Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction



Edited by Jack Dann

To my mother Edith N. Dann, who still makes the best chicken soup.


The editor would like to thank the following people for their help and ideas:

Rabbi David S. Boros

George Zebrowski

Gardner Dozois

Joe W. Haldeman

Harry Altshuler

and, of course, Victoria Schochet.


Why Me?

Isaac Asimov

When I was asked to do the introduction to this collection, that was the question I asked.

“Why me?”

One answer is that I am suspected of being Jewish. At least, my mother is Jewish and my father’s mother was Jewish, and that makes both my father and myself Jewish by definition.

I don’t do anything about it, you understand. I attend no services and follow no ritual and have never even undergone that curious puberty rite, the bar mitzvah. It doesn’t matter. I am Jewish.

How can that be? Oh, well, even without the kosher stamp of religion, I bear the cultural stigmata (you should excuse the expression). I was born in a Russian shtetl, and I was brought up in Brooklyn in the very last decade in which you could still find pushcarts lining the streets and candy stores on every corner. In fact, I worked for thirteen years in my father’s candy store. What’s more I can tell jokes in a Yiddish dialect like a master, and I can speak Yiddish itself quite fluently. I like music in the minor, and turn faint when my favorite person places butter on her corned-beef sandwich. “Mustard,” I whisper. “Mustard!”

“Why me?”

Well, I write science fiction and fantasy.

There was a time, you know, when you didn’t associate Jews with science fiction and fantasy. To write great novels—yes, that was permitted Jewish boys, along with playing violins (not saxophones or guitars), playing chess (not poker or pool) and becoming a doctor or a lawyer (or, in an emergency, a dentist or an optometrist—but not a ballplayer).

The result is that a great many novels written in America deal with Jewish themes. After all, what else are all those great Jewish novelists going to write about? Methodists?

But science fiction and fantasy (in cheap magazines yet—feh) was different. In the days when I was an avid groper for those cheap magazines, the stories dealt entirely with Americans of northwest-European extraction who fought Homeric battles with space pirates, outer-world monsters, and evil wizards (to say nothing of Martian princesses in brassieres). What kind of a place was that for Jewish boys?

I do not say, mind you, that there were no Jews among the scribblers who filled the pulp magazines. There must have been, for despite her best efforts, an occasional Jewish mother lost control. Think of all the Jewish boys who went on the burlesque stage (bums!) and became millionaires (geniuses!).

Many of the Jewish pulp writers, however, used pen names as a matter of sound business sense. A story entitled “War-Gods of the Oyster-Men of Deneb” didn’t carry conviction if it was written by someone named Chaim Itzkowitz.

To give an actual case, that excellent writer Horace L. Gold, whose marvelously funny story “Trouble with Water” is included in this collection, and who is as Jewish as stuffed kishke, wrote outstanding science fiction for years under the name of Clyde Crane Campbell, you should again pardon the expression.

Jewish names which sounded German were, of course, permitted, for after all they might really be German, and Germans were northwest Europeans, who (though they were not quite as superior as they thought they were) were pretty superior, for people who didn’t speak English.

As far as I know, though, I was the first science fiction writer of note who used his own name, where that name was a mixture of a Biblical Isaac and a Slavic Asimov.

Why? Because I didn’t know any better, that’s why. To me, the name Isaac Asimov had a swing to it. For some reason (possibly superior genes) I was happy with it. I never longed for anything more glamorous. Had someone offered me the name Leslie Fotheringay-Phipps and begged me with tears in his eyes to take it, I would have refused.

In fact, I adopted so proprietary an attitude toward my name that for a long time I felt annoyed at my brother for sharing my last name and at I. Bashevis Singer for sharing my first name. However, my brother is a nice guy, and I. B. S. is a good writer, as you can see from his story in this collection—so I’ll permit it for a while longer anyway.

Then, too, one of my major reasons for wanting to write was to see my name in print. My name, not some stranger’s.

Take William Tenn, who also has a story in this collection. His name isn’t William Tenn. Who, in his whole life, ever heard of a name like William Tenn? What William Tenn’s name really is, is Philip Klass. Now whenever Phil claims to be William Tenn, he is met with profound disbelief. Words like “hallucinatory megalomania” and in gantzen ah meshugener are heard.

This, at least, I was never troubled with. My pen name and my real name are identical and both are as Jewish as I am.

Only I didn’t write on Jewish themes. I didn’t think of Jews, particularly, in connection with robots, wrecked spaceships, strange worlds with six suns, and Galactic Empires. The subject didn’t come up in my mind.

And yet sometimes it popped up. My first science fiction novel, Pebble in the Sky, dealt with a stiff-necked group of Earth people facing a Galactic Empire that felt contempt for them. Some people thought they saw a resemblance to Judea and the Roman Empire of the first century there and, who knows, maybe they were right. And one of my chief characters was named Joseph Schwartz. I didn’t come right out and say he was Jewish, but I’ve never found anyone who thought he wasn’t.

Sometimes, too, it was necessary for me to have a character whom, for nefarious purposes of my own, I wanted the reader to underestimate. The easiest trick was to give him a substandard version of English, for then he would be dismissed as a comic character with at most a certain limited folk wisdom. Since the only substandard version of English I can handle faultlessly is the Yiddish dialect, some of the characters in The Foundation Trilogy speak it.

But times changed. After World War II, with the vanishing of the Nazi menace and the rise of the United Nations, racism became unrespectable. At once, all kinds of ethnic consciousnesses became popular and, to my own personal amazement, science fiction and fantasy, dealing with Jewish themes, turned out to be possible—so that a superb collection such as this one could be put together eventually.

Indeed, caught up in the new spirit, even I wrote a fantasy that was deliberately and entirely based on a Jewish theme. It was “Unto the Fourth Generation” and it is included in this collection.

That is still another answer to the question “Why me?”—because I have a story in this collection.

Anyway, what with one thing and another, even without the bar mitzvah and the ritual, I feel I’m doing my bit and I grow impatient with those who take up a Jewisher-than-thou attitude.

Which reminds me of a phone conversation I once had with a gentleman whose real name I won’t use (because I have forgotten it) but to whom I will give, at the proper time, a fictional name of equivalent aura.

It came about because the Boston Globe gave a bookfair at which I was asked to speak and at which I did speak. As it happened, the fair fell upon Rosh Hashanah, something I didn’t realize, because unless someone tells me, I never know when it comes. That is not an excuse, just a statement, because if I had known it was Rosh Hashanah, I would have delivered my speech anyway.

The next day, however, I received a phone call from a stranger, who said he was Jewish, and who demanded to know why I had consented to talk on Rosh Hashanah. I explained, politely, that I didn’t keep the holidays and that seemed to infuriate him. At once, he flung himself into a self-righteous lecture in which he descanted on my duties as a Jew, and ended by accusing me of trying to conceal my Jewishness.

Breathing a short prayer to the God of Aristotle, of Newton and of Einstein, I said, quite calmly, “You have the advantage of me, sir. You know my name. I don’t know yours. To whom am I speaking?”

And the Lord God of Science proved to be on the job, for the man on the phone answered, “My name is Jackson Davenport.”

I said, “Really? Well, my name, as you know, is Isaac Asimov, and if I were trying to conceal my Jewishness, the very first move I would make would be to change my name to Jackson Davenport.”

Somehow that ended the conversation.

But to Jackson Davenport (not his real name, remember), wherever he is, I have this further word: The reason I am writing this introduction is that, despite all my infidel ways and beliefs, I am Jewish enough.