“The Long Road to the Deep North” in Strange Horizons

One of my favourite recent stories, and another one from the world of the Continuity, this pays homage to one of my favourite works of literature, Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches.

For Basho’s haiku I substituted Bislama poetry, which is something I’ve been interested in doing for a long time, and for Edo period Japan I substituted the far future world of the Continuity. This is available to read online and also in a podcast version.

From Bangkok he travelled into orbit, staying as a pilgrim in a Church of Robot mission, where facilities were basic but accommodation cheap. There he stayed for several days, in the orbital they call Gateway, the commercial hub of the system, observing traders and tourists, the meeting of Martian Chinese and Lunar kibbutznkis, of Orang Ulu and Man Tanna miners from the Belt, of tentacle junkies and flesh-surfing Others, of Louis Wu addicts and Guilds of Ashkelon games-world mercenaries. Always Earth dominated the view. In one of the observation decks he wrote:


Long obit

Mi lukluk wol

Tentenem

Tentenem


He wrote:


From orbit, Earth is the centre of the universe, it is Aristotelian. Yet that is a mirage which the Others do not share. In orbit, I saw the world, turning and turning. I sat in a bar with a view of the planet rotating below, listening to conversations while drinking Lao-Lao, the smooth rice whiskey which tastes different here, distilled from hydroponics rice terraces deep in the bowels of Gateway. Conversations all around me, in Martian Chinese and Hebrew, in Thai and in French and Malay, and whenever strangers met who did not share a language they reverted to the old contact toktok, the beche-le-mar of Old Melanesia and the Belt.

“The Lord of Discarded Things” in Strange Horizons

My latest Central Station story, The Lord of Discarded Things, is now up at Strange Horizons. They are having their annual fund drive at the moment, so if you like what they do, maybe drop them some cash!

There were still alte-zachen men in Jaffa in those days. There had always been, junk-gypsies, part Jew, part Arab, part something else again. It was the time of the Messiah Murder, of which you must have heard, of which the historian Elezra (himself progenitor of Miriam Elezra, who with the Golda Meir automaton journeyed to Ancient-Mars-That-Never-Was, and changed the course of a planet) has written, “It was a time of fervour and uncertainty, a time of hate and peace, in which the messiah’s appearance and subsequent execution were almost incidental.”

There were still alte-zachen men in Jaffa and Central Station in those days, as there always were and always will be, and chief amongst them was Ibrahim, he who was sometimes called The Lord of Discarded Things.

You must have seen him approach a thousand times. He appears in the background, always in the background, of tourist-taken images, of numerous feeds. The cart, first: a flat top carried on the four wheels of a liberated, ancient car. In Jaffa’s junkyards, dead combustion-engine cars proliferated, towers of them making a city of junk in which hid the city’s unfortunates. The cart pulled by one or two horses, city-bred and born: mismatched grey and white, these Palestinian horses, an intermingling of breeds, distant cousins to the noble Arabian strains. Small, strong, and patient, they carried the cart overloaded with broken-down things, without complaint, on the weekends putting on bells and colourful garb and carrying small children along the promenade, for a price. – continue reading.

Ehud Maimon on my Haifa stories

The feature article in this week’s Strange Horizons is Bridge Over Troubled Waters: The City of Haifa in Lavie Tidhar’s Stories, by Ehud Maimon. It discusses six of my short stories that take place in Haifa – including last year’s “The Projected Girl” from Naked City - and “Shira” from The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. They are two of my favourite stories.

Anyway it’s a really interesting article – for me if no one else! – and raises up some themes I didn’t consider. I find Haifa absolutely fascinating, and one of the most marvellous places to set stories in. Here’s a snippet from the article that explains a little about the city and just why it’s so fascinating to a writer:

The city of Haifa is the venue of six stories by Lavie Tidhar. These stories were not written as a cycle, and only two of them are even directly linked through a shared character, but they all find an engaged setting in the ancient city of Haifa on the Eastern Mediterranean. This isn’t to say that they simply take place in a city called “Haifa,” a passive participant to the activity within it. Rather, Tidhar’s Haifa plays a role in all these stories, and through characteristics common across them, acts as a bridge between its local culture and the more universal enterprise of speculative fiction.

Four characteristics appear in one form or another in all of Lavie Tidhar’s Haifa stories: 1) the power of books and bookstores to shape the reality of the city and the way the protagonists perceive reality; 2) the city’s sanctity (especially with regard to sun and fire worship); 3) the eternal nature of the city, its harbor, and the mountain ridge on which it sits; and 4) the city’s ability to span the vast range of both history and mythology.

The city of Haifa as viewed from the port.

These characteristics are not unique to Tidhar. Speculative fiction is rife with books that expose reality as timeless and malleable. Michael Moorcock’s Tanelorn and Roger Zelazny’s Amber provide great points of reference with respect to cities the span space and time, acting as hubs for the world that exists around them. Yet these are definitively fictional cities, which raises an interesting question regarding Tidhar’s Haifa—do his stories merely apply fantastic conventions to Haifa, or are these fantastic features central to Haifa’s identity? We’ll see that whatever the answer to this question, this dynamic allows Tidhar to utilize Haifa to marry particular and local identity with concerns, themes, and conventions that are universal in scope.

As far as books and their power to affect reality, there is nothing special about Haifa besides a few locally iconic used bookstores. But the power of words is a vital trope in speculative fiction more generally, and it certainly a common theme in Tidhar’s work as a whole, highlighted by his recent Bookman trilogy.

As for Haifa’s nature as a meeting point and crossing point of times, places and realities, the answer may lie in the nature and history of Haifa itself. While it is the third largest city in Israel, Haifa was not one of the major towns of the region until the twentieth century. But it is an ancient port town, with evidence of settlement dating back to the late Bronze Age. It is situated along a stretch of coast that was one of the most important international trading centers in the Mediterranean for some 4,000 years. In recent history it gained importance as one of the largest deep-water ports in the eastern Mediterranean, and during the British rule of the Middle East as the gateway to the entire region. As such it has always been a nexus, a meeting place for people and cultures. Tidhar take this a few steps further. In his Haifa historical periods coexist side by side in the same city, timelines cross and meet and the city is a nexus not just for people from different places and cultures, but for the mundane and the mythical.

The Terraces of the Baha’i faith, located on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

The sanctity of the city can be traced back to the history of the region Haifa is located in. Haifa hosts the world center of the Baha’i religion and is sacred to this faith, but as far as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are concerned it had no major religious significance, especially compared to other cities in the Middle East. But the Carmel ridge on which it sits is a different matter. Mount Carmel is mentioned as a sacred place in the account of Thumose III’s occupation of Palestine in the fifteenth century BC; It is the site of Elijah’s famous showdown with the prophets of Ba’al and Ashera (1 Kings 18)—which implies that the site has an even older history as a sacred place; The city of Megiddo, made famous by the book of Revelation as “Armageddon” (Revelation 16), is along the ridge, less than forty kilometers from Haifa proper. – continue reading!

 

“The Last Osama” to be published in Interzone

Very glad to say my 7000 word story “The Last Osama” will be published soon in Interzone. “The Last Osama” is my own personal postscript to the novel and the two short stories, “My Travels with Al-Qaeda” and “Wrong Number”.

In other Osama news, Strange Horizons has a long, in-depth review of the novel by Michael Levy, concluding that:

Moving seamlessly between intense realism and equally intense surrealism, Osama is a powerful and disturbing political fantasy by a talent who deserves the attention of all serious readers.