Writer of Short Stories & Novels
“Will You Meet Me There, Out Beyond the Bend?”
Nightmare
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Bifrost
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“In Memory of a Summer’s Day”
Mad Hatters and March Hares
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“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)”
Tor.com
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“Love Engine Optimization”
Lightspeed Magazine 85
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“One Spring in Cherryville”
Available in most ebook formats
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
XB-1
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“The Singularity is in Your Hair”
Cyber World
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)
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“The Problem of Meat”
Grendelsong
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2016
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“Demon in Aisle 6”
Nightmare Magazine 38
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
World Chinese SF Association
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“The Thing in the Refrigerator That Could Stop Time”
Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest
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“Marie and the Mathematicians”
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #26
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“The Writing’s on the Wall”
Farrago's Wainscot #5
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“The Sembla”
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Hatter Bones
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“Saving Diego”
Interzone #221
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“The Spaces Between Things”
Electric Velocipede 17/18
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“The Girl in the Basement”
Apex Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 3
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“The Suffering Gallery”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 57
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Magazine #42
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“The History Within Us”
The People of the Book
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“The Hands That Feed”
Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
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“The Bricks of Gelecek”
Naked City
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“The Hands That Feed”
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk
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“The Suffering Gallery”
The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Three
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“The Great Game at the End of the World”
After
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Lightspeed Magazine and io9.com
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“The History Within Us”
Clarkesworld Year Four
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“The Last Probe”
Launch Pad
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“Pheth’s Aviary”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies - Issue 133
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“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”
Clarkesworld Magazine #92
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
XB-1 Issue 8/2014
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Космопорт (Kosmoport)
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“The History Within Us”
XB-1 Issue 11/2014
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“Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”
Clarkesworld Magazine #98
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“The Sounds of Old Earth”
Nebula Awards Showcase 2015
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“The Garden Beyond Her Infinite Skies”
Clarkesworld Magazine
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Guest Blogging at the Jewish Book Council
Image from Golemchik by Will Exley (Nobrow, 2015)

Image from Golemchik by Will Exley (Nobrow, 2015)

All this week I have been guest blogging at the Jewish Book Council as part of their Visiting Scribe series. Today’s entry is on golems in popular culture. From Rabbi Loew’s 16th century golem, to Frankenstein’s monster, to Hal 9000 and Skynet, to Elon Musk’s warning that artificial intelligence is “summoning the demon,” the golem myth is rife in modern culture. You can read today’s essay here.

My previous posts are:

Shortening the Way – How Frank Herbert’s Dune was influence by Eastern European Hasidic tales of rabbis who could travel vast distances in little time.

Surviving Leonard Nimoy’s Superhuman Salute – The Cohen Priestly Blessing and Star Trek.

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 29, Dune, Frank Herbert, and The Shortening of the Way

To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on Dune, Frank Herbert, and The Shortening of the Way.

Day 29: Dune, Frank Herbert, and The Shortening of the Way

Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach

Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach

Tales are told of great and learned rabbis who, by the practice of using the secret Holy Names of God, were able to travel vast distances in a short amount of time. One such tale is of Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, an 18th century rabbi who lived in Poland. Often he and his disciples would set off for a town hundreds of miles away, only to arrive in a few hours.

One night he and some new students had been traveling all day, and the town was nowhere in sight. The sun was nearing the horizon, when the Sabbath would begin. They could not drive their horses on the Sabbath, and this was no place to set up camp for the night, for in those parts of the world Jews were treated with suspicion, contempt, and often violence, and the roads were known to be filled with dangerous men at night. “Rebbe!” his disciples cried. “We are hours from any town and the Sabbath approaches! What shall we do?”

“Not to worry,” said the Baal Shem Tov. And just as he spoke, the town appeared as if from beyond a cloud, and the landscape all around them had changed, as if they had crossed a vast distance suddenly. “Ah,” the students said. “Our master has performed kefitzat ha-derekh, the Shortening of the Way.”

One of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples is quoted as saying, “That was one of my first experiences with kefitzat ha-derekh, the Shortening of the Way. Somehow the rebbe was able to travel great distances in impossibly short periods of time. I do not know how he did it. Dozens of times we traveled hundreds of miles in only a few hours. As the horses could normally cover only five to ten miles in an hour, we never understood how the master was able to accomplish such a feat. But he did it so many times, we stopped questioning.”

It is said that throughout history all baalei shem, or masters of the name, had this power of kefitzat ha-derekh. They studied the inner secrets of Kabbalah, and using special incantations of God’s Holy Name and the names of the angels, they were able to perform their miracles of transport.

The Myth’s Origins

The Talmud speaks of three individuals who kefitzat ha-aretz, earth jumped. They are Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, Jacob the Patriarch, and Abishai ben Zeruiah. As the awareness of and study of Kabbalah increased, tales of individuals being able to jump across vast distances became more common throughout Europe. People who performed this miracle were called the baalei shem, or masters of the Holy Name. Sometimes they chanted the name, other times they inscribed it on the horses’ hooves.

Though this miracle was typically performed by those learned in Kabbalah, sometimes the miracle happened without the traveler’s knowledge; it was performed by God for the traveler’s benefit. But frequently it is the holy man, like the Baal Shem Tov, who uses the kefitzat ha-derekh to reach a distant city so he may perform his righteous duty, his religious obligations, or help someone in need. Though the Torah explicitly forbids using any kind of magic, the use of kefitzat ha-derekh was nonetheless widespread in folktales.

The first written mention of the kefitzat ha-derekh is in a letter sent by a North African community to one Rabbi Hai Gaon. The community wanted to know if kefitzat ha-derekh was possible, because they had heard tales of a learned holy man who was seen in one place on Sabbath eve, and on the very same night he was seen hundreds of miles away. The next morning, he was seen in the first place again. How was this possible? they asked. Rabbi Hai Gaon did not believe in kefitzat ha-derekh, and denied the existence of such miracles. Yet the stories lived on in folktales, especially from the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov.

Some Thoughts on the Myth

So what does all this have to do with Frank Herbert and his novel Dune, as in the title of my post? In Frank Herbert’s book, the religious order of the Bene Gesserit has been attempting to breed a super-being, one whom they call the Kwisatz Haderach. They wanted this being to be a woman and thus fall under the control of their female religious order. But Lady Jessica unexpectedly gives birth to a boy, Paul Atreides, and thus the Bene Gesserit’s plan for domination of the universe fails when Paul cannot be controlled by anyone. The Kwisatz Haderach is known in the books as “the one who can be two places simultaneously” and “the one who can be many places at once.” Hebert defines the Kwisatz Haderach as “The Shortening of the Way.”

Also of interest to me is that the words “Bene Gesserit” resemble one of the names of the Jewish people, the Bene Jeshurun, which approximately means “Children of the Upright” in Hebrew.

I was unable to find any sources where Herbert describes how he came up with the Kwisatz Haderach, but it’s clear the myth influenced his concept of Dune.

So here we see again, as with Spock’s Vulcan salute, another Judaic myth making its way into popular science fiction culture, often with few people realizing their mythical origins. 

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Origin of Chaos