Writer: Nir Yaniv
Weird Tales Story: The Dream of the Blue Man (Issue #352, October 2008)
Writer Bio: Nir Yaniv is an Israeli writer, editor, musician and computer programmer. His story collection, “One Hell of a Writer”, was published in 2006 by Odyssey Press. In 2000 he established Israel’s first online SF&F magazine, and edited it until early 2007, when he became chief editor of “Dreams in Aspamia“, Israel’s only pro genre magazine. He lives in Tel Aviv with his girlfriend Keren and records his music in his own studio, The Nir Space Station.
Small Crowds – Big Dreams
There’s no law of physics, as far as I know, preventing a person from becoming a speculative fiction writer by deciding to become one. I’m sure that there are such writers in the genre’s history, though I wouldn’t know. To me, however, and to some other Israeli SF writers I know, becoming worthy of that title seems more like a sort of accident, albeit a happy one.
How does one become, then, a member of that rare breed, that semi-secret society of people who write speculative fiction in a 2000 year-old language, in a land that, to its great misfortune, some would call holy?
Well, being born here, I guess, is a good start. Other than that, it seems to me to be suspiciously close to what some American writers say about their roots: learning to read at an early age, public libraries, being fascinated by Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke/whoever (in my case: Bester, Lem, Philip K. Dick), trying one’s hand in writing short stories, submitting them to local SF magazines, getting published… whoa, stop right there.
The existence of SF magazines is, to an American, a given. SF, in the form it is known today, began its way mostly as stories published in magazines. Some of the best known classics of the genre were first serialized in magazines. Describing current SF without mentioning magazines is quite difficult; describing its early history without mentioning them is like eating ice cream without using your teeth and tongue.
But in Israel, by the time people of my generation (born 1972, brown eyed, handsome) were first toying with the idea of writing a story or two and publishing them, there were no such magazines. Not even one.
Some background: The first modern SF novel to be translated into Hebrew was Heinlein’s “The Puppet Masters”, in the late sixties. The translator was Amos Geffen, who later translated and published many other classics. In the 70’s translated SF became quite popular, and a considerable number of translated books became available to the Hebrew readers. There were some attempts at establishing an SF magazine, the most famous (and rightly so) of which was “Fantasia 2000”, which included mostly translated stories (with rarely an original Hebrew one) and locally-written articles and reviews. Its 44 issues were published between 1978 and 1984. In the early 80’s, for various reasons not entirely unconnected to the Lebanon war, the popularity of SF in Israel suffered a serious drop, in which state it stayed until the mid 90’s.
So the year is 1995, and a young writer-to-be, about a year after finishing his compulsory 3 years of military service, is interested in publishing a short story he wrote. What can he do about it? Nothing much. In a country with a population of about 6 million, there doesn’t seem to be any chance of ever having a genre magazine. In a country of practical-minded people (a horrible generalization, mind you), there’s not much of a chance of finding a readership big enough to support such a publication. Later in the year Rabin is murdered, and there’s a feeling of desperation. Never having peace is added to the prospects of the young author, who doesn’t know why he’s writing but does so anyway, believing that no one would read them.
Or so it seemed, at the time.
But then, in 1996, the Israeli Society for SF&F was established, and with it the first of the “new era” Hebrew SF magazines, “The Tenth Dimension”, which started as a fanzine but got bigger and better, and today has a publishing agreement with Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. Suddenly there was somewhere to publish one’s SF stories, even though there was no payment involved and they’d reach less than 500 readers. In 1998 the society established Israel’s first (and currently only) SF award, the Geffen Award, named after the abovementioned Amos Geffen. In the year 2000 the society (well, your humble servant, acting for it) founded the first Hebrew online SF&F magazine (to be found at www.sf-f.org.il); the sheer number of hits for this site showed us that there were many more fans and readers out there than we’d imagined (soon afterwards another online magazine was born: “Don’t Panic”). Meanwhile (or even a bit before that) fantasy became, just like everywhere else, quite popular, and this caused some publishing houses to try their luck with the genre again. The Israeli fandom community became amazingly active, especially in Internet forums, and soon Israel had more conventions than many countries ten times its size (this was not always a good thing, especially not when rival fandom groups had organized overlapping conventions). In 2002 a new printed magazine, “Dreams in Aspamia”, was born, and was the first to focus almost entirely on locally written SF, and also to actually pay the authors – a huge breakthrough in Israeli terms. Its first editor, Vered Tochterman, was also the first of the new Israeli SF authors – as opposed to mainstream writers toying with SF-ish ideas – to publish a story collection. Other such authors soon followed. More recently, some more famous mainstream writers also started writing SF – we’re not the only country in which this happens, but here it’s particularly encouraging.
All of this is very good, but it doesn’t mean to say that an Israeli SF writer can dedicate all his or her time to writing without having a day job. This country is simply too small for that. This doesn’t apply to SF alone: all other fields of art suffer from that as well. In the US, publishing a comic book or an underground music album can many times at least pay the author’s rent. Here it doesn’t happen. A successful mainstream album here sells about ten or twenty thousand copies. A very successful mainstream book may go as high as 100,000. But those are extreme cases – and, as said, mainstream. As for SF…
So some of us writers work as translators, especially of SF books. Others make money in hi-tech, working towards the day when enough of it is made in order to stop working and get more writing done. Others make a living off the usual variety of odd jobs found among writers everywhere. All of them hope, against all odds, that one day they could make a living by writing SF.
But is it against all odds? Considering what happened to the genre here between 1995 and now – I’m not sure.