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Interview: Eliza Rose on “Planet Doykeit”

Eliza RoseTell us a bit about “Planet Doykeit.”

It’s the story of a nearish-future Jewish community that settles a small planet orbiting a red dwarf star. The settlers are socialist and Yiddish speaking – an imagined remnant of the Jewish Labor Bund, a real political party active in interwar Eastern Europe. They name the planet Doykeit (Yiddish for “hereness”), citing the Bundist political commitment to stay in Eastern Europe rather than emigrate to Palestine. This story explores the contradiction of staying put in diaspora, or roaming great distances in order to find home. It follows two friends who live on Doykeit seventy years after first landing. The once-secular community has revived (and re-invented) religious law to better impose reproduction regulations they deem necessary for population control on this still-young world. When they come of age, the girls are handed different fates. They grow apart. The story considers how friendship can survive ideological rifts.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

The story is the product of the very special fever pitch of the Clarion Workshop, which I attended last summer. I was anxious about a big grant application I had to write after Clarion to support my research on the Bund and meanwhile, felt fresh out of ideas for my Week 6 story. I was stuck in a traffic jam en route to a reading by our instructors, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. My friend Ama Kirchner mentioned the idea of a Yeshiva in space. I latched onto this and realized I could prepare for the grant and get a story out of it to boot. I spent the next hour half-listening to Kelly and Gavin’s magical readings and half-working out the story in my head. I was already on planet Doykeit.


Was “Planet Doykeit” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

One issue I at least wave to in this story is the question of which spaces are or are not “empty” and therefore available for settlement (read: colonization). This is an oblique way of commenting on Zionism, and as a politically engaged American Jew, I feel implicated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in a very different way, this is also about science fiction’s limited scope of imagination for what alien life will look like. Our fixation on humanoids leaves us totally unprepared to reckon with the kind of life we’re more likely to encounter in space: microbes! I take very seriously the prospect of adapting alien ecosystems to accommodate human visitors. I believe all forms of life require sensitivity from us interlopers, not just walking, talking humanoids.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

For me, research coincides with and feeds ideation. Once I have the thinnest premise for a story, I dig into a phase of gluttonous research. I go down wormholes and dwell on details. I need to get lost in order to get oriented again. The material I generate through research drives the story. Here, the big problem was how to domesticate a planet orbiting a red dwarf. I knew I wanted my characters to settle an improbable, nearly inhabitable world. Choosing the star Lacaille 8760 was in itself a constraint-driven process that stimulated the story. Research helps me visualize fictional worlds, which in turn, makes them real for me, which ultimately allows me to tell a real story. Finding workarounds for the harsh conditions of a red dwarf system gave me personal stakes in the world. I wanted these guys to survive!


What was the most difficult aspect of “Planet Doykeit” to write, and what was the most fun?

The trickiest thing was keeping my image systems under control. I was working with so many metaphors and source materials: botany, hair, sports, Yiddish, Jewish folktales, biblical tropes, terraforming… sometimes these threads felt coherent, and at other times, I worried I was cooking up an illegible stew. At one point, I warned Kelly Link that I’d be submitting “oatmeal” for my Week 6 story. Mush. When she tried to reassure me, I countered that it would be hairy oatmeal (hair is a big theme in the story!). The real fun was experimenting with Yiddish and speculating about how the language would change over centuries. My friend Noa Tsaushu, a scholar and teacher of Yiddish, proved invaluable as a consultant (thanks, Noa!)


What are you working on now?

I just joined the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, so I’m focused on teaching and research (on the Bund, among other things!). I’m producing a radio drama with my brother called “Permanent Fog,” and I have a story in the works about a partially terraformed and left-behind world. I also don’t feel done with the small planet Doykeit, and slowly, I’m growing this project as well.


“Planet Doykeit” appears in the July/August issue of F&SF.

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Click on Ms. Rose’s photo to visit her website.


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