Top positive review
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Great to see this classic collection back in print!
on January 22, 2004
This book, first published in 1974, was billed as "the first time in a science fiction collection that the Jew -- and the richness of his themes and particular points of view -- will appear without a mask." Mask? What mask? The mask of non-Jewish pennames, for one thing. Did you know that "Clyde Crane Campbell" is really Horace L. Gold? Or that William Tenn is Phillip Klass? Heck, even "Jack Dann" doesn't sound very Jewish. As Isaac Asimov points out in his intro to this book, many Jewish F&SF writers of the pulp era used gentile-sounding pennames to get published, because antisemitism kept people with names like "Chaim Ishkowitz" out of print. Asimov was the first Jewish SF writer to use his own ethnic-sounding name because, as he explains in the introduction, "I didn't know any better." (Asimov's intro, entitled "Why Me?", is a real gem -- be sure to read it!)
Jews also come out of the closet in the stories themselves. In most F&SF of the time (and even today) you rarely see an openly Jewish character or theme. Here in "Wandering Stars," we meet futuristic rabbis, Hasidim, dybbuks, golems and more. Some of the stories are humorous, others are spine-chilling. "Gather Blue Roses" falls into the second category: Imagine a highly-developed empath trapped in a Nazi concentration camp... Then there's "Trouble with Water," which is more of a fantasy, as is the I.B. Singer classic, "Yachid and Yachidah." Two of the stories also deal with the theme of gilgul (reincarnation): "The Jewbird" by Bernard Malamud, and "I'm Looking for Kadak" by Harlan Ellison.
One thing which struck me about this collection is how many of the stories assume that Jews will still be persecuted in the distant future. William Tenn's "On Venus have we got a Rabbi" actually uses persecution as the definition of "Jewishness" on a planet of non-humanoids. In "Paradise Last," Jews who score well on standardized achievement tests are "rewarded" with a planet of their own -- and thereby removed from mainstream society. These are good stories, but I would like to think that there could be a better future-vision for my people. Still, this anthology was ground-breaking in its time, and remains a good read today.