Editor’s Note: At the end of last year, with Omicron still on the horizon, a panel of authors gathered to discuss current trends in Jewish literature, in an event sponsored by The Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn and Chickadee Prince Books. One of the attendees was Mark Laporta, who had been the editor of the late Alan N. Levy’s novel, The Tenth Plague, which imagines a future world of geopolitical realignment. For one thing, in Levy’s imagined future world, Vladimir Putin, “aging poorly and … unpredictable of late,” is still in charge of a more-powerful, militarily re-energized Russia, one which annexed former Soviet territories of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the mid- ‘twenties (slowing down its imperialistic march only when the U.S. placed additional troops in Eastern Europe). In addition, in the novel, Russia’s ally, Iran, has come into possession of nuclear weapons. As Putin’s Russia does indeed move towards the future that Levy predicted, and with a reinvigorated Iranian nuclear program in the news (and with China drifting towards Russia and away from the U.S., which Levy also predicted), now is a good time to consider Levy’s prescient warnings.
Steven S. Drachman moderated the event. This discussion has been edited for clarity and accuracy.
Drachman: Next up is Mark Laporta, he’s arrived safely, a little grumpy, but he’s generally all right. Mark is a composer, science fiction author and editor. His latest work is the far-future trilogy, Against the Glare of Darkness, published by that famous Brooklyn small press, Chickadee Prince Books. His works explore the impact of increasingly advanced technology on humans and other sentient beings whose progress is severely limited by both evolutionary history and deep-seated cultural bias. He’s a graduate of Cornel University with a doctorate in music composition and theory. To edit Alan N. Levy’s The Tenth Plague, Mark also drew on his knowledge of history and interest in the intersection of between society, culture, psychology and political forces that shape everyday life. In addition to a novelist, Alan was a political columnist and blogger for Audere Magazine and The Times of Israel. He died unexpectedly just months before his book was published.
We asked Mark to edit this; Mark is a good liberal, a left-wing liberal guy; Alan was not. Alan was a conservative, with strong views. This book is about what if Iran gets the nuclear bomb, so this is when we go back to the idea, which we discussed earlier, should Jews be more worried than they are? Mark, why don’t we toss it over to you.
Laporta: The Tenth Plague is a very vivid, partly technothriller, partly war thriller. I can tell you, first of all, it is thrilling and brilliantly written. The other side of the equation that Steven didn’t mention is that the Iranians have developed their nuclear weapons partly on their own, but partly in response to a threat that Israel has produced, which is a bio-weapon that is designed to kill only Arabs and Iranians, so that is their “Tenth Plague”; they’re going to reverse the charge on the original “Tenth Plague” and have it kill only Arabs and Iranians.
Now, of course, it isn’t long before people begin to realize, Aren’t there people of mixed heritage, and how do we actually contain it here, and, by the way, isn’t that genocide?
But that gets swept away by people who take an extreme position.
What they do is blackmail the United States by saying, OK, we won’t release this, but you have to disarm the Iranians.
And it just goes on and on from there. The Iranians not only have this nuclear capability that they’re just about to reach, but they’re in league with the Russians, of course. And the Russians have developed this special stealth technology that makes submarine warfare.
Within the story there are generals and soldiers, who are generally depicted not very well, there are some brilliant battle scenes, there are two love stories that are going on at the same time, between the deputy CIA director and her subordinate, which of course is very naughty, and between a rogue Iranian agent and his prisoner; his prisoner is the sister of an Iranian turncoat who wants to actually stop the Iranian bomb threat.
Of course, the United States gets involved, and in this book, they’re mostly involved with managing PR more than anything else. Of course they want to stop an Iranian war, but they’re constantly worried about how things are going to look, and so on.
You know, when I was little, the question was, nuclear weapons, that’s what’s going to destroy the world, that’s what’s going to cause World War 3 or 4. But when you’re finished with this book, and you think about what’s going on right now, the real nuclear threat is rapid ideology, extreme emotionalism, people taking sides, and in some ways, whether intended or not, it ends up being an interesting essay on where do your loyalties lie, to your country, to your ethnicity, you religion, or to humanity?
And so that sort of swirls all around, and at the very end of the book there is one extremely moralistic person on the Israeli side who can’t quite make that break, and it seems as though he is going to side with religion, with disastrous results.
It’s a real sort of knife edge thing, there’s some comedy, some black humor, and so on, but that’s what really raises the question — and not just for Jews but for everybody — what’s going on, what’s going to be our future, is it going to be sectarian, is it going to be violent, or is it going to be human? And I think that’s the thing that really makes the book worth reading in the end, that kind of thing.
Drachman: Writing about Jewish people or in your case, editing a book about Jewish people, written by a Jewish person, do you think, how is this going to affect the way non-Jewish people see the Jews? Here you were editing a book where Israelis are sitting and debating whether to commit genocide.
Laporta: I think it would be foolish or incorrect to think that only Jews are concerned about the Holocaust or bias, or any of these other issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been in the news for a long time, and just recently a series of attacks back and forth.
So the larger world is just as aware of the importance and significance of the conflicts there as the Jewish people.
Of course, it might mean something slightly different, but as I was looking at it, I didn’t think this is a story about Jews, I didn’t think of it that way at all, because these are geopolitical conflicts and, to the author’s credit, he did try to inhabit all sides of the issue. Obviously, his bias is clear, but I am not convinced that, whether he wanted to or not, I’m not convinced that the Jews got special treatment. Everybody was depicted as kind of ideologically insane. So I don’t happen to think that the Jews have more of a purchase on that than anyone else. I don’t think the Germans do either, in their current configuration.
But the point, and one thing I was reminded of when you were talking about the era before the Holocaust, it’s not as if antisemitism didn’t exist. There is one story I learned from studying music: the name Siegfried was very popular, and became even more popular during the time of Wagner, and there were many Jews who were extremely patriotic about being German, they wanted to be cool Germans and started naming their kids Siegfried.
And look what happened: the Germans said, We’re not going to name our kids Siegfried, look at all the Jewish Siegfrieds, we won’t have that. So that’s sort of a trivial example in one way, but it shows this undercurrent, So I think you could write about Jewish communities before the Holocaust and have plenty of time to infuse the atmosphere with the same antisemitism that burned up the world a few years later.
Alan N. Levy, who died in 2019, was a political columnist at Audere and blogger at The Times of Israel, and the author of The Tenth Plague, an acclaimed geo-political thriller that focuses on a future with a nuclear-armed Iran, published in 2019 from Chickadee Prince Books. The book is available in paperback at your local bookstore, from Amazon and B&N, and also on Kindle.
Mark Laporta is the author of Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, the first two novels in the science fiction series, Against the Glare of Darkness, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. He is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an e-book.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book.