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A Survey of the State of sf in Israel in the Last Five Years

אלי אשד's picture
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 Since 1997 there have been some important developments in the area of original Israeli sf. It cannot be said that more original sf books are coming out than in the past. Original sf and fantasy genre novels are certainly not successful compared to other popular genres such as thrillers and spy novels. From the point of view of most publishers and editors, sf and fantasy remain completely exotic genres that one prefers not to be involved with.

Where original Hebrew genre sf is blooming is on the Internet, where rapidly increasing numbers of stories produce immediate responses from readers. Several writers with real potential are beginning to stand out. However, this review will deal only with conventionally published works.

In recent years sf and fantasy motifs have appeared frequently in Hebrew mainstream literature. One of the younger and most popular writers in Israel is Etgar Keret. His collections of short stories have received acclaim both critically and popularly, and have been followed by a wave of imitations. Keret is a confirmed sf fan, and has written several fantasy stories. In truth, most of his stories have a fantastic, surrealistic atmosphere.

The same is true for another important writer, Orly -Bloom. Her book Dolly City (Zamora Bitan Modan, 1992) gives a surrealistic picture of a future anarchistic Israel. Her book HaMina Lisa [The Mina Lisa] (Keter, 1996) describes a woman who moves to an alternate world. Both have strong elements of surrealistic fantastic post modernism.

One of the bestsellers in Hebrew literature in recent years, Yochi Brandes’ L’Chabot et HaAhava [Turn off the Love] (Yediot Aharonot, 2000), deals among other things with the creation of an artificial dog ("Golem") via magical incantations. However, in the many critical reviews of this book little note was taken of the strong fantastic elements in it.

Another book which included some declared sf stories and joined the bestseller list was Manuela Dviri’s Beitza shel Shokolad [L’uovo di Cioccolata] [Chocolate Egg] (Yediot Aharonot, 2000). Her book included the subjects of Kabalah, and the future of the State of Israel, in the form of sf short stories. It concluded with a story of a cabalist who brings peace and utopia to the world. These stories spoke to the hearts of many readers. (In Israel there is today a very strong interest in Kabalah and mysticism.)

Ultra-Orthodox Future

Naturally many sf stories prefer to deal with subjects of current political interest, and with current worries. One such is the fear that the rapidly growing Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community will become the majority and turn Israel into a fundamentalist religious state.

One such book is B’Shem Shamayim [For Heaven’s Sake] (Am Oved, 1998), by Hedi Ben-Amar. She tells the history of a kibbutz family in the years 1997-2010 as Israel turns into a fundamentalist Jewish state.

 An extreme example of the use of this fear is by Daniel Dotan, a central figure in anti-religious circles in Israel. His book Anarchia Motek [Anarchy, Honey] (HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 1999), is an anthology including several sf stories. One such is "Ahi HaDigitali" ["My Digital Brother"] about a man who creates a digital twin for himself. Another is the extremely dystopic title story "Anarchia Motek" about a future in which fundamentalists control the country in a violent and murderous way, and an underground of anarchist women fights them. This story, filled with blood and violence, more than any other story, is an extreme expression of the various anti-religious fears of an Ultra-Orthodox take-over.

The best book in this genre, inasmuch as it does not go to extremes of hatred and tries to see things from the other side too, is Barry Prigat’s HaAretz HaMuvtahat [The Promised Land] (Hed Arzi, 1999). His book tells of a Jewish ghetto in a future in which the Arabs control Israel and much of the rest of the world. The story takes place entirely in the ghetto, whose residents mostly are completely unaware of the outside world, until one of them runs away and discovers what the surrounding world is like…. This story is reminiscent, and apparently not by accident, of Brian Aldiss’ book Non-Stop (American title Starship).

Ultra-Orthodox sf

Surprisingly, there are also sf books from the other side, written by Ultra-Orthodox writers such as Shmuel Argaman and M. Arbel, which present the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint in thrillers with strong sf elements. T’kala b’Hallal [Failure in Space] (2000) by Argaman describes an alternate present in which the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets continued to the end of the 20th century, especially in space exploration. In these books Ultra-Orthodox heroes with astounding scientific talents, or great bravery, bring victory against the forces of evil. The genre of thrillers has become very popular in Ultra-Orthodox literature.

 The Battle with the Arabs

Another topic, which arouses ever-greater interest, is the question of Israel’s relations with the Arabs, and in particular with the Palestinians, a subject which is today at the center of interest in Israeli society. Israeli is at war with the Palestinians as these lines are written. There was a period of several years with little interest in this topic, since it appeared that Israel was movingly steadily toward peace with the Arabs. It is likely that this subject will now develop strongly. Numerous apocalyptic sf stories have appeared recently on the Internet on the possibility of war between Israel and the Arabs.

A somewhat prophetic book was Ketz HaMilenium [End of the Millenium] by Dov Fuchs (1998), which describes how Israeli fanatics try to destroy the Temple Mount (where the Al-Aktza Mosque is located) in 1999, and as a result the entire Muslim world unites against Israel.

Shlomo Eriel’s Diplomatia b’Ma’amakei HaYam [Submarine Diplomacy] (Hed Arzi, 2000) is a political and military thriller about the State of Israel and its battle with the State of Palestine in 2004. More books of this nature can be expected in the near future.

Dystopic and apocalyptic sf books are the norm. For example, Yael Yisrael’s Sof Sof [At Last] (Xargol, 2000) is on a dystopic future Tel Aviv in which reading books is forbidden. It received much critical attention from mainstream reviewers who found the idea astounding, but it cannot be said that it had much new in it as an sf book.

Genre sf Novels

Standard genre sf novels appear which do not deal with Israel’s unique problems, but they are few, and they arouse little critical interest. Isha Zara [Mirror Me] by Shlomo Leniado (Yediot Aharonot, 1999), is about a man who finds himself in a parallel world, and tries to return to his original world and life. This book was written by a well-known doctor and was almost a bestseller, but the publisher insisted that it was neither sf nor fantasy. Another example is Agat Yael Bar’s Masa HaKarkur Over Col Gvul [The Karkur Voyage Overdid It] (G’vanim 2001). An explosion at the start of the 21st century divides mankind into separate bubbles in each of which a different society develops convinced that they are the last survivors.

A Flowering of Short sf Stories

Short sf stories are today far more popular than full-length novels. It’s easier to publish them in the Internet or as anthologies. This has become a big fad thanks to the success of Etgar Keret. Many of his imitators include sf and fantasy stories in their collections.

The most interesting collection devoted entirely to sf, and one of the best Hebrew sf books ever written, is by well-known author Gail Hareven. Her book HaDerech l’Gan Eden [The Way to Heaven] (Keter, 1999) is a collection of short stories devoted to the possible affects of genetic engineering and cloning on people’s lives.

Another interesting book is by philosopher and sf editor Addy Zemach. His collection Kolot Zarim [Alien Voices] (HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 2000) includes some outstanding stories, although most are not sf. One is a description of the creation from the point of view of the god who dreams it. Another is a humorous story which describes the efforts of earth’s representative to the Galactic Council to find something which would symbolize the earth, which he could use in a memorial service for the earth, after its destruction. A very successful story.

Other collections which include sf stories: Yanon Nir’s Pamayim Kavru et Berta [They Buried Berta Twice] (Modan, 1998) which includes the story "Lo Yadati sheyesh Li Ahot" ["I Didn’t Know I Had a Sister"] about a man whose parents cloned themselves and him. Yuval Yerah’s HaHoshek: Sipurim [The Desirer: Stories] (Halonot, 2000) has stories on a depressing technological world in which new inventions change the lives of the helpless population. Shlomi Sason’s Teivat HaHaziot [The Hallucination Box] (Cherikover, 2000) includes two sf stories: "V’oolai B’chlal Zeh Haya Ken" ["Maybe It Was That Way"], and "Tolaei Shnat 2031" ["The Worms of 2031"].

Sf Poetry

A developing field is sf poetry. Well-known Israeli poet David Avidan wrote such poems in the 70s and 80s. Today the central figure (but definitely not the only one) is Shlomo Shoval. His book B’Medinot HaShamyim [Nations of the Sky] (HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 1998) is a collection of short prose poems on sf subjects, which seem to be ideas for short stories. The very shortness of these poems leaves the reader wanting "more".

A second book by Shoval, Lama HaAbamim Tassim b’Derech Clal b’Shlashot u’Madua HaHaizarim Lo Ohavim Lhitztalem [Why UFOs Usually Fly in Threes and Why Aliens Don’t Like to Have Their Picture Taken?] (Carmel, 2000), presents the impressions of an alien visiting the earth, and contains numerous poems and humorous essays.

Sf for Children and Young Adults

One of the most famous sf series for children is the long-running series (since 1961) by "Ohn Sarig" (Shraga Gafni) on the adventures of an invisible boy, Dani Din. In recent years "Sarig" wrote a trilogy (1996-1998) in this series in which Dani Din, and his invisible girl cousin Dina Din, fight aliens who are planning an invasion of the earth. Among other things the Dins rescue U.S. president Bill Clinton from the aliens, fight Hamas terrorists, and carry out a space battle in which they succeed in destroying most of the alien space fleet!

In response to the great interest which appeared in the 90s with regard to UFOs and aliens, Yoram Mark-Reich wrote a novel for young adults, Mavet b’Rishon l’April [Death on the First of April] (Sha’al, 1997), on the kidnapping of children by murderous aliens. This was just one of a stream of novels dealing with aliens and UFOs. Another was Tamar Borenstein Lazar’s Kofiko HaHaizar [Kofiko the Alien] (Danny S’farim, 1999-2000).

Barry Prigat (popular author of HaAretz HaMuvtahat mentioned above) wrote Millimeter (Danny S’farim, 1999-2000), a series of thrillers for children about a girl who uses her magic ring to fight against a mad scientist. In each book, the villain plans to take over the world using a new invention for his giant robot.

Another series by Prigat is Keren Alpha [The Alpha Corner] (Dani, 2000) which deals with the virtual adventures of a girl inside various computer worlds.

A very different series, Minheret HaZman [Time Tunnel], by excellent children’s author Galila Ron Feder, describes the adventures of children who travel by a time tunnel. In each book they go back to an event in the history of the State of Israel, from the State’s establishment in 1948 up to the bringing of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 80s. Since 1997 fourteen books have appeared in this series published by Modan. The first in the series, for example, was Time Tunnel 1: Jerusalem Besieged.


In current Hebrew literature we find more and more fantasy. Orly Toran’s book N’shikat HaMavet [Kiss of Death] (Keter, 1999) is a sort of thriller in the style of Borges or Umberto Eco, about a fantastic, surrealistic, mysterious city.

Orly Ardon’s HaMuza v’HaMahshev Sela [The Muse and Her Computer] (Carmel 2000) is about a muse that sneaks into a story she is writing about an Israeli caricaturist.

Young author Michael Omer has written two charming humorous fantasy books in the style of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, HaGeographia shel Sof HaOlam [The Geography of the World’s End] (Opus, 1997) and Mitkefet HaBarvaz [The Duck’s Attack] (Yaron Golan, 1999). Unfortunately these humorous fantasies have as yet no competitors in Hebrew literature.

Perhaps the most interesting is Amir Or Shir Tahira [The Song of Tahira] (Xargol, 2001), a fantastic epic presented as if translated from the ancient Tukari language (including an appendix with quotes from imaginary researches on the epic). His book is very reminiscent of actual epics such as the Iliad and the Mahabarta in its description of the relations between humans and gods in a distant heroic past.

Fantasy for Children and Young Adults

Michal Kartis Peretz has started a fantasy series for children, HaAretz sheMitahat l’Shlulit [The Land under the Puddle]. The first book was HaMasa HaGadol [The Great Trip] (Lilach 1998), and the second El HaTzafon uv’Hazara [To the North and Back] (Lilach 1999). The series is in the style of the classic Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. Children from our world fight the forces of evil found in a fantastic world under a puddle entrapped by weird and strange tree roots.

There are two excellent fantasies for children which deal with the interaction between magic powers and technology in the modern world. One is Dabl Yu Dabl Yu Azazel [Double-U Double-U Azazel] by Nurit Yovel (Yediot Aharonot, 2000), an Internet fantasy for children. The other is HaMechashefa v’Disket haEimim Shel Tamar [The Witch and Tamar’s Horror Diskette] by Aviva Hagi (Yediot Aharonot, 2000), a science fantasy for children.

By far the most intrensting and the most awarded and respected fantasy for children is poetess Shin Shifra Alilot Gilgamesh (The Adventures of Gilgamesh) ( Am Oved , 2000) Alilot Gilgamesh (The Adventures of Gilgamesh) ( Am Oved , 2000) Alilot Gilgamesh (The Adventures of Gilgamesh) ( Am Oved , 2000) a retelling of the story about the ancient Sumerian hero which searched for immamortality. This book was awarded the prestigious Andersen Medal.

Stories about the Internet

There is a new genre of novels which just five years ago would have been thought pure sf. Today they are realistic novels. These describe relationships which are carried on through the Internet. Some examples: Heder Prati Elza [Private Room Elza] by Yaron Reshef, 1999. N’kuddat Ha-G shel Keren Bird [The G-point of the Bird Foundation] (Tmuna, 2000). Halomot 98 [Dreams 98] by Dana Ben Shaprut Arbitman (Halonot, 2000). All of them describe similar scenarios of people who discover a new world of relationships via the Internet, a world which no one could have imagined four or five year ago…. However, people do not change as fast as the technology. Undoubtedly additional books will appear in this new genre.

Sf in Comics

While the comics field is not well developed in Israel, there are some outstanding creators, of which the best is Uri Fink. He creates humorous comics, but is also a big sf fan. He has done a series of humorous super-heroes. SuperShlumper is a short hero, dressed in pajamas, who fights various ridiculous threats from outer space. Hartzulei HaHalal [Space Hartzuls] is a parody of Star Trek. Fink’s best work yet is Profil 107 [Profile 107], a sort of alternate history of Israel in which super-heroes aid the Israeli government to achieve its political objectives.

In addition to Fink there is also a group of comics artists known as "Actus Tragicus" who work together with popular author Etgar Keret (mentioned above) and often create comics with an sf or fantasy flavor. However, they publish almost exclusively in English.

Sf and Fantasy in Movies and TV

Klara HaK’dosha [St. Clara] (1995) is a full-length movie which takes place in the near future and depicts a girl with supernatural powers.

A number of short student films have had sf and fantasy subjects. Director Eitan Bin Nun made films based on stories by Edmond Hamilton and Alexei Panshein (1989-1990). Yariv Gever, well-known director of filmed commercials, made the films Guf Zar [Strange Body] (1987) about people who exchange bodies. Yaacov Comforty made , Zar baIr [A Stranger in Town] (1981) about a lonely vampire visiting Haifa, and Yaacov Florentine made Shalom l’Mhasel [Hello to the Liquidator] (1987) about a future, violent, Israel.

In addition several short films were based on fantasy stories by Etgar Keret. More stories by Keret have been filmed than by any other author. The best of them was Amodu [Freeze!] (1995), directed by Uri Marcus, about a young man who can freeze people, and force them to do his bidding.

TV also produced some original sf. The most outstanding was Hallalit [Spaceship] (1998), a pilot for a comic series which was never made, about an Israeli spaceship crewed by humans and aliens. The ship travels in space to search for the Lost Tribes of Israel, starting with the planet Mars. He’almut [The Disappearance] (2000) was a six-episode mini-series thriller about people trying to contact aliens. Domino (1998) was an interesting TV film directed by Uri Sivan and written by well-known Israeli writer Limor Nahmias, as part of a TV series Short Stories about Love. The story is of a woman sent back in time in order to change her past and save a love romance; but in return she must give up a few years of her life….


As can be seen above, the field of original Hebrew sf and fantasy is richer than one might suppose, and we can hope that, despite Israel’s difficult situation, it will continue to develop in the future.


Author’s Recommendations:

Gail Hareven, HaDerech l’Gan Eden [The Way to Heaven] (Keter, 1999); one of the best Hebrew sf books ever written.

 Barry Prigat, HaAretz HaMuvtahat [The Promised Land] (Hed Arzi, 1999).

Shlomo Shoval, B’Medinot HaShamyim [Nations of the Sky] (HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 1998).

 Manuela Dviri, Beitza shel Shokolad [L’uovo di Cioccolata][Chocolate Egg] (Yediot Aharonot, 2000); a collection of exceptionally interesting stories about the future of Israel.

Amir Or, Shir Tahira [The Song of Tahira] (Xargol, 2001).

Addy Zemach, Kolot Zarim [Alien Voices] (HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 2000); however most of the stories are not sf or fantasy.

Shlomo Leniado, Isha Zara [Mirror Me] (Yediot Aharonot, 1999); interesting, but not a good book.

Michael Omer, HaGeographia shel Sof HaOlam [The Geography of the World’s End] (Opus, 1997), and Mitkefet HaBarvaz [The Duck’s Attack] (Yaron Golan, 1999); both are enjoyable and show potential for the future.

S.hin Shifra Alilot Gilgamesh (The Adventures of Gilgamesh) ( Am Oved , 2000). The best and most awarded Israeli fantasy for children in recent years.was awarded also the Zeev award as best children story in year 2000.

[Translated by Aharon Sheer]       


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