Posted by Adam Wills
Why is English the go-to language for science fiction, even when it isn’t the writer’s mother tongue?
Israeli-born sci-fi writer Lavie Tidhar skipped an opportunity for “shameless self-promotion” on World SF News to mull this phenomenon, citing as example French, Finnish and Dutch sci-fi authors who are choosing to write in English. Tidhar, author of the English-language novel “The Bookman”—due out in the UK and Australia tomorrow, summer/fall-ish in the United States—uses his editorial (which Charlie Jane Anders blogged at io9) to look at the English-centric world of science fiction through a Hebrew lens:
So… why English? I ask the question not for myself but because a common argument – across languages, in fact, since I’ve heard it expressed with regards to any non-English language, from Hebrew to French – is that English is the language of science fiction.
What do they mean by that? Why can’t science fiction be written in other languages?
My own view, of course, is that this is (to borrow a term from that great showman, P.T. Barnum) complete hokum. Yet it is so prevalent, and I see it repeated again and again. Partially it is the terminology of science fiction – anything from wormhole to ansible, from warp drive to FTL, from “plugged in” to BEM to the “science fiction” itself. In Hebrew, for instance, science fiction was initially called mada dimyoni, or “imaginary science”, before being replaced with mada bidyoni, or “fictional science”, then shorthanded conversationally to madab, the sort of acronym Hebrew likes so much. English is the language of science fiction! And there’s something in that – when you even have to argue about which word to use for the English “telephone” or “computer”…
One of the nicest words Hebrew doesn’t use is “sach-rachok” (try pronouncing the ‘ch’ as that sort of deep-in-the-throat sound). It means something like “speak-distance” and was an early word proposed, by that most venerable institute, the Academy of the Hebrew Language, for “telephone”.
Of course, it also sounded a bit silly, and no one wanted to use it, and Hebrew ended up borrowing the word “telephone” and making quite nice use of it after all.
But see, that’s the beauty of language – any language. Not just the act of borrowing (what is also called ‘loan words’) – the way English borrowed “amen” or “cabal” or “sack” from the Hebrew, or borrowed “algebra” and “bazaar” from Arabic, or “chocolate” from Nahuatl…
Languages always evolve, and they do so by borrowing, and by modifying, and by adapting, and by making up new words (neologisms). English does a lot of it… and so does any other language. Being a speaker of Bislama (the pidgin English – and now, sometimes, creole – of the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu), I was delighted recently to come across a new verb – gugelem. Which means, of course, to google! (as in, bae mi gugelem – I’ll google it).
The argument about vocabulary really doesn’t hold. Indeed, it should be one of the most fun parts of writing science fiction in another language – coining new terms or transforming existing ones to create a new language of science fiction.
Here I am, “guilty” just as much for writing in English.
The thing is, I do love English. And by writing in English I can assure myself not only more readers, but also – and this is rather crucial, alas – better pay for my work. But I continue, albeit rarely, to write in Hebrew for the pure joy of it – short stories such as “Shira” (later translated and published in English in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy, ed. Ellen Datlow), or “Chalomot Be’aspamia” (translated and published, as “Daydreams” in Apex Digest) – I even wrote an entire book in Hebrew, with Nir Yaniv, just for the hell of it – “Retzach Bidyoni”, or “A Fictional Murder” (itself a play-on-words on the Hebrew term for science fiction), a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery set in an Israeli SF convention, a la Bimbos of the Death Sun…
I’m even working on a book that incorporates at least segments of Bislama into the narrative – and would happily write an entire book in that language, if only there was someone to publish it…
For it is market forces that dictate the writing of science fiction, not “a limited vocabulary” or some mythical Campbellian (John, not Joseph) strictures; it is not lack of words but lack of finance that restrict, in many parts of the world, the writing of science fiction into the foolhardy act of a maddened lover. And yet there is a joy in it, a purity that can be captivating.
My love of Hebrew science fiction – however obscure the titles, however bad some of its early forms – remains alongside my love of English science fiction. And it shapes my own writing, whatever the language.
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December 16, 2009 | 2:54 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
David Goyer’s thriller “The Unborn” proved to be a bit of a letdown for moviegoers hoping for a uniquely Jewish horror film, but new dybbuk source material has been uncovered that could make for an interesting period piece.
A text detailing a Jewish exorcism has been discovered among a collection of 11,000 manuscript fragments rescued from a 1,000-year-old storeroom – or genizah—in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue.
The neatly written 150-word document describes a ceremony to dispel the evil spirit of Nissim Ben Bunya from his widow, Qamar Bat Rahma. Apparently, Qamar had been possessed by the spirit—or dybbuk—of her late husband while engaged to, or just married with, Joseph Moses Ben Sarah.
Renate Smithuis, the medieval Jewish studies scholar at The University of Manchester who found the text, thinks the Hebrew document was most likely written in the 18th century and probably originated from Egypt or Palestine. Professor Gideon Bohak from Tel Aviv University, who has worked with Smithuis, discovered that the prayer is ascribed to the famous 18th century Kabbalist Rabbi Shalom Shar‘abi.
The fragment contains the second part of a prayer ritual in which the husband—or husband-to-be—of a widow recites an exorcism prayer, to which the other men gathered in the synagogue respond with a similar prayer.
Smithuis said that from the second half of the 16th century onwards, there were many stories about exorcisms in Jewish communities across the Mediterranean, primarily in North Africa and Palestine.
“But this fragment is so exciting because it’s not a story, but the record of a real event using a prayer which was actually recited in a synagogue,” he said. “The prayer was said in the presence of a minyan—the minimum number of 10 adult Jews required for a communal religious service.
“We think it likely to have come from Egypt or Palestine not only because the fragment originates from the Cairo Genizah but also because Qamar (Arabic for “Moon”) and Rahma (“Mercy”) are names of Arabic origin,” Smithuis continued, adding that “we know little more about what happened than what is contained within these 150 or so words - but it does throw some light on this mysterious and little known side of Jewish culture.”
Although Smithuis and many other Jews consider exorcisms beyond the pale of everyday Jewish practice, if you ask certain kabbalistic figures in Jerusalem’s Geula, Beit Yisrael and Mea Shearim neighborhoods, you’ll receive another answer altogether.
Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri said that exorcisms, which are known in Jewish parlance as “removing the dybbuk,” are a fairly common practice.
“My father has performed several of them in the past few years,” said Batzri on Tuesday, referring to Rabbi David Batzri, head of Yeshivat Hashalom.
In fact, a video on the haredi Internet site Ladaat shows Batzri performing the removal of a dybbuk to a man in America via Internet just two weeks ago. The procedure was “successful,” but it took several hours.
Batzri also performed exorcisms on a woman from Dimona and a woman from South America.
Batzri’s son said that the dybbuk talks “out of the throat” of the person which it inhabits, and that the exorcism ceremony is performed by 10 men with Shofars who read special liturgical texts.
“Basically, the dybbuk is encouraged to leave the body of the person it has entered,” said Batzri. “The dybbuk is in actuality a lost soul who did not merit going to the Garden of Eden but also did not deserve going to Gehinom. He remains in limbo and at some point enters the body of a person,” said Batzri.
In Ladaat’s video Batzri is shown reciting prayers together with nine men and coaxing the dybbuk out of the man’s body.
The goal is to get the dybbuk to leave the body through the small toe of the left foot of the person who was possessed, explained Batzri.
October 22, 2009 | 6:52 am
Posted by Adam Wills
The new trailer is up for “Wolfman,” a remake of the 1941 classic due out February 12. It features intense action, some gorgeous period sets and lycanthrope-a-rific transformations. But if you think it looks a little goyishe (Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt…), you’re missing all the Jewish subtext, my friend. (And Gene Simmons providing the Wolfman’s howls.)
Here’s Jeremy Wexler on the Jewish aspects of the werewolf:
[The] modern-day werewolf ... is largely a metaphor for being Jewish in the 20th century. Consider the modern werewolf narrative: A hairy young outsider becomes saddled with an identity he doesn’t want or particularly like, the meaning of which is told to him by an old European lady speaking a lot of mumbo jumbo. He is in love with a blonde girl who loves him back, but their love is doomed. Eventually he gets chased and killed by a bunch of peasants with pitchforks and torches. And, oh, yes, he feasts on human blood, but it’s not his fault.
The parallels between Jewish ideas of how non-Jews perceived us and the lifecycle of the werewolf aren’t surprising, considering that Jews effectively created the modern werewolf.
October 21, 2009 | 10:14 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Joseph Wiseman, the first actor to play a Bond villain on the big screen, died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.
Wiseman, a Canadian Jewish stage and screen actor who had roles in “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “The Night They Raided Minskys” and “Judgment at Nuremberg,” will – much to his frustration when he was alive – always best be remembered as the titular Eurasian evil genius opposite Sean Connery in “Dr. No” (1962).
From the L.A. Times:
The diabolical Dr. No was a formidable foe.
As Los Angeles Times movie critic Philip K. Scheuer put it: “Out pfui-ing Fu Manchu, Dr. No reveals himself to be the head of a vast underworld organization called SPECTER and dedicated to the destruction and domination of mankind. And, by gad, he has the equipment to pull it off.”
Wiseman hadn’t an inkling that he was participating in the launch of what became one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.
“I had no idea it would achieve the success it did,” he told The Times in 1992 with a laugh. “As far as I was concerned, I thought it might be just another grade-B Charlie Chan mystery.”
Although Wiseman was part of movie history, his daughter said he viewed “Dr. No” with “great disdain.”
“He was horrified in later life because that’s what he was remembered for,” she said. “Stage acting was what he wanted to be remembered for.”
October 16, 2009 | 11:26 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Takei has said he is willing to build bridges with his former co-star as long as his friend, radio presenter Howard Stern, is there to mediate.
The row between the actors who played Captain James T Kirk and Lt Hikaru Sulu began a year ago, when Shatner posted a video on his website lashing out at Takei for not inviting him to his wedding to longtime partner Brad Altman.
In the video Shatner said: “It’s so patently obvious that there is a psychosis there.
“I don’t know what his original thing about me was.”
Shatner also attacked Takei’s decision to announce he was gay later in life, saying: “Who cares? Be gay. Don’t be gay.”
Takei maintains invites were sent out to all the main surviving cast, including Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols.
According to Takei, no one was surprised Shatner didn’t show.
“Bill is an energetic guy who likes to be in the spotlight,” said Takei.
“However, strangely, when any of us - the rest of us invite him to things we are doing; throwing a party or one of us are getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or anything that we want to celebrate - birthdays - we’re there to celebrate, congratulate and enjoy each other - except Bill.
“Bill’s never shown up. It’s very strange because he enjoys the limelight and yet he doesn’t like the limelight to be shared with colleagues from Star Trek.”
So, Takei says he and Altman “were absolutely baffled about” the attack.
Until, he says, “about two weeks after we saw that rant on the internet, we were driving down Sunset Blvd and here’s this huge billboard that reads: William Shatner in the talk show Raw Nerves. He needed publicity.”
Since then Takei says he has been invited to talk things through on Shatner’s show, but has declined.
The actor says he thinks he’s found what he calls “neutral” ground for them to settle their dispute - Howard Stern’s Sirius Satellite Radio show, where Takei is a frequent guest.
He says Stern has offered to mediate.
“If Bill accepts, and I would applaud his balls if he accepts and joins me in that kind of discussion with Howard mediating as an interlocutor, I said, ‘I’d be happy to do that’.”
October 16, 2009 | 6:56 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Challenging Wired, Geek Monthly, io9 and variety of other print magazines, blogs and Web sites serving as chroniclers of all things geek, Mandalay entertainment chair Peter Guber, along with Wizard founder Gareb Shamus and Peter Levin announced the launch of a daily e-mail blast—GeekChicDaily—timed with the opening of Wizard’s Big Apple Comic Con. GeekChic will cover video games, technology, comics, collectibles, television and film.
Events like Comic-Con have proved that fanboys are a captive audience and often the first to feverishly follow the latest projects Hollywood has to offer.
Gareb Shamus, the owner of five major Comic-Con conventions and Wizard magazine, has now paired up with Mandalay Entertainment’s Peter Guber and digital entertainment entrepreneur Peter Levin to court that crowd and launch daily newsletter GeekChicDaily.
The free email blast and accompanying website, which officially bows today, timed with the start of Comic-Con in Gotham, aims to serve as a DailyCandy for the nerd herd and deliver short articles on new movies, TV shows, toys, videogames, comicbooks, Web sites and gadgetry, as well as interviews with the creators behind them.
Scott Gramling, former editor-in-chief of FHM and Wizard magazines, is GeekChicDaily’s editor in chief.
Guber and his Mandalay Corporate Enterprises, Japan’s largest talent agency and content producer Kyoraku Yoshimoto Holdings, and Ken Wegner, prexy of Jel Sert Co. (behind Fla-Vor-Ice), are investors.
Levin, who brokered the deal to sell Nikki Finke’s blog DeadlineHollywoodDaily to Mail.com, was instrumental in lining up investors for GeekChicDaily. He was an early investor in Gamespy Industries, an operator of videogame-related websites, and serves as an adviser to Habbo, an online social networking site for kids, and in-game ad agency Double Fusion.
Shamus has experience in launching newsletters, founding Wizard mag in the format 20 years ago.
He also publishes ToyFare and FunFare magazines and owns the Big Apple, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto and Anaheim Comic-Con confabs through Wizard Entertainment.
A number of websites have gone after geeks but typically focus on one sector of the entertainment biz.
By focusing on all areas, GeekChicDaily’s founders believe they can attract a demo that advertisers are hungry to reach with their marketing messages. The site should especially appeal to Hollywood’s studios and TV networks, who have upped their presence at fan conventions around the country to give first looks at their movies and TV shows in hopes of generating positive word-of-mouth.
“We think (GeekChicDaily) is a wanted commodity for an underserved constituency,” Levin said. “We want to give them stuff they would love to read but don’t want to spend the time searching for.”
The focused newsletter concept has been successful for DailyCandy, which has signed 3 million subscribers since it launched in 2000, with brief pieces on shopping, products and dining. Comcast paid $125 million to buy the venture in 2008.
“GeekChicDaily captures the passion and thirst these hardcore fans have for being the first to know what is cool before the rest of the world finds out,” Guber said. “My professional passion is all about storytelling; GeekChicDaily will allow us to tell pop culture stories in the most compelling way possible.”
October 13, 2009 | 10:37 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Greg Grunberg confirmed via Twitter this afternoon that someone is going to die on “Heroes,” and it’ll be big:
“Yes, one of the main characters is getting killed off for realzies!! Sad but true. Really sad. Stay tuned.”
Rumors say it’s a major male character, and no one gave the actor the heads up that he’d be out of a job. Ouch.
Kristin Dos Santos at E! reported on the upcoming death this morning, saying it’s one of the original male characters:
Sources over on NBC’s Heroes confirm to me that a major death is in the works, and this is not one that will go unnoticed by even the most casual fan.
It is huge.
So who is it?
Well, you know how these things go…We can’t come right out and name any names. (Unless someone can hook me up right quick with the Witness Protection Program?)
However, I will tell you that this leading character is a male ... and he is one of the original cast.
I get that there’s no easy way to lay someone off, but, come on, this is ridiculous: A male series regular on a one-hour drama — a onetime ratings powerhouse — learned that he was out of a job only after reading his character’s death scene in the script!
According to my mole, the popular and well-respected leading man — who tapes his final scenes this week — was blindsided not just by his ouster, but by the tacky way in which it was handled. “He was hurt that the producers didn’t tell him first,” says the source. “He deserved better.”
The real surprise is that, well, anyone was surprised at all. The actors on said show have long been frustrated by the lack of communication coming from the front office. Still, as the insider points out, “This was low even for them.”
October 12, 2009 | 9:33 am
Posted by Adam Wills
Last week’s video of “Robot Chicken” creator Seth Green freaking out on camera after getting mugged and a second video purporting to be Green getting mugged in a parking lot has many wondering whether this YouTube sensation is real or a hoax.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Andrew Wallenstein has a theory:
While sources told us this is a staged stunt, the continuation of the hoax begs the question: What’s this all about, anyway?
Here’s a theory: These video are an elaborate viral marketing campaign for Butterfinger. Green signed on as spokesman for the Nestle candy bar just last month. What little is known about Butterfinger’s future creative direction going forward, as spelled out in this press release, is the brand’s intent on reviving the tagline made famous by Green’s predecessor, Bart Simpson: “Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger.” The product was already treated to an online campaign, ProtectYourButterfingerBar.com.
Hmmm, all this talk about “laying a finger” and protecting the bar. Could it be that videos about a pitchman being attacked is a new spin on a familiar campaign? Strange as it may sound to trot out videos that don’t feature the product being promoted, it’s exactly that kind of anti-ad that’s likely to lure Gen Y-ers in, presumably before somehow working Butterfinger into some future installment of this intriguing series.
Just you wait. Either we’ll be eating crow or crispy, crunchy, peanut-buttery chocolate real soon.