The Green Man Review on Ellen Datlow’s Naked City

Naked City edited by Ellen DatlowThe Green Man Review heaps praise on Ellen Datlow’s urban fantasy anthology, Naked City. The reviewer says of the anthology as a whole, “Naked City definitely contains some of the best urban fantasy stories which I have had the pleasure of reading in a long while, and I fully expect that this anthology will be showing up in the nomination lists for next year’s round of awards.”

The anthology is chock full of fabulous authors, such as Jim Butcher, Holly Black, Lucius Shepard, Naomi Novik, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Richard Bowes, Delia Sherman, and many more talents.  That’s why I’m so honored to have a story published in this anthology too!  The Green Man Review says of my story, “In the poetic and haunting “The Bricks of Gelecek” by Matthew Kressel, a mysterious supernatural being becomes fascinated by a young woman in a medieval desert city.”

The anthology comes out in July, but you can pre-order it on Amazon.  And if you are in Massachusetts, you can see a few of us read from Naked City at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 14th.

Orchidaceous Adventures

Tomorrow is the last day for “The Orchid Show: On Broadway“at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday with Christine.  We arrived with only 90 minutes to spare before closing time, but that was enough to experience the wonderful smells, bright colors, and jungle-like greenhouse air.  Here’s what we witnessed as we walked in:  The “curtains going up” — the show begins…

(click on the images for a larger picture)

Most of the orchids were perched like they might be in their natural habitat, aloft in the nooks and crevices of trees.  As epiphytes, they do not require soil to grow, and instead derive their nutrients from rain and runoff.  Here’s one I rather liked:

The next one is not an orchid, but a type of philodendron.  The name philodendron comes from the Greek, the “love of trees” and most philodendrons in the wild can be seen happily climbing up the sides of trees.  Most people at one point or another have had a philodendron in their home.  But wouldn’t it be cool to have one like this?

Here’s good old papyrus, responsible for so much trouble and literacy!

Some orchids I thought were quite striking:

We walked into a sweet-smelling chamber where this large chandelier of orchids hung over all.

And then we walked into this beautiful hallway meant to recall the New Amsterdam Theater.

And I couldn’t help but throw in a gratuitous cute picture of my girlfriend.  She’s quite the talented photographer, but left her SLR home because of the rain.  She still got some nice shots with her pocket camera.

And this post wouldn’t be complete without photos of my own collection.  On the way out of the garden, we stopped at the gift shop, where I acquired some new friends.

A venus fly trap:

And a tillandsia, a type of bromeliad and epiphyte.  I purchased the cork bark and wrapped the twine around a crevice to hold the little guy.  Doesn’t he look happy?

No orchids, however, as they require conditions my small apartment can’t yet handle.  But in the future?  Who knows?  Anyway, that’s it for now.  Thanks for listening!

The Schlep

Out at my folks this weekend, where I helped haul twenty or so boxes of dishes down from the attic to replace the usual dishes for Passover.  It’s a common tradition among orthodox Jewish folks, and though my family is fairly secular most of the year, this is one of those traditions that has remained.  The rickety ladder to the attic should probably be used as a prop in some horror movie.  Kind of reminds me of the spiral staircase in the 1964 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.  It groans and shakes and complains, and one suspects the ladder will collapse at any time.  Ghosts haunt the attic too, in the form of toys and papers from my and my sisters’ childhoods.

While we were unpacking the dishes I noticed a few loaves of bread sitting on the kitchen counter.  I said, “Um, Mom, aren’t we replacing all these dishes based on the idea that they haven’t touched leavened bread?”  She shrugged.  “It’s fine,” she said.  Never mind the chametz in plain view, it was the idea of the dishes being changed that counted.

I have a hard time imagining some judgmental God sitting on his heavenly throne and looking down his nose at us and nodding his head.  “My good little Jews!”  I mean, it seemed to me we weren’t doing this for God at all, but for each other.  Rituals are what bring people together.  It’s when you mistake the ritual for the meaning itself where you run into problems.  We might just as well have been told that in order to be good Jews on Passover we had to replace all our underwear.  And we’d do it and wouldn’t think, “How odd!” because that’s what our parents did and theirs before them.  (Just imagine!) But if we mistook the actual act of switching underwear for the part that was holy, we’d be missing the point.  It’s the sharing of the ritual with others, the bringing of people together, that gives it purpose.  I think that’s why I can enjoy this holiday even though I think most if not all of it is patently fiction.

Later, more on the Exodus!

Thinking About the Deity

So lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about religion and the notion of God.  Some of it is research for the novel-in-progress, but most of it is just my own curiosity.  It seems to me that most forms of religion originate with the central question of meaning.  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  And what will happen to us when we die?  The universe, science keeps telling us, just keeps getting larger and larger, and humankind’s place in it smaller and smaller.  I’ll be the first to admit that the prospect of human existence being just a random event in a seething Cosmos that cares little for our daily agitations on this little blue orb quite frightening.  It’s much more comforting to believe that there is some grand purpose in human existence, and some meaning behind all the cycles of suffering we humans have to endure.  (The tragedy unfolding in Japan is one such example.)  I’ll admit that such a belief is not based on any evidence other than my own subjective experience, and therefore by all scientific methods, useless.

But I’ve also been exploring Atheism.  I was raised in a Conservative Jewish household that kept kosher and lit candles and said prayers on Friday night.  My father still wraps himself in tefillin (ritual phylacterites) every morning.  I fast on Yom Kippur and have, with the exception of perhaps two years, abstained from leavened bread during Passover.  There was one time, during a particularly intense Yom Kippur, where a troublesome problem I was having vanished after praying about it; perhaps it was placebo, but it has not returned.

There were times in my childhood where I spoke to God regularly (though I never heard him speak back to me with words.)  And I did believe he answered some of my prayers.  That sounds kind of kooky as I write this.  I remember a girl I met during my freshman year of college who told me that Jesus had unlocked her front door when she forgot her key and prayed to him.  I thought she was wacko.  But I suppose then how different am I if I think that God saved my dog from death after he’d ingested a splintered bone?

As I got older I started to question my religious assumptions, the assumptions of the faith of my upbringing, and tried to reconcile the contradictions and inherent illogical ideologies.  (There are many.)  I moved East (metaphorically) and found in some of those traditions a more rational exploration of the human condition.  (The mind-exploration of Buddhist deep-meditators comes to mind.)  I’m not sure I can fully wrap my heart around the notion of renunciation, the total acceptance that all things are transient and therefore not worth the attachment we give them.  I accept transience as a course of life, but I still believe that emotional attachments allow us to experience joy, love and — yes — sadness.  I don’t wish to disconnect myself from the vagaries of life.  That is where life IS.

But this is partly besides my point.  One thing occurred to me the other day while thinking about these things, and atheism in particular.  (For those who may think this is some sort of apologist screed in defense of religion, I would say that right now I’m probably closest to a Deist with atheistic leanings, and have no intention of convincing anyone, but, anyway–)

We thought that earth was the center of the universe, and then along came Copernicus.

We thought that our Sun was unique, but telescopes revealed it’s just one of trillions.

We thought our Milky Way was the only galaxy, but Hubble discovered it’s one of countless billions.

And even as a species on this earth, we’re finding that many animals share our capacity for higher reasoning and tool making.

Over and over again we find that we do not reside at the center of the Cosmos.  So, my question is, why should we assume that we are the highest form of consciousness in the Cosmos?  If we are to use the past as a guide, we should see that our notions of superiority and uniqueness are always flawed.  I’m not suggesting that this is “proof” of any creator god (I don’t think such a thing is possible) but only that perhaps this universe is filled with minds we can scarcely imagine.  We do not reside at the top.

So what’s above us?

Library Journal praises The People of the Book

The People of the BookLibrary Journal reviews The People of the Book and says:

“From Rachel Pollack’s distinctive retelling of the story of Joseph (“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph Ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt”) to Matthew Kressel’s far future tale of apocalypse and historic preservation (“The History Within Us”), the 20 stories in this collection reveal the Jewish experience through the medium of fantastic literature. Contributions by Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, Michael Chabon, and other authors demonstrate the rich literary tradition of Jewish culture. ­

VERDICT From tales of golems and dybbukim to stories that touch on the Holocaust, this sampling of tales from the last decade will appeal to both sf fans and readers interested in Jewish literature.”