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This came up at Monday's conference on Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion, which I organized at Fordham University. It arose in my answer to a question I posed to the panel on "Science Fiction Looks at Space Travel and Religion" about what was each panelist's most memorable, profound, or otherwise significant example of a science fiction story, book, movie, or TV series they read or saw, in which the subject was space travel and religion. On the panel with me were David Walton, Alex Shvartzman, and Lance Strate. Among others in the audience were conference participants Guy Consolmagno, Molly Vozick-Levinson, Brittany Miller, Michael Waltemathe, James Heiser, Mark Shelhamer, and Tom Klinkowstein.
It was a tough question to answer—there are so many good candidate stories on page and screen—but I figured I owed my panelists and the audience my own answer. That was actually easy for me—it was Jack Dann's Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is just what it sounds like. I found it in the Science Fiction Shop—a bookstore I discovered on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village one afternoon in 1974. I had grown up on science fiction in the 1950s and early 1960s. (I have many times told the story of how I was banned from my Junior High School Library in 1958 by Mrs. Dayson, the librarian, because I refused to read anything other than science fiction.) But by the early 1970s, I was more into music and protesting against the Vietnam War than I was into science fiction. Jack Dann's anthology changed all that forever—rekindled a passion for science fiction (soon as a writer as well as a reader) that would never leave me. And it also deepened my interest in Judaism—my religion—at least a little.
Isaac Asimov wrote the Introduction to Wandering Stars—come to think of it, that's likely what gave me the idea to get Asimov to write the Preface to my own anthology, not science fiction, In Pursuit of Truth: On the Philosophy of Karl Popper, nearly ten years later. The other book that I bought in the Science Fiction Shop that day was Joseph F. Patrouch's The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. It was the first lengthy assessment of Asimov's work I'd ever read. I devoured it. I still think it's the best.
Jack Dann and I have become friends (and he has a wonderful novella in the first Touching the Face of the Cosmos volume). I exchanged paper mail with Joseph Patrouch some decades ago. The Science Fiction Shop has long since closed. But those books by Dann and Patrouch will live forever.