The Sci-Fi Author, Blessed Be He (Step Aside JK Rowling!)

on Thursday, April 17, 2014
Three cheers for the authorial bait-and-switch. Dickens writing as Boz, Stephen King as Richard Bachman, Dean Koontz as about three hundred different people, John Banville as Benjamin Black, JK Rowling as Robert Gailbraith... the list could go on forever. But given the time of year, here's one that I couldn't possibly... err... pass over.

Now, I doubt many of you are particularly au fait with the contemporary Czech science fiction movement so let me get you up to speed. For the past couple of months there's been only one book that matters - Altchulova Metoda (Altchul's Method) by Chaim Cigan. The first in a four book series it (according to Radio Praha) mixes "politics, prison cells and the secret police with the Middle Ages, Moses and Jewish history – a science fiction thriller told across continents and epochs." All pretty standard sci-fi stuff, I suppose (notwithstanding the heavy Jewish motifs).

So why the big fuss? It's not the book itself that's set tongues wagging so much as the identity of its author. The jacket guff claims Cigan to be a Czech emigre who now lives in Canada. Geography allayed suspicion in the absence of face-to-face interviews. Sure, the book was a success, but the Czech press weren't exactly about to to send hordes of reporters across the sea just to interview a genre writer. The phone works just fine, thank you.

However, within weeks of its release rumours began to circulate. This Cigan fellow... he just wasn't ringing true. Something was fishy... might I say, gefilte fishy. A bit of scratching around revealed Prague's best kept secret. No, not the location of the legendary Golem but, in literary terms, not that far off. Chaim Cigan was none other than the Chief Rabbi of Prague, Karol Sidon. Turns out he has a slightly unconventional idea of what makes a... sorry for this... "good book". As he said:

"Before I began writing this I couldn't read anything but what is considered lowbrow sci-fi literature, which I really love… The story almost unraveled by itself; it was fascinating for me to watch what kind of stuff was going on in my head."

Altchul's Method has yet to be translated into English and my Czech is, to use the vernacular, neupotřebitelný (work it out for yourselves). No doubt it's just a matter of time. Thankfully I still have lox of books to read in the meantime.

*Disclaimer: Yes, I am ashamed of almost very pun in this post.
** Double Disclaimer: I'm still a bit proud of the "gefilte fishy" one.


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