By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, June 2nd (the morning of Wednesday, June 3rd in Australia), the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series, having shifted to being a virtual event in the face of shelter-in-place – and now further confronted by a citywide curfew – took those lemons and made lemonade. Taking advantage of being virtual, the Series has been offering readings without the necessity of having authors schlep out to Brooklyn (the nearby Barclays Center has been a site of demonstrations and disturbance), and last night concluded its 28th Season by presenting its farthest-flung writer, Jack Dann, coming to us from “the boondocks,” his farm overlooking the sea outside Melbourne, Australia.
The evening/morning was hosted by Jim Freund, the Series’ executive curator, from his living room (and not a bunker) in Brooklyn. (At last word, his radio show, The Hour of the Wolf, is off hiatus and airing on WBAI-FM every two weeks for an hour, Saturdays at 5 am.) The Series’ Patreon page is https://www.patreon.com/JimFreund.
For those who don’t know Jack (the line is Freund’s), Jack Dann is the Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award-winning author or editor of over 75 works. They include the novels The Memory Cathedral, The Rebel (a “James Dean novel”), The Silent, The Man Who Melted and the current Shadows in the Stone: A Novel of Transformations, as well as the short story collection Concentration; and the Jewish-themed anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars, and, co-edited with Janeen Webb, Dreaming Down-Under and Dreaming Again.
After being welcomed and introduced by Freund, Dann read from opening chapters from Shadows in the Stone. Drawing from Gnosticism, the ambitiously researched novel and adventure story is set in an alternate reality and ranges from Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea (I’ve been to the area, and seen the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem) to the Italian Renaissance (where 90% of the novel takes place) and even the American Civil War (what happened in Scranton in 1862?).
The selection that he read introduced Lucian, a boy in Qumran who is visited by the archangel Gabriel, who foreshadows a war between Heaven and Hell. The scene jumps ahead to his community being invaded by Roman knights, led by an Inquisitor, in search of the Scrolls and their wisdom. Wisdom will become a central theme, manifested in Sophia, an angel of wisdom.
In a Q&A “wrangled” by Amy Goldschlager, Dann remembered Alice K. Turner, late fiction editor of Playboy, Twilight Zone Magazine and Gardner Dozois. What about the Dead Sea Scrolls inspired the novel? He replied that he found it “good narrative material.” Asked about his writing methods, he said that he learns as he’s writing, and goes back as his characters develop. Finally, as one would expect, there didn’t seem to be a single book that could serve as an introduction to all things Jack Dann. With that, we bid him G’day.
The 29th Season will open on September 1st, virtually or in person, with Michael Swanwick.