The Sidewise awards and the Jewish question

The Sidewise awards and the Jewish question

Last summer, we told you about “Other Covenants: Alternate Histories of the Jewish People,” an anthology seeking funding on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter campaign succeeded, the book was published, and this week two of its stories were among the five stories shortlisted for the 2022 Sidewise Awards for Alternate History, to be awarded at the World Fantasy Convention in October in Kansas City, Missouri. (It’s worth pointing out that the Sidewise awards are not Jewish.)

The two stories selected for this honor reflect the diversity in tone, genre, and historical pivot in the “Other Covenants” collection.

Eric Choi’s “A Sky and a Heaven” is a story of space adventure. It imagines a slightly different path for Israeli pilot and astronaut Ilan Ramon, one that places him on the ground in NASA’s Mission Control in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia is damaged at launch with an Israeli astronaut on board. The fictional Ramon, applying his IDF training, discovers the damage to the spacecraft’s thermal tiles shortly after launch, which makes a safe return to Earth impossible, and orchestrates a daring effort to rescue the astronauts from the fate that doomed the shuttle crew in real life.

Gillian Polack’s “Why the Bridgemasters of York Don’t Pay Taxes,” by contrast, is a feminist fable about the divine punishment meted out to the English city of York for the 1190 massacre of its Jewish population, written as a series of questions and answers.

A third nominated story is by an author we spoke to in 2016. Paul Levinson was one of the editors of “Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion,” an anthology from Fordham University Press that featured contributions by Rabbi Barry Schwartz of Leonia’s Congregation Adas Emuno and by Lance Strate, a leader of the congregation and an occasional columnist for this newspaper. Levinson’s story, “It’s Real Life,” imagines a world where former Beatle John Lennon wasn’t murdered in 1980. The story features the real-life corridors and disk jockeys of Fordham University’s WFUV, the radio station that dominated my listening, starting when I was a student at Yeshiva College, across the Harlem River from Fordham.

The Sidewise awards also selected five novels as finalists. They included “Beat the Devils,” whose Cherry Hill-raised author Josh Weiss Curt Schleier profiled in this paper in July. A master of alternate history, Harry Turtledove, whose nominated novel, “Three Miles Down,” imagines first alien contact in 1974, also is a contender. Turtledove’s unforgettable (though highly spoilable, so no summaries) story “Shtetl Days” was reprinted in “Other Covenants.”

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