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WHY SCI-FI? photo

This is not an article listing all of the Jews involved with writing and acting in Star Wars, Star Trek, or any of the myriad science-fiction “worlds.” It is not an exhaustive history of Jewish science-fiction authors, from Hugo Gernsback through Isaac Asimov up to Neil Gaiman. And it is not about Jewish sci-fi superfans… people like, well, this.

It is about why such articles are so possible, even common. What is it about science fiction, as a genre, that draws so many Jewish acolytes? Why not Victorian fiction, or Cold-War spy novels, or Greek mythology?

In the spirit of science, I hereby put forth several theories. Remember, these are just theories, not facts, (you know, like the ones in display here), about why Jews are drawn to science fiction:

1. Sci-fi is new.
American Jews were shut out of many professions  when we first came to this country. So we excelled in other fields: the movies, stand-up comedy, comic books, and others. One of these was science fiction, which was not just a new genre… but about creating new worlds.

We were promised a new world when we came to the New World. Instead, we got more doors slammed in our faces. But we are writers by tradition, so it is no wonder we turned to imagining other “strange, new worlds,” to create “new life” that doesn’t know anything about us, and so cannot prejudge us. It’s a wide-open genre, with few claims staked by those evil alien interlopers, the DWEMs.

If you really want to see a strange world filled with strange creatures, just pop into a sci-fi convention. It’s come-as-you-wish-you-were.

2. Sci-fi is fantastical.
Planets and stars formed by a super-powerful being. A talking snake-creature. A boat that holds all of life. The destruction of a world by globe-encompassing floods. A tower that reaches to the heavens. Whatever the heck “nephilim” are. The Torah, especially the part we hear as children, is full of such otherworldly imagery.

Then we grow into a world full of amazing technologies. That let us talk in New York and be heard in New Mexico, or plop remote-control robots down on Mars, or make glow-in-the-dark bunnies. We naturally conflate the two, using the imaginations that were nurtured in us by our parents and teachers to envision even newer inventions, beings, and worlds.

3. Sci-fi is complex…
A recent article on Star Wars continuity refers to the task of tracking all the plotlines put forth in franchise’s the endless stream of movies, books, animations, comics, and video games as requiring “Talmudic charts and documents.”

When searching for an adjective to describe something as complex as a sci-fi universe, the author  unsurprisingly turned to a Jewish reference. We Jews have trained our brains over millennia for the keeping of large volumes of material from many sources neatly categorized and cross-referenced. (This also likely explains why there are so many Jewish baseball fans and Deadheads.)

Jane Austen wrote just five novels. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories fit in one volume. No one plot thread winds through all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures. It takes something the vastness of a space-time continuum to excite a brain used to dealing with the interconnectedness of the Mishna, Gemorra, and their orbiting hypertexts of commentary.

4. … and it’s debatable.
But it’s about more than the having of the information. It’s the arguing about it. The Talmud is an intellectual battlefield. Geniuses hurtle proofs and rebuttals from Babylonia to Bilbao, across centuries.

Enter any yeshiva today, and you’ll see nice, bright people yelling their heads off about how the other person can’t possibly be right, and here’s why. Just like in a sci-fi chatroom. Both are arenas where the heavyweight champ can be, in reality, a 98-pound weakling. But if your arguments are good and your proofs are provable, you can David their Goliath.

5. Sci-fi is sexy.
Unlike the other Abrahamic faiths, Judaism has never been prudish. We gave the world Dr. Sigmund, Dr. Ruth, and even Rabbi Shmuley. And while other genres are swathed in layers of Victorian modesty or girded in chainmail, sci-fi wears its spandex on its sleeve… and everywhere else.

This is a list of “The Top 50 Hottest Sci-Fi Girls.” Try to think of an equivalent— and equally long— list from another genre. Oh, and the other thing you will see if you go to a sci-fi convention is a lot of… well, just do a search for “Comic Con” in Google Images. But not at work.

6. Sci-fi is accepting.
Sci-fi imagines another Earth, a universe of other Earths.. Places where logic and reason have done away with prejudice and bigotry. It’s a place where differences are seen not as dangerous, but intriguing, even magnificent. Aliens land on Earth and are accepted. Earthlings show up on foreign worlds and are welcomed. In sci-fi’s ultimate alternate reality, the more of an outsider you are— and Jews are the ultimate outsiders— the more insider-y you become.

Science fiction is a realm where geeks are gods. Where your merit is measured in how much you know and your power in how largely you can imagine. It’s not the guilt-gluttony of Woody Allen and Philip Roth, the mothballed mythology of I.B. Singer or Saul Bellow, or the assimilation anxiety of Chaim Potok and Bernard Malamud. Sci-fi is a brave, truly new world… as infinite as, well, infinity itself.

So if you change channels by shooting your TV with your phaser remote, while having R2D2 pour you a Romulan ale, boldy go ahead. Let your geek flag fly, and your fellow Jews will likely salute you like a priest from the Holy Temple in ancient Jerusalem. Or a Vulcan… same diff.

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