The best books of Jewish science fiction and fantasy

Barbara Krasnoff Author Of The History of Soul 2065
By Barbara Krasnoff

Who am I?

I grew up in a secular Jewish household where Yiddish culture, history, and politics were a part of daily life. As a result, when I began reading (and eventually writing) science fiction and fantasy, I would take note if I found a novel or short story collection that reflected any of the many flavors of Judaism and Jewish culture. While it is not all I read or write about (I make my living as a tech journalist and I have very eclectic tastes in literature), I find that my curiosity is particularly piqued when confronted with a new book that covers both those genres.

I wrote...

The History of Soul 2065

By Barbara Krasnoff,

Book cover of The History of Soul 2065

What is my book about?

The History of Soul 2065 is a tale of the supernatural that follows the descendants of two young girls—one from Germany, the other from Ukraine—starting at the turn of the 20th Century and continuing through the terrors of the Holocaust and ultimately to the wonders of a future they never could have imagined. As each member of the family tree confronts their own challenges, the twenty connected stories encompass accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, alien contact, and elemental confrontations between good and evil.

The books I picked & why

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Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction

By Jack Dann (editor),

Book cover of Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction

Why this book?

Wandering Stars is a landmark anthology that should be the starting point for anyone interested in Jewish science fiction and fantasy. It contains a collection of incredible short stories; it’s nearly impossible to pick out the best. My own favorites include William Tenn’s “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi,” Avram Davidson’s “The Golem,” Harlan Ellison’s “I’m Looking for Kadak,” and Isaac Bashevitz Singer’s heartbreaking, “Jachid and Jechidah.”

The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker,

Book cover of The Golem and the Jinni

Why this book?

This fascinating novel is about two supernatural beings from two separate cultures—a woman made of clay by a Polish rabbi and an ancient Syrian jinni recently released from captivity—who, rejected by their own kind, join together to try to find a life in early turn-of-the-20th-century America. This is a wonderfully written and complex work about two very complex individuals; I couldn’t stop reading it. The second book, The Hidden Palace, is equally compelling.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Why this book?

Start with the supposition that a district in the Alaskan panhandle was put aside to receive Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution, and that those refugees created their own Yiddish societyone that is now being dissolved as their rights to live there come to an end. The novel’s protagonist, a homicide detective living in a seedy hotel, must also contend with a murder that is being covered up by social and political forces. This is a fascinating traditional noir mystery set in an alternative historical environment; it introduced me to Michael Chabon’s writing and I’ve never looked back.

Central Station

By Lavie Tidhar,

Book cover of Central Station

Why this book?

It’s hard to describe Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, except to say that it is a fascinating study of various humans and non-humans residing—some permanently, some temporarily—in a hot, dusty spaceport/city that has sprung up between Tel Aviv and Jaffa sometime in our future. They confront questions and answers about family, memory, reality, and what is human—and occasionally come up with answers. A wonderfully written, almost hypnotic book.

People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy

By Peter S. Beagle, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Lavie Tidhar, Tamar Yellin, Jane Yolen, Matthew Kressel

Book cover of People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy

Why this book?

If Wandering Stars was the first short-story anthology to explore Jewish science fiction and fantasy, People of the Book is its descendant. This collection features a variety of stories by modern authors such as Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Chabon, and is an excellent way to discover some of the talents that have emerged in the 21st century—and their approach to the Jewish religion, culture, and society.

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