This story was a really interesting discussion of the role that Utopias play in society, and the question of why Muslims don’t really have Utopian stories (apart from al-Farabi’s The Virtuous City but “he got his inspiration from Plato” p. 82). At the very end of the story (don’t worry, no spoilers), one character says to another, “They had a Utopia, of sorts, at the time of their Prophet, then it all fell apart afterwards” (p. 94). Not only that, but no one ever tried, after that — until a man, known only as “Hannibal”, got involved.
Review of Anwar Hamed, Andrew Leber (trans.), “The Key”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 65-76 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
Not all stories told in Palestine are stories of displaced Arabs…the Israeli settlers too have their stories to tell, and one of such story is Hamed’s. In his future, a novel solution to the Arab-Israeli tensions comes in the form of a gravitational wall: Invisible, but programmed to only allow those who have the right key embedded in their chips to allow them to enter and exit. Even though the wall is protected with unhackable encryption, it comes as no surprise to the reader that no wall is ever going to be a tenable solution in the long run.
Review of Marissa Lingen, “Every Tiny Tooth And Claw (Or: Letters From The First Month Of The New Directorate)”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 295, January 16, 2020, Read Online, Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.
This is an excellent story, but not one to be read casually. On a superficial level, it is a series of letters between two lovers, Aranth and Pippa, separated for reasons that become more apparent as the story progresses. Read more closely, however, the letters are written in a sort of code that reveals far more about the lives of these lovers, and the society they inhabit, than is apparent on first reading. Saying more about this story would give too much away, so I’ll close with this. You may need to read this story twice, but you’ll thank yourself for doing so.
Review of Majd Kayyal, Thoraya El-Rayyes (trans.), “N”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 43-63 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
This story was a series of half-conversations, where we as the reader are only party to one side, needing to fill in the gaps in between. It’s another fairly critical view about Palestine’s future — even though the revolution has ended and an Agreement has been reached, it’s an Agreement that divided family and friends, wrought barriers rather than building bridges, and still, many years later, has long-felt consequences. I know the stories in this anthology are speculative in the sense that they speculate about possible future and options, but that doesn’t prevent individual stories, like this one, feeling much more like dim realism. But this story was sweet amidst its sadness, and full of love.
Review of Selma Dabbagh, “Sleep It Off, Dr Schott”, in Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019): 21-42 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
Content warning: sexual harassment, sexual assault, alcoholism.
What an uncomfortable story to read, of a female scientist, Dr. Mona Kamal, trying to work in partnership with a male technician, Dr. Eyal Schott, to get a new piece of equipment up and running before the deadline, but instead getting serially harassed by him. I felt a lot of sympathy for Dr. Kamal, her outrage, her patience, her resignation, and I bet many women, especially fellow scientists, will sympathise with her plight too. I guess it’s too much to hope that misogyny will no longer be rampant in the 2050s.
The focal point of the story, though, is not actually either Dr. Kamal or Dr. Schott (despite the title), but Layla Wattan, a Recorder who “would’ve sold [her] kidneys for a job in the Enclave” (p. 22) where the two doctors work. She provides the framing and narration for Mona and Eyal’s interactions, and the story works in such a way that I got to the end, immediately went back and reread the first few pages, and got infinitely more out of it than I’d gotten the first time I read them.
Content warning: Suicide.
This was a tough, raw, harsh story to open up the anthology with. At first, the future that Haddad imagines for Palestine doesn’t feel that much different from the present it is currently embroiled in, but as the story progresses, and we, like Aya the main character, learn more about what is actually going on, it gets even worse. This is not a hopeful story, not an uplifting story, but one weighed down by the burden of the inescapability of collective memory. Tough stuff.
This collection, similar to another of Comma Press’s anthologies that we reviewed back when this site was brand-new, is predicated on answering a single question, asked of twelve Palestinian authors: “What might your country look like in the year 2048 — a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba?”
Science fiction is not a popular Palestinian genre (“The cruel present (and the traumatic past) have too firm a grip on Palestinian writers’ imaginations for fanciful ventures into possible futures”, p. x), which makes this collection of specially-commissioned stories all the more intriguing and important. Basma Ghalayini’s editorial introduction traces the bare bones of the history of Palestine after the introduction of the Israeli state in 1948, in a calm, factual, and deeply uncomfortable way. Given the way that Jews across Europe were treated by the Nazis, it is hard to stomach reading how Israelis have treated Palestinians over the last 70 years. “Palestinian refugees,” Ghalayini tells us, are “nomads travelling across a landscape of memory” (p. viii). This collection is woven together by the thread of memory, but it is also future facing: What are the memories that may possibly be to come?
Why does exploring the future through science fiction matter? Because, as Isaam tells Rahel in Abu Shawish’s story “Final Warning”, “The history of science fiction tells us: Nobody comes this far without either a fight that they never win or to teach us something about ourselves that we desperately need to learn” (p. 166). At the end of her introduction, Ghalayini expresses a desire that readers in the West never experience the kind of oppression and occupation that Palestine has seen over the last seventy years. On the other hand, such readers cannot isolate themselves from these experiences if there is to be any hope of stopping or preventing these events in the future. Reading gives us a way of doing this: To experience without really experiencing, to learn, to empathise, to feel.
As is usual, we will review each story individually, and link the reviews back here when they are available. As disparate as the stories are, there are also many similarities — the idea of virtual reality as a means of escaping actual reality shows up in more than one story. As a whole, the stories in this volume are rich with pain, memory, hope, and uncertainty. They are, for the most part, dark, not hopeful.
- “Song of the Birds” by Saleem Haddad
- “Sleep it Off, Dr Schott” by Selma Dabbagh
- “N” by Majd Kayyal, translated by Thoraya El-Rayyes
- “The Key” by Anwar Hamed, translated by Andrew Leber
- “Digital Nation” by Emad El-Din Aysha
- “Personal Hero” by Abdalmuti Maqboul, translated by Yasmine Seale
- “Vengeance” by Tasnim Abutabikh
- “Application 39” by Ahmed Masoud
- “The Association” by Samir El-Youssef, translated by Raph Cormack
- “Commonplace” by Rawan Yaghi
- “Final Warning” by Talal Abu Shawish, translated by Mohamed Ghalaieny
- “The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid” by Mazen Maarouf, translated by Jonathan Wright