Cultural Differences

Jew-ish Sci-Fi

Jew-ish Universe

This month, I’ve jumped in head first into dark and cold waters of book marketing. I’ve learned a lot that was new to me but was probably obvious to any salesperson — other people (unlike me) like to read very specific genres of books. For example, if you are into a billionaire werewolf romances, you are NOT into werebear billionaire romances. Yes, people like what they like and there are many authors who are happy to write for very niche audiences. But I read lots of different things, fiction AND non-fiction. I read WWII spy novels AND science fiction. I like action adventure AND historical fantasy. My taste in books is as broad as the stories I like to write. But apparently, that’s not good for marketing. My books are all so different that I’ve been having a hard time zeroing in on a unifying theme for my stories. And then it hit me — I write Jewish Science Fiction…or Jew-ish Sci-Fi. So what’s Jew-ish Sci-Fi? It’s a hero journey to save the world, where the hero belongs to a tight group of outsiders forced to make their way in the world by their talents and smarts and who are…

Time Travel Suicide Therapy

Cleopatra's Death

“Can I help you?” Dax stood up and quickly covered the screen with his body. It was five minutes to closing time and he wasn’t interested in helping on yet another bored teenager, or house partner, or grandpa, or history student, or whatever to fulfill their sick time travel dream. He had his own problems, thank you very much. “Dr. Ooren sent me,” the girl said, walking into the lab, keeping her eyes on the floor. She looked like she was still in her teens, perhaps a first-year college student. She was fidgeting and pulling down the sleeves of her oversized gray sweater over her hands and fingertips. She was thin, with dark circles under her eyes, and she didn’t look like she wanted to be in his lab any more than Dax wanted her there. Which was not at all. “We close at five.” Dax pointedly glanced at the time displays on the wall. It was just about five in the afternoon. He had already loaded the jump for his own time visit — he allowed himself several exquisite minutes of suffering every Friday evening, after closing hours. He was treasuring his chosen suicide, taking his time, enjoying every…

Forty Years of Cultural Dissonance

Pastrami Sandwich

This May was the fortieth anniversary of my family’s arrival in America. We came as refugees. My husband and I celebrated this momentous event (this marks over two-thirds of my life here) by visiting the Tenement Museum in downtown New York City. The biggest takeaway was the strong sense of “strangers in a strange land” mentality. People arrived not knowing the language or customs, not having a place to sleep or an ability to source work. It was scary. It took a very strong impetus to leave all that one knew and understood behind, to leave family and friends, to leave familiar food and places…to leave behind the mother tongue. (Did you know that the word “cow” is not under K in a dictionary? How are people supposed to find words when they don’t even start with the letter that they sound? Back then, I ended up drawing a cow in the middle of a sentence to finish my homework.) Without a language in common, it is very difficult to forge social ties. It is the main reason people “bunch up” by their cultural heritage into neighborhoods like “Little Italy,” “China Town,” “Little Russia,” “Jewishberg,” “Japantown,” “La Pequeña Habana,” “Little…

The Wheel of Culture

Finding treasure in the sea of content

Societies continuously try to recreate themselves — shared holidays, shared news, shared traditions, shared language, shared music, shared myths, shared victories, and shared griefs. Shared origins… So by telling each other stories, we recreate ourselves over and over again. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are our heroes? Who are the villains? These stories pass our values as a society from one generation to the next. It’s how we understand each other. “Rosebud.” There was a time where everyone in America knew exactly what that reference was. Now? Nope. “Remember the Alamo!” People still know the phrase, but its meaning — the short cut to meaning that this phrase used to represent — is no longer widely available. Cultural propagation used to be easy when everyone knew everyone else in the small village they all lived. Strangers were either killed or assimilated. People easily recognized “their own.” Sometimes, it was as simple as the way you’d pronounce a word. Such cultural distinctions to divide between “us” and them” are called Shibboleth. Do you drop your p’s or roll your r’s? Do you wear “snickers” or “runners” or “trainers”? Is it “herbs” with an “h” or without?…

Accidental Horror Story

In the name of the People

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a short story. The idea came to me upon seeing some blog post on how “I Love Lucy” and “Honeymooners” and “M.A.S.H.” are just some of the first shows aliens on a distant planet will watch as part of first contact with Earth. What would those people think of us? Will the humor, dark or slapstick, be lost on them? Would they see us as “good people”? First impressions matter… So I envisioned a world full of pacifists who devise a scheme to protect their planet from hostile aliens by creating content designed especially to scare off visitors from other worlds. It turned out to be a fun short story and I submitted it to one of my favorite publishers: Mariah Axiz of 600 Second Saga. Mariah is a connoisseur of the strange and wonderful; she had published several of my stories in the past; I love her work… I hit submit and waited…and waited. A few days later I got an email back: “This is NOT my kind of story. I don’t do horror…” Horror? What? I don’t write horror stories…well, I did write “The FATOFF Conspiracy”…and “Pigeon” has aspects…

Memory and Storytelling

nerve cell

Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. — Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness, page 121 Our memories are not static. Each time we reach for one, we refresh and form new neuron connections, in fact changing the memory itself via our contemplation of it. Like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — we can observe a particle’s momentum or its position but not both simultaneously — each time we recall a particular event, we change it due to that recollection. After the mental touch, the memory is no longer the same. And this is true not just in some metaphorical sense, but in a real, tangible, physical way — the act of recall alters the neuron structures forever! And yet we eagerly recollect our favorite memories, and we just as eagerly try to forget the painful ones (and the very act of thinking of those painful memories makes them that much stronger, that much more connected and integrated into our neural memory networks). Social groups have always been aware of this property of memory. Cultures are molded out of stories, songs, epics, ballads, and now memes that bind us…