I’m supremely happy to announce that Ellen Datlow has bought my story “The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)” for Tor.com. I’ve been a fan of Tor.com and its regular fiction since its debut, and it’s awesome that my work will appear there. The story concerns a novelist from the far future in a world where few people read anymore, and instead have stories projected into their minds. The story will be published March 15, 2017.
You want to find the roots of violence in a culture? Look to the way some parents treat their children. In almost every case of a violent adult, you will find history of that person abused as a child: physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, spiritually. We look at the violent actions of adults and throw billions of dollars of tech and bombs at the problem, meanwhile we ignore the children, millions of them (including here in the USA), brought up in abusive environments, who have no way to express their pain and deep suffering — until they become adults. Then you’d better watch out, because they will surely make you suffer for the life they never had. If you want to stop the endless cycle of violence in the world, look no further than the children. Free them from the cycle of abuse, and I promise you the world will change with them.
I’m happy to announce I’ve sold a new story to Grendelsong, the magazine edited by Paul Jessup. My story is called “The Problem of Meat,” and it’s about inter-dimensional creatures who eat our emotions. Grendelsong, back in the 00s was a cool little ‘zine that Paul Jessup put together, and some of the names people take for granted in the genre today had some of their first stories published there. Paul’s taking the ‘zine online, which I think is a better format these days for reaching the greatest audience, and my story will appear in the premiere (online) issue. I’m happy to take part!
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 Guf, The Treasury of Souls.
Day 15: The Guf, The Treasury of Souls
All the souls that will ever be born are kept in the highest heaven, beside the throne of glory, in a treasury of souls known as the Guf. The souls that exist here are pure and pristine, untainted by earthly life. Some souls flicker like a candle and some shine brighter than the sun. When a soul is about to be born, the angel Gabriel reaches his hand into the Guf and takes out the first soul that comes into his hand. Fortunate is the person whose soul is bright. Another angel follows this soul down to earth, where sparrows, who can see both angels and souls, sing to praise their beauty.
The angel Lailah guards the soul in the womb as it is clothed in flesh and blood and stripped of its heavenly garment. There the soul lives an earthly life, until the day comes for it to leave this world. Then the Angel of Death comes to remove the fleshy garment and replaces it with the holy garment that was stripped away when the soul descended to earth. Therefore death is not a time of loss, but a time of reunion and joy, because the soul has donned its original heavenly garment and flies before God’s Throne of Glory.
Some say the Guf holds an infinite number of souls, and some say the number is finite. Some say that when the Temple was destroyed, no more souls entered the Guf. Each day, the number of souls held there grows smaller, and when the number of souls run out, there will be an infant born without a soul — born dead. This will herald the end of days, the death of the world, just before the arrival of the Messiah.
The Myth’s Origins
The myth of the Guf can trace its source to the Talmud, tractate Yebamoth 62a, which reads, “The Son of David will not come before all the souls in Guf will have been disposed of, since it is said, ‘For the spirit that unwrapps itself is from Me.'” And from tractate Abodah Zarah 5a says, “The Son of David will only come when all the souls destined to inhabit earthly] bodies will be exhausted.”
In Hebrew “guf” literally means “body,” and this “storehouse of souls” was literally thought of as a body. According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari, souls rest from their descent in the boughs of trees, where sparrows can see them falling from heaven, and this explains their joyous song.
The Zohar, the chief kabbalistic text of Judaism, elaborates on the myth and stated that God hewed all who would be born from his Throne of Glory and placed them in the Guf.
Some Thoughts on the Myth
The Guf makes its appearance in popular culture in the 1988 film The Seventh Sign, the Guf’s emptiness precipitates the End Times, though the film conflated Judaic and Christian mythology.
It must have been an interesting question to ponder: where do all the souls come from? A person grows from a tiny seed into a human being, with desires and motivation and personality, only to end in death and quietude. Where does the energy go? Thus came the concept of the soul, a part of us that survives after death. The concept of a soul, an animating force, is common throughout the mythologies of the world. In Judaism, this developed into the myth of the Guf, a storehouse of souls, hewn by God from his heavenly throne. But the cleverer among them must have asked, How many souls are in the Guf? Is it infinite, or finite?
A similar problem arises in traditions that believe in reincarnation. There are more people alive today than have existed throughout all of human history. So where do our souls come from?
That the ancient rabbis chose to make the Guf finite speaks to the common theme throughout Judaism, the hope and promise of a final redemption. When the Guf is at last emptied, then the Messiah will come. God has put an hourglass on our suffering. It is not eternal. Even this life, which is full of suffering, is temporary. We are just wearing our temporary “earthly garment” before returning home.
Tomorrow’s Myth: The Transmigration of Souls
As someone who’s seen Blade Runner over a 100 times, who has given talks on the film, and has given private screenings for friends in which I (a) add trivia and commentary and (b) occasionally recite lines from memory at their request, I’m disappointed I didn’t get asked to participate in this speculative plotting for Blade Runner 2. So here goes my take:
Don’t make the film.
Yes, that’s right. I said it. While I love visiting the Blade Runner universe, and it’s my favorite film of all time, the film itself is a product of 80s cyberpunk verve and retro noir pessimism with a little apocalypse thrown in for fun. In Blade Runner they don’t have flat screen TVs and it’s four years in our future. The world in Blade Runner is a polluted, corrupt, disintegrating mess, and all the wealthy have jumped ship for (supposedly) happier pastures off world. Likely, they’re just destroying another planet.
And all this is disgusting. I don’t mean the film itself, but the world humanity has brought about. A lot of science fiction serves as a warning: “Look, if you’re not careful, this may come about.” For decades the Blade Runner Hades landscape (the opening scene of smog-choked, smoldering Los Angeles) and the neon-lit, rainy, overcrowded streets, have been the default vision of the future. The landscape was specifically named after the Greek version of hell. It’s only now, after some 35 years, (with a few bright exceptions) that visions of the future have turned at last away from the dystopian darkness envisioned in films like Blade Runner into optimistic visions of the future. Do we really need to head back into darkness again?
Blade Runner 2 shouldn’t be made because (a) the film doesn’t need to be improved upon or expanded because it’s a complete and perfect object and (b) what the world needs now is not more dystopian, bleak visions of the future, but positive, bright, optimistic ones. Instead of destroying people’s spirit by positing a bleak future for humankind, let’s lift people up, inspire, and encourage them to greater things.
It’s a movie that doesn’t need to and probably shouldn’t be made.
I read this article this morning and it made me both sad and disappointed:
So Star Trek needs Khan-like villains now in every new film? Once, I remember Star Trek was about exploration, discovery, big ideas and the betterment of humanity, about the movement away from a world of scarcity and divisiveness into a world where each person is free to seek out her bliss in whichever way they see fit. Now it’s all about space battles and evil nemeses. This is why I have enjoyed films like Interstellar and books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s amazing 2312, which both explore what humanity might become without need for an arch-nemesis or evil mastermind. Can you imagine? No? Sorry, but that’s your fault. Except it’s not your fault, not really. It’s what you’ve been conditioned to think through years of pessimistic visions.
Some say science fiction is never about the future and always about the present. And in this case of Star Trek they are right. Under Roddenberry’s command, the Star Trek enterprise (see what I did there) was always about envisioning a positive humanity for us. With his passing, the show reverted to a Star Wars like laser-gunslinging adventure. Now every new film is about some evil mastermind, a la James Bond or Holmes’s Moriarty. It’s never about how humanity, in the centuries from now, overcomes our worst tendencies of violence and barbarity and explores the unknown. Starfleet is depicted less like an advanced university now and more like a military academy. Roddenberry was always aware of the fine line between the command structure of the ship he envisioned and one of a military vessel. But the Enterprise was primarily a vessel of exploration, not offense.
That has been dropped in favor of new villains. We are no longer exploring what’s out there, venturing into the deep unknown. Hollywood, because most of the producers have the imagination of a paper bag, can’t see beyond the next space battle. And so we are left stuck in the Us vs. Them mentality. Nothing against Idris Elba. He’s a fine actor. But I have to say that Star Trek is beginning to bore me.
Dear Hollywood, can you envision a positive future for humankind? I dare you.