So did every day have to be interesting? Was God an entertainer?
–“The Missing Word”
Alan Weiss has published a number of stories in different genres, and many academic papers. This new collection concerns an itinerant wizard and his faithful, if not always amiable, horse.
Title: Making the Rounds
Author: Allan Weiss
First published May 23, 2016.
To make amends for delving into forbidden knowledge Eliezer ben-Avraham must roam an ancient desert world and perform good deeds (mitzvoth) for those in need. These include a man in need of giant candles, the appearance of impossible creatures, and a word gone missing from a sacred text.
The adventure that stays most with me occurs in “Of the Law,” in which Eliezer’s difficulties with an adversary play on entirely human blind spots that we might expect the character to have. The story’s thematic concerns also reflect on human behavior, whether influenced or not by deeply-held religious beliefs.
A strength can become a weakness in the eyes of some readers. Weiss, quite deliberately, roots his stories in the theology, philosophy, and experiences of the Jewish people. I often found Eliezer’s explorations fascinating, but some audiences will tire of a theological angle, especially if it lies outside their experience.
Originality: 3/6 We’ve met iterant wizards and other wandering heroes many times in fantasy, but rooting one so entirely in a living religious tradition is less common, and I don’t believe I’ve encountered a specifically Jewish wizard before (barring one’s take on certain religious and cultural figures).
Imagery: 6/6 Weiss describes his side-world well, whether describing giant candles or a five-winged penguin.
Story: 5/6 The stories have been told well; they will resonate differently with diverse readers.
Characterization: 5/6 Eliezer and his sentient horse are instantly recognizable characters. The others he encounters vary in depth and familiarity.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Editing: 5/6 Weiss proves a charming storyteller. He defaults to a light, highly readable style, and he finds humour whenever the situation allows. Many of the situations are, of course, inherently humorous. Nevertheless, serious issues underlie even the more amusing challenges. When a man with a giant menorah requires eight candles, Eliezer asks,
“And where may I do that?” He had visions of entering into a lifelong quest, across the desert sands and into oasis after oasis, village after village, just to find eight giant candles. “Is there a caravan loaded with eight-foot-tall candles coming through here soon? Do you know of a shop?”
Yet this generally light-hearted adventure examines questions of ritual obligation, memory/identity, and the cyclical nature of life and (perhaps) time.
On another occasion, Eliezer must assist a ghettoized community. That tale might involve human/animal metamorphosis and the outwitting of oppressors, but the oppressors recall people history has spewed up often—far too often.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Making the Rounds receives 34/42