts death. In this case, it’s death by gunshot personified. He introduces her to his extended family and she begins playing a dangerous game reminiscent of the chess match between a knight and Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

“Two Minutes Too Early” by Gur Shomron shows us a puzzle-solving contest of the future my wife and daughters would envy while hinting at a darker mystery.

I was delighted to read this sampling of speculative fiction from Israel. The editors hint at the possibility of more collections in the future, which would be great. Of course, I would love to see collections from other countries as well. Zion’s Fiction is available at online retailers Amazon.com and BN.com and I’m sure you can ask for it from your favorite, local independent bookstore.

Giraffes on Horseback Salad

One of the more interesting trends I’ve seen in recent years is turning scripts that weren’t filmed into graphic novels. More precisely, two that I’ve read were alternate versions of filmed stories. One was The Star Wars based on an early draft of George Lucas’s famous film. Another was City on the Edge of Forever, based on Harlan Ellison’s script for the Star Trek episode of the same name. The former revealed that George Lucas’s early concepts had more in common with the prequels than the film that became a classic. The latter showed us an even more powerful and heart-wrenching version of a story which already had gone down as one of Star Trek’s finest.

While driving home from Kitt Peak National Observatory after my last shift, I heard a promo for an NPR story about a new graphic novel called Giraffes on Horesback Salad. All the promo told me was that the book depicted an unfilmed script by Salvador Dalí featuring the Marx Brothers. I didn’t need to know more. I had to find a copy of this book right away. It actually took me a couple of days, so I got to hear the NPR story which only further convinced me I wanted to read the book. I was somewhat surprised, though, when I went to my local Barnes and Noble and discovered only one copy on the shelf. I counted myself lucky and snatched it up.

The story as presented in the graphic novel imagines a young, imaginative inventor and designer named Jimmy who is trying to make it in New York City. He’s engaged to Linda, a very ordinary woman who seems a fitting wife, but isn’t actually faithful to Jimmy but wants the prestige of being his wife. The couple go to a nightclub where they encounter the Surrealist Woman who, for all intents and purposes, bends reality around her. Her pals, fittingly enough, are the surrealist Marx Brothers. More precisely we only see two of the brothers at first: Groucho and Chico. Jimmy soon falls for the Surrealist Woman who unleashes the power of his imagination. Linda, who doesn’t want to lose her place in society, fights to ground Jimmy. The plot is ultimately resolved in the courtroom with Groucho and Chico as the competing attorneys.

The graphic novel contains many supplemental notes and reveals that Dalí intended Harpo to play Jimmy. The result is a very different kind of Marx Brothers experience. It gives us a Harpo (of sorts) who both speaks and takes center stage. This all would have happened during the Marx Brothers’ time at MGM, which is after Zeppo left the act.

What I found fascinating was that Dalí and Harpo had met in real life and became friends. What’s more the idea for this film was developed far enough for Harpo to arrange a meeting with Louis Mayer. I’m not surprised to find that Mayer couldn’t wrap his head around this idea. He was, after all, the man who insisted that Oz would only be a dream. Groucho was unimpressed, saying the idea wouldn’t play. And, in all fairness, it’s hard to imagine how this would have been filmed in the 1930s.

I could easily see a version of this filmed now. It could be done live action with other actors playing the roles of the Marx Brothers, or even as full animation. What might be even more interesting would be if a contemporary comic team took inspiration from this and created their own surrealist satire about an immigrant genius fleeing his war-torn nation and unleashing the power of his imagination. The time seems ripe for such a story, especially when so many people have forgotten their own immigrant ancestry and forsaken their own imaginations.

One delightful side-effect of this graphic novel, is that it became a way for me to introduce my daughter to the comedy of the Marx Brothers. She knew a little about them, but was surprised to discover that many of their movies are musicals. Giraffes on Horesback Salad would also have been a musical and I was delighted to learn a soundtrack is in production. Some songs can be listened to now. For more information about the songs and the book itself, visit: https://www.horsebacksaladbook.com/

Sisters of the Wild Sage

My parents loved to watch western movies on weekend afternoons when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, I never really saw the appeal until I happened upon the TV series, The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Ostensibly, the show was a mashup of the western with spy shows that were popular in the day, but it also introduced science fictional and magic elements to the western. The Wild Wild West was my first real exposure to the weird western genre.

Another show that changed my mind about the western was the mini-series adaptation of James Michener’s Centennial. The series and book told the story of a Colorado town, showing the continuum of history from the Native Americans who lived in the area through the fur trappers to the early settlers, the farmers, the cattlemen, and ultimately finishing up in the present day, which was 1976 when the book came out. The classic western story exists in a brief moment in history, typically somewhere between about 1870 and 1890 and tends to ignore what led up to that time and what came after.

When Nicole Givens Kurtz asked me a few days ago if I’d like a preview copy of her new weird western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage, I jumped at the chance. I already knew Nicole’s talent. I’d published two of the collection’s stories in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, her story “Justice” appeared in the anthology Six-Guns Straight from Hell alongside one of my stories and her story “The Wicked Wild” is in Straight Outta Tombstone.

Many of this collection’s stories are set in the mythic old west in a fictional town called Wild Sage, New Mexico. It’s not exactly that 1870-1890 time period. Instead the setting is the very early twentieth century, around the time my own family came to New Mexico, and still a time when New Mexico was very much the Wild West. These stories often tell about African American women just trying to find a peaceful existence in the world but having to deal with men who want to pull them back into the slavery they or their parents had just left behind. Fortunately, these women are often empowered by magical gifts that help them fight injustice.

My favorite of these “traditional” weird western tales was “Belly Speaker” which provides some truly scary twists to the spooky ventriloquist dummy story. “The Wicked Wild” is also a strong story about a cleaning woman who can summon wind having to battle a demon-possessed cowboy. In the collection’s title story, men come to run a pair of sisters from their land. Fortunately, one of the sisters can control plants and the other has a magically accurate aim with her six-gun.

Like Centennial, this collection spans time, giving a more complete view of the west. Stories like “Kq'” feature Native Americans, possibly even before people of European or African descent arrived in the west. Stories like “Los Lunas” and “The Trader” feature magic in the contemporary west. Nicole even takes us to the future in stories like “The Pluviophile” and “Rise.”

I highly recommend Sisters of the Wild Sage. The anthology will take you on a tour of the weird west not only as it existed in the past, but as it might exist in today’s dark shadows and also as it might exist in the future, especially if we don’t take steps to change the world we live in now. You can pre-order Sisters of the Wild Sage at: https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Western-Collection-ebook/dp/B07PBP3S7X/

Lightning Wolves Review

The blog “Dab of Darkness” just posted an insightful and in-depth review of my novel Lightning Wolves. Drop by and take a look. Susan, who runs the blog, regularly posts reviews of interesting books and interviews with authors. I follow her blog regularly and am honored that she enjoyed my latest steampunk offering! Her review is at: Lightning Wolves by David Lee Summers.

SummersLightningWolves

You can find all the places the book is available by visiting: http://www.davidleesummers.com/lightning_wolves.html.