August 25, 2011
The ‘Unincorporated’ Rabbi
In Dani and Eytan Kollin’s 2009 novel, “The Unincorporated Man,” religion was all but extinct on Earth. In their 2010 sequel, “The Unincorporated War,” we find faiths like Islam and Christianity growing throughout the off-world Outer Alliance. But with the release this month of their third book in the “Unincorporated” universe, “The Unincorporated Woman,” the Kollin brothers revive Judaism through a new side character, Rabbi – a Moses-like figure who reluctantly takes charge of the Alliance refugees, known as the Diaspora.
“Islam and Christianity got a really big flag waving in book two, and we got some heat from that. Like, ‘What happened to the Jews, man?’ ” said Dani, who will appear with his brother, Eytan, 7 p.m. tonight at The Grove’s Barnes & Noble.
As “Unincorporated Woman” opens, the United Human Federation (UHF) decimates the 200-year-old, asteroid-bound Jewish community of Aish Ha Torah, leaving Gedalia Wildman, a rabbi/propulsion specialist, as the only person able to lead the Jewish people. Following the attack, he is known thereafter only as Rabbi.
The novel is essentially an Exodus story, Dani said. “[Rabbi’s] primary concern through the entire book – and even into the fourth [book] – is whatever Jews are left who want to be observant, how the hell am I going to keep them going and save them?”
Dani and Eytan, sons of Rabbi Gil Kollin, rabbi emeritus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, pepper Jewish themes throughout the book, explaining Orthodox Jewish traditions (e.g., not shaking hands with members of the opposite sex) and delving into Jewish law. During one discussion, Rabbi clarifies why Jews in the 24th century can’t alter the Tay-Sachs gene. “For all I know, that one gene saves humanity fifteen generations from now,” he says.
And since this is science fiction, expect Jewish snark.
When Agent Agnes Goldstein—an atheist maybe-Jew – talks with Rabbi about the complex process of Jewish conversion, she says, “Are you guys trying to become extinct?” And when UHF President Hektor Sambianco and his minions struggle to understand the threat posed by Rabbi, his recommended reading: “A book called Protocols of the Elders of Zion seems as good a place as any to start.”
As the war drags on, adherents of the growing religious faiths wrestle with their differences as well as their temptations to engage militancy.
“The message of the book, in terms of religion is, ‘Don’t you dare go back to where you were. How dare you reinterpret or try to bring back jihad or the Crusades?’ It’s so disheartening to see what happens in the name of religion, and it’s nice to be able to have a world in which we believe we can, to a certain extent, stem that,” Dani said.
The “Unincorporated” books are Heinlein-style tales of personal freedom and responsibility. In the first novel, the Prometheus Award-winning “Unincorporated Man,” 21st century billionaire Justin Cord, secretly frozen in cryostasis before the economic catastrophe known as the Grand Collapse, awakens 300 years later to encounter a society built around personal incorporation, where people struggle their whole lives to achieve a majority share in themselves in order to gain control. His rejection of the system serves as an example for others unhappy with their lot, which leads to civil war between the corporate-friendly UHF and the rebellious Alliance.
As “Unincorporated Woman” opens, the Alliance struggles for its survival following Cord’s death. Janet Delgado (J.D.) Black – a corporate lawyer turned fleet admiral – is loathe to give up her post and turns to another human in cryostasis: Dr. Sandra O’Toole, the woman who created the technology to freeze Cord. However, O’Toole isn’t about to be Black’s puppet wartime president and insists on power.
The brothers say the third book demanded effective female characters.
“A lot of people assumed that J.D. would become the main protagonist of the third book. We even set up the beginning, for those who hadn’t read the spoilers, to make it almost appear as such. And it was with delight that we introduced Sandra and allowed J.D. to go on and kick universal ass,” Dani said.
Eytan says that writing Sandra O’Toole was easier than writing Justin Cord in the second book. “Writing Justin was being ground to pieces because the circumstances had changed so much, which, by the way, happens historically,” he said.
While the brothers freely admit J.D. Black is essentially a “guy with boobs,” they studied a variety of female leaders, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher, when they went to write Sandra O’Toole.
“Mom to a certain degree poked through [with Sandra],” Eytan said. “But it’s not like we wrote our mom.”
As far as the “Unincorporated” universe’s other major female character, Eytan and Dani say fans were more upset (2 to 1) over how Neela Harper-Cord—Justin Cord’s wife—had been psych audited and turned into Sambianco’s sexual plaything than they were over Cord’s death.
“What we did to Neela was a lot crueler,” Eytan admitted.
“Neela became marginalized … and there’s not a lot left for Neela to do,” Dani said, adding that her predicament will be resolved in book four.
In the next book, which the brothers are currently writing, they say the war becomes even more desperate and brutal, and Sandra O’Toole asserts greater control over the Alliance.
“The society can’t exist as it was before, and it’s literally destroying itself. This all comes down to: is it worth it? Is this idea of freedom and liberty worth everything that is going on, worth this destruction, worth this schism?” Dani said.