What happens when every wish you make is immediately granted by God? If you could use the power of music to travel through time? If your body was the battleground for a strange, alien invasion?
In this, his debut collection in English, Israeli author Nir Yaniv shows his remarkable versatility, collecting stories from over a decade of writing and a wide range of the fantastic. In turns humorous, lyrical, profound – but always entertaining – these are the haunting tales of an author at the height of his power.
I got to translate some of the stories here, and write the introduction to this volume, collecting some of Nir's best work over the years. His stories are like no one else's, so be warned! – Lavie Tidhar
"In short, this collection of short stories is: outstanding. Buy more copies than one if you give special books to people you respect... I don't mean 'outstanding' in relation to other books this year, but in relation to any in any."– World Fantasy Award nomineee Anna Tambour
"Each story is a bright flash of odd brilliance... unmissable."– Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama.
"A fantastic, wonderful, weird story ... Speaks very powerfully to the human spirit."– Strange Horizons, on “Undercity”
"Hypnotic, surreal and prophetic, Nir Yaniv's "The Dream of the Blue Man" is a story you won't soon forget."– World Fantasy Award winner Ann VanderMeer
An extract from the collection's opening story, "The Dream of the Blue Man"
Those were days both terrible and awesome, days wonderful and cursed, days of creation and blossom. Those were days of great heroes and of deeds deserving of songs: those were days when right could no longer be told from wrong.
The people of previous generations, now no more than dim memories of creation, could never have imagined those days: not in dreams, not in pain, not in the wildest flights of fancy.
If only because the people of the present generation had done so—in dreams, and in nightmares and woe.
When the blue man raised his gaze he saw, in the light of a sun that was yet to rise, three giant apes on top of the Empire State Building. Two of them were the hazy sons of King Kong. The third, a chimpanzee with a sailor's hat, chewed loudly on bananas and hit his two accomplices with the giant skins. The bananas passed through them without causing any harm. The building itself, gigantic and grey, was located unflatteringly on Tel Aviv's beachfront skyline. It was already leaning dangerously to one side.
That was where he had to go.
He held tightly to the bulldozer's wheel and pressed on the gas. The engine roared and a plume of smoke rose from the chimney behind him. No one had manufactured bulldozers for more than ten years, and this one, too, was only a piece of fluff one of his neighbors had agreed to dream for him in exchange for a nine-course gourmet meal.
He was an expert in meal-dreaming, but there were many like him. Far too many. On the other hand, people like his neighbor, who dreamed heavy engineering equipment, hadn't interested anyone in years. There were better ways now, and dreamers with far more finesse.
And much stronger. Horrifyingly strong, sometimes—but not strong enough. Not for his purpose.
One of those dreamers had provided the blue man with the contents of his backpack, in exchange for a special flavor, one for which he had searched many years: the taste of a delicacy the dreamer's grandmother had used to prepare for him before she died, years before the dreaming had started. Not many were capable of retro-dreaming anymore, not since the fad had passed a year or two before. But the blue man was one of its rare remaining practitioners.
The bulldozer proceeded up what had once been the Yarkon Street. The surface was broken in many places—the ground's elevation had changed too often in too short a time. A light rain of frogs fell on the bulldozer's roof, stopped almost at once, then leaped back into the skies. Nameless night-crawlers thumped against the tracks and were crushed underneath, leaving no mark. From time to time the tracks passed, with a disgusting sucking sound, through pools of human sperm. Flickering lights could be seen occasionally in buildings' windows. Once, a long time ago, they would have meant a television set, switched on. He had not watched television in... years. He had not even seen a set. Who needs a television when all your dreams can come true?
A naked woman stood in his way, singing horribly. He ran her over without batting an eyelid. She continued singing for a while, but he did not stop and the sound grew distant. The building grew ahead of him, and the concrete under the tracks became increasingly shattered. Now he could see the base of the building, erupting out of a huge mound of earth and beams, the remains of buildings that had stood there before. He pressed down on the accelerator again, and suddenly heard a hiss, a kind of sizzling sound. The bulldozer's larger arm lost its yellow color and turned grey. He stood up, checked that the backpack's straps were tight, opened the driver's door and jumped out. The bulldozer continued moving forward, melted and then disappeared.
A good sign. Another sign that whoever had dreamed the building was strong enough. Not enough to do the impossible for himself, of course, but more than enough to do it for the blue man. Very good.
He began to climb the mound of earth. Remnants of fog rose between the ruins, and from time to time a complaining sound came from the belly of the mound, and the creaking of beams, and a slight tremor. Apart from that, there was no sign of a watch, and that too was a good sign—this person needed no guards, no protection. His very power was protection enough.
The building had no real entrance. A transparent staircase, its edges lit by white neon, began at some point in the middle of the mound and reached up to the second floor's wall. The blue man hesitated for a moment, then stepped onto the staircase and began climbing. As he did so he tried to decide if the wall was real or not. One moment it appeared solid, and in the next seemed to be made of smoke. Strange arabesques appeared on its face, eddied, grayed, melted away and were replaced by others. In the background, weak and hazy, there was the sound of a distant orchestra, playing Gershwin tunes. The wall came closer and closer, and with it the music, and the two coiled, and grew, and wove, and intertwined. The blue man's eyes opened wider and wider, and he felt his ears prick up, heard heartbeats, felt as though his entire body wanted to see, to hear, to contain more and more. The wall had become his whole world, and nothing but.
He suddenly coughed, and so survived.
The sharp, cutting sound had frayed the magic cords. He tottered for a moment, full of horror as the memories returned to his overwhelmed mind and then, again, his ears pricked up and his eyes opened, and he had the power, if only for one moment, to close his eyes and jump forward, straight into the wall.
No one knows when the dreams of horror began: there are those who say it is a punishment for sin, and there are those who say that humanity is always changing within. But in the heart of those terrible days there rose a man and he said, it is all because of the one, the first dreamer – he who made.
And you shall be as dreamers, so he said.
The only source of light in the grey darkness was a simple metal plate with two buttons: up, down. He thought about it. On the one hand, you don't dream of the Empire State Building in order to sit in the basement. On the other, it stands to reason that a dreamer, as strong as he no doubt was, would not want to risk his real body with the dissolution of the building. His counterpart in the dream can spend all the time he wants upstairs, while the sleeping body would lie somewhere safe. Down, then.
The elevator sighed and began to move. In the almost-complete darkness it was hard for him to tell which way it was going, and suddenly he was no longer sure if he was standing or lying down. For a moment he felt a little sick, as the elevator descended into the earth. Then walls appeared and became transparent and dissipated and he could see all the way out, and for one moment it seemed to him he was hanging from the ceiling, coming down from the stars to the earth, but no: he was still on his feet and around him the dreaming city's lights stood in all their awful, if not colorful, glory, and retreated from him, and the ground grew distant, and the elevator climbed and rose, climbed and groaned, towards the roof of the building and its residents, both seen and unseen.
And as it climbed so did his doubt. To achieve his goal he must confront the dreamer himself, face to face, but also reach his sleeping body. Body and mind—either one worthless without the other.
A sudden fear grasped him, and he held tightly on to the backpack's straps, to make sure it was still there. To draw courage from it. Well, he was as ready as he could be, and would face whatever he met. At this point there was no choice, and no turning back.
The elevator slowed, then stopped with a groan. Doors appeared in it, their frames lit by neon, and opened. He passed through them. The lighting changed a little, and he turned and looked back. The elevator was no longer there. In its place stood a man.
An elderly man, tall, grey hair, grey suit. A hat. Above, through the transparent roof, the three apes could be seen. The dreamer smiled when he saw the blue man's gaze climb up to them, for a moment. "You wanted to meet me."
"Not only you."
"What you want is not possible."
The dreamer didn't ask. He looked as if he received visits like this every night.
"Of course it's possible," the blue man said with a confidence he didn't feel. "In fact, you're curious about it. You want to know why I came."
"Let me guess," the dreamer said. "You want me to dream your dead lover back for you. Or your living lover the way she was when you truly loved her."
The blue man was silent.
"Your children. You want them to be this way, that way, or maybe you don't have any and you want there to be, or you do have them and you don't want them to be."
"Money? Power? Command? You do understand that I've already been asked for everything possible—and impossible."
"No—you didn't understand me."
"I mean to say—you haven't been asked for every possible or impossible thing. Not yet."
"Then tell me," the dreamer said, "You might succeed in arousing my curiosity."
"So tell me."
"Not before I've met your body."
"You do know," the dreamer said, "that I could destroy you on the spot."
"And still you won't tell me?"
"Only in the presence of your body."
"I have an idea," the dreamer said. "Give me a clue that will make me curious enough, then we'll see."
The blue man thought about it. "Fine," he said at last.
"And the clue?"
"I want to be God."
[story continues in full book]