הסופרת ורד טוכטרמן זוכה בפרס "גפן " למדע בדיוני ישראלי ב-2003 ( לצידה הסופר הזוכה גם הוא אהוד מיימון )
|הקדמה מאת אלי אשד
במסגרת קורס בספרות מדע בדיוני של ד"ר אילנה גומל ,במחלקה לספרות אנגלית באונ' תל אביב התבקשו התלמידים לחבר עבודות על נושאי מדע בדיוני לבחירתם
Vered Tocterman :Israeli sf writer
By : Efrat Pashut
Course: Science Fiction
Teacher: Dr. Elana Gomel
Even though there is an audience for science fiction in Israel, there are not many local science fiction writers. On the one hand, this is surprising: the Israeli society and culture are unique and everyday reality in Israel raises many questions concerning broad human issues such as human rights, human nature, interactions between people, confrontations of cultures, etc. that may not awaken in societies that do not experience the hectic reality Israelis do. On the other hand, it could be that this reality is so extreme as it is, that Israelis do not need estrangement in order to ponder over human issues. When reality exceeds imagination a genre that uses estrangement in order to discuss humanity is irrelevant.
And yet, Vered Tochterman was brave enough to publish a collection of short stories Sometimes it's Different .
It is obvious from the stories that Tochterman is generically competent: she understands the importance of creating a secondary world that is probable, yet strange enough to create distance between that world and the implied readers. She makes sure to accompany the plot with an explanation. In the introduction she explains that science fiction does what great thinkers tried to do for years: transfer the human into a different environment in order to learn about his basic properties. She stresses that her goal is to ask questions concerning human nature rather than to answer. Even though I did not enjoy her style, it seems to me that Tochterman achieves that goal.
In the first story of the collection "To Sleep, Maybe to Dream" the protagonist, Ron, suffers from dreams about his death. He consults Dr. Binder, the head of the department for Psy abilities in the medical research center. The narrator stresses that Ron does not believe in such abilities, even though the research of it has progressed greatly, but his dreams disturbed him so much that he decided to suspend his disbelief (which is the process that readers of science fiction have to go through). He discovers that his conception of future is exceptional, and Dr. Binder asks him to participate in an experiment.
Ron knows that people with such ability are usually psychotic and understands, with the help of Dr. Binder, that his way of coping with his ability is separating his normal conception of future (which means that he thinks of time as linear and therefore cannot predict the future because it depends on the present) from his abnormal conception (that allows him to see the future, as he grasps it as parallel to the present, and represents a deterministic view of life). He separates the two realities – present as it determines the future and the future as independent of the present – using his dreams; the future only appears in his dreams.
He realizes that his awful dreams, in which he dies feeling betrayed, are predictions. He starts suspecting his wife of infidelity. Also, Dr. Binder warns him that he may become psychotic if he will try to settle his two different conceptions of time. Ron concludes that there are only two options facing him: going insane or dying betrayed. He chooses the third possibility: to kill himself, right after he will take part in Dr. Binder's experiment. Ron thinks that security agents are involved in the research, but Dr. Binder dismisses that option.
While Ron is in the research center, his wife gets a phone call and some stranger warns her that her husband is in the risk of becoming a vegetable. She finds out where he is, arrives at the center, and after making a scene insisting to see her husband, she is driven out and run over by a car. At the same time Ron is drugged, without his knowledge, and the narrator describes his dream: after he is done with the experiment, he goes home and prepares to hang himself, as his wife enters with a man (at the same time, his wife enters his room in the research center). Before she understands what Ron is doing, he is already dead. He imagines, in his dream, a bright white light, which we later find out comes from the machines in the room. Dr. Binder, who turns out to be an army major (a fact she makes sure to hide), explains in the end to the technician, who drove the wife out, that thanks to Ron's conception of death they were able to make him believe that he is dead and examine his conception of future.
The solution of the story is enigmatic: on the one hand Ron and his wife are tricked by the military that believes Ron is a medical exception that needs to be explained. On the other hand, once Ron's wife is dead the future he sees is wrong which means that there is no such thing as Psy conception of future. Before I discuss the implied author, it is interesting to note that Tochterman works within the parameters of science fiction: Dr. Binder explains to Ron in length what it means to have a high conception of future. She even asserts that someone who understands time so differently from other people is not necessarily human (here Tochterman clearly relates to postmodernistic cultural concepts). In the beginning there is a description of all the abilities that are considered Psy abilities (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.). Later, there is a description of all the medical equipment, and explanation of its function. And so, the secondary world is depicted in detail and explained, and cognitive estrangement is achieved.
From first reading, it seems that the implied author deals with state's power. In a country that is so obsessed with security, it is not surprising that a military agent is responsible for such aggressive interference in individual lives. The heartlessness of Dr. Binder settles with the conception Ron has of security agents. She manages to get into Ron's mind and make him believe the future he made up. If he would not have believed Dr. Binder's explanations, he would not have suspected his wife and none of the awful things that happen in the end would have come to be. The power over the individual mind represents the way in which the apparatus implants conceptions into our minds; we are culturally conditioned.
However, it is important to note that the fact that the wife dies contrasts Dr. Binder's theories, since Ron's predictions turn out to be wrong. Not only that, but it stresses the fact that every event in the present changes the future, and so determinism is contradicted. It seems to me that this is the main theme of the story: Dr. Binder herself says that any other conception of time is non human. However, the results of the experiment are so drastic, that it seems that the implied author also stresses the danger science represents. Moreover, the connection between the army and science should not be overlooked: Dr. Binder emphasizes in the end the importance of the experiment and that it is not her own experiment, but "ours". Obviously, this is problematic: the experiment cannot be a success once the future Ron imagines can never happen. And still, Dr. Binder is determined that her theory is true. The implied author might be suggesting that the army does not always think straight. Or else, that we are trapped in our own conceptions. Either way, it seems to me that while the determinism theme is presented masterfully by Tochterman, the implications of the military in the story are not as clear.
The last story in the collection is "Groping in the Space of Time" , which suggests, just like "To Sleep, Maybe to Dream", that there is nothing out of our conception. This is meta-fiction: it tells about a boy who is so obsessed with science fiction that he keeps looking for parallel universes. In the end, he is so immersed in his beliefs that he loses his mind; he tries so hard to find other realities that he detaches himself from the reality he lives in. However, it could be that according to the implied author there are no other realities: Ziv, the protagonist, finds himself in a meaningless chasm in the end. The implied author suggests that there is nothing outside human conceptions; out of our language, beliefs, physicality, etc. Plat
o believed there is a world of Ideas, but Derrida claimed there is nothing out of texts; and it seems that Tochterman takes Derrida's side. However, as I will later show, there is another way of reading the story.
What is more interesting in this story is its presentation of science fiction. After all, it is science fiction that brought Ziv to that situation. Throughout the story the narrator reminds many authors: Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, Herbert, Adams, etc. More important is Ziv's encounter with drugs: he thinks that drugs may expand his mind enough to enter other worlds. After some research he decides not to try drugs because his mind is his only property in the world. The implied author analyzes the genre and concludes that science fiction is a cognitive genre. The implied author also relates to the stereotype of science fiction readers: Ziv has no friends – he is not interested in the world in which he lives because he believes there are better worlds.
Does the implied author suggest that science fiction is a lie and that we should not take it too seriously? It is a possibility. Should we read the story as critique of the stereotype attached to science fiction? It could be. It could also be that Tochterman expresses the power literature has over her. The story is not science fiction once we think of the world into which Ziv sunk as his own mind – this is a realistic story of a troubled boy who becomes psychotic. However, if we believe that Ziv did manage to transfer into another world, only he happened to fall into the wrong universe, then this is science fiction – that suggests not that there are no other worlds, but that ours is not as bad as we consider it to be.
Before reading Tochterman I thought that Israeli science fiction is ought to be different from other science fiction texts I have encountered. However, Tochterman is well read and knows her way around the genre. She manages to convey many questions in her stories, possibly more than she ever imagined. Even though I am not an enthusiastic reader of science fiction, I enjoyed the fluency of her stories. Both "To Sleep, Maybe to Dream" and "Groping in the Space of Time" present strange situations and therefore manage in creating estrangement and achieve the goal of science fiction.
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