Augmented reality: spec fic from my Hasidic childhood

At Continuum 13, I was on a panel about speculative fiction from our childhoods. We were each asked to speak for a few minutes, so I thought I’d reproduce my talk here (I went a little off-script, but this is the guts of it). It was pretty personal and fun to write, and it seemed to be well received.

I could talk about my memories of my dad reading us The Hobbit, and how proud I was when I read Lord of the Rings all by myself. I could talk about Star Wars, and how I wrote Princess Leia fanfiction before I knew that was a thing. But really, ours was a pretty typical geeky household in a lot of ways. Magic swords and spaceships were normal for us. So instead, I’d like to focus on the context in which our geekdom occurred.

Unlike most, if not all, of you, I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home — specifically, a Lubavitch Hasidic household, and I went to an all-girls’ school of the same denomination. For many people outside that world, their perception is of a closed community involving men in black coats and subservient women.

The truth, as always, is a bit more complicated than that. If I had to summarise the driving force of my upbringing, it wouldn’t be isolation, even though that was a factor. My school offered a comprehensive secular education and encouraged university studies, and my parents never censored our reading (although they limited our access to TV and cinema).

No, the focus of Hasidism is not isolation. It’s a deeply spiritual belief system that seeks holiness in all things. To make the world better by uplifting the mundane into the sacred. It’s what my sister describes as an “augmented reality” — a lens that allows you to see a “spark of Godliness” in everything, if you hold the secret combinations of words and actions to unlock them. Continue reading