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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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

 


36 Days of Judaic Myth: Day 17: The Priestly Blessing and Spock

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 the Priestly Blessing and Spock.

Day 17: The Priestly Blessing and Spock

Priestly Blessing art in the Synagoge Enschede, photo by Kleuske

Priestly Blessing art in the Synagoge Enschede, photo by Kleuske

The descendants of the High Priest Aaron, Moses’s brother, are known as the Cohanim, and these high priests have been chosen by God to assist in serving him. They have a special duty during the prayer service, to bless the congregants. First, those descended from the tribe of Levi wash the Cohen’s hands, then the Cohen removes his own shoes. He covers his head with his tallis, his prayer shawl, recites a blessing, then turns to the congregants and raises his hands so that his palms face downward and the thumbs of his outspread hands touch. The fingers on each hand are split into two sets of two fingers. With his prayer shawl also covering his hands, the High Priest says:

May the Lord bless you and protect you…
May the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you…
May the Lord lift up His face unto you and give you peace…

After each line, the congregants say, “Amen.” 

God’s Shekhinah, or Divine Presence, shines through the Cohen’s hands during the blessing, therefore, one should never look at the Cohen’s hands when he recites the blessing, for harm shall befall a person if he does.  Instead, one should cover one’s eyes, or turn their backs to the Cohen during this prayer. If a man has a child, he should take him under his own talis, to bless him and protect him, just as God blesses and protects the congregation.

The Myth’s Origins

The text of the Priestly Blessing comes directly from the Torah, specifically. Numbers 6:23–27. The prayer mention’s that God’s face should “shed light upon you,” yet in Exodus 33:20, God says, “Thou can not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” So the tradition of averting the eyes arose. The fingers are positioned in such a way so that each hand forms the Hebrew letter שׁ, Shin, which stands for Shaddai, Almighty God.

There is a biblical prohibition against a Cohen with disfigured hands from offering the blessing, so the practice of covering of the hands arose to allow those priests whom the community favored to still perform the blessing. In later times, this evolved into the belief that one should not see the Cohen’s hand during the blessing.

The Priestly Blessing is popular in Christian liturgy as well, and various forms are chanted in Christianity around the world, though without the hand signs and head covering.

Some Thoughts on the Myth

Spock and his Vulcan Salute

Spock and his Vulcan Salute

When actor Leonard Nimoy z”l* was a boy, he went with his father to shul, to synagogue, and his father told him to avert his eyes during the Priestly Blessing, because God’s Presence would emerge from the Cohen’s hands and it would be dangerous to look. But the ever curious boy looked and saw the hand gesture rising above the congregation. Ever after, the sign had stuck with him in his imagination as one of great power. Later, when he became the well-known character known as Spock on the TV show Star Trek, he was discussing with the screenwriters a scene. Nimoy suggested that Spock, a Vulcan, needed some kind of hand gesture to use as a greeting. He adapted the Cohen’s hand sign into the Vulcan salute, and altered the blessing to say, “Live long and prosper.” In his own words:

It’s an interesting factoid as to how a part of a Jewish blessing made its way into popular culture. Even today, many people have no idea of the origin of Spock’s famous Vulcan salute. 

* z”l stands for zikhrono livrakha, may his memory be a blessing.

Tomorrow’s Myth: The Evil Inclination

 

 


A Decade of Readercon

It’s hard to believe, but this year marks my tenth anniversary of first attending Readercon. I first attended back in 2005 at the insistence of then Altered Fluid member Lauren McLaughlin. Back then, my only experience at cons was a few Star Trek and fan conventions I attended in my teens. I was immediately struck with how many amazing authors were in the same room with me during the Meet the Prose party, the main gathering on the first night. I knew not a soul, but the ever gregarious Ajit George knew some folks from his Clarion West class, introduced me to a ton of people, and soon I was playing Mafia with the likes of Holly Black, Kelly Link, Samuel Delany, Ellen Kushner, Paul Tremblay, and so many other luminaries. Many of those people I met at that first con I’m still friends with today. So, thank you, Lauren and Ajit, for opening up a world to me.

My first Readercon: Me, Paul M. Berger, and Devin Poore

My first Readercon, 2005, Me, Paul M. Berger, and Devin Poore

Right now I’m slogging through that post-con haze of exhaustion, mainly my own fault, for staying up too late drinking while talking with old friends and making new ones. In 2005 I knew no one, had published only two stories, and had just put out the third issue of a little ‘zine called Sybil’s Garage I’d started with folks from the Altered Fluid writers group.

Readercon 2005, Paul Tremblay, Fred Cataldo (standing), Ajit George, Samuel Delany, Tk, Ellen Kushner

Readercon 2005, Paul Tremblay, Fred Cataldo (standing), Ajit George, Samuel Delany, Tk, Ellen Kushner

And now here I am in 2015, where at Readercon I read an excerpt from my forthcoming and first novel, King of Shards, was on two panels in the giant “F” room (one on immersive fiction and the other on making a career in writing and publishing). Sybil’s Garage, though I’m no longer publishing the ‘zine, is still praised in the halls of Readercon as a little treasure. I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for my editing work on it, and Paper Cities, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, which I’d published, went on to win the World Fantasy Award. I’ve published almost thirty stories, have had my stories translated into Czech, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish, and my stories have been nominated for a Nebula Award twice. I say this not to boast, but because I think it’s important as artists to remind ourselves from time to time of our accomplishments. In this field, as I imagine in other artistic endeavors, it can often seem as if there is always a new goal to strive for, that one success is never enough, that we must always keep moving. I think that’s wonderful, to a degree. Like sharks, artists must move forward or die. And yet we can often forget to look back and remember where we’ve come from.

Readercon 2005, Me & Mercurio D. Rivera, watching a Mafia game

Readercon 2005, Me & Mercurio D. Rivera, watching a Mafia game. My sideburns have since fallen off.

I’ll remember Readercon 2005 as the place where a new life path began for me. So it’s a little sad for me to hear that Readercon will be changing hotels. The Burlington Marriott was never a perfect hotel by far, but some of my warmest memories formed there. The changing of the hotels is bittersweet, like the end of an era. But 2016 marks a new decade of writing for me, and I’m eagerly looking forward to all the adventures that this will bring. New hotel, new memories.

Readercon 2005, Devin Poore & Holly Black

Readercon 2005, Devin Poore & Holly Black during a Mafia game

From the very beginning, Readercon has always been one of the friendliest cons. From veteran to newbie, you will never find an attitude of exclusion or elitism. Warmth arises from all people, all corners. Everyone recognizes that we are all on this adventure together because we simply love what we do, and the people who do it. Many of those who make Readercon possible exist behind the scenes, doing hard work for little reward. So I wish to thank them more than anyone, because without them there would be no con. Right now I’m desperately missing all the people and conversation. It’s almost as if my air supply has been cut off. But I feel better when I think about all the things 2016 and beyond will bring. I hope to see you all there.