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Review: The Blaumilch, by Lavie Tidhar

Originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine (Oct 27, 2023 Issue 205), edited by Neil Clarke.

Clarekesworld Issue 205 cover imageIf you like stories about people from out-of-the-way and forgotten places, The Blaumilch is for you. It is about Daud, a small-town boy who wants to escape the mundane sameness of his life but is afraid to leave the dystopia he knows.

Tidhar’s future Mars setting has many parallels with today’s gaming and social media worlds.  The main vehicles for this allegory are his extensive setting descriptions, which are superb, and jam-packed full of believable world-building! 

Award-winning, multi-genre writer Lavie Tidhar is known for paying homage to other writers and their works. In The Blaumilch, he hearkens back to a film from the 1960s. He also includes a talking caravan that used to be a toaster.  What’s not to like?

For Writers (Spoilers Ahead)

Building on the irony of the story’s movie namesake, Tidhar shows us how doing something novel—even if it is random, crazy, and seemingly futile—can be a welcome relief from the trap of an alluring but artificial world.

I can hear Burton Cummings singing, “Sparkle someone else’s eyes!”

The Blaumilch includes lots of “telling” but is somehow never boring. I wrote this review to examine how Tidhar carries off so much exposition and still keeps our attention.

Background and Story

Per Wikipedia, the Golden Globe-nominated film, Blaumilch Canal, is a “1969 Israeli comedy satire … depicting the madness of bureaucracy through a municipality’s reaction to the actions of a lunatic.” The lunatic escapes from an asylum, steals digging equipment, and proceeds to dig a random canal in the middle of a busy Tel Aviv street. People think he is legit and they try to help him work. Things do not go well!

In The Blaumilch, Lavie Tidhar presents a virtual reality, “The-Mars-That-Never-Was,” as deceptive and escapist. It is a poignantly pointless way for idle males to spend their time. Then Tidhar riffs on the story’s namesake movie by presenting a group of people who travel around Mars digging seemingly random canals. The ever-positive Bloom, who identifies as a Blaumilch, draws the bored and purposeless Daud into helping with his latest dig.   

You can view the story as sad because the only way Daud feels he can improve his empty life is by doing something else without an obvious purpose, OR you can cheer for Daud, who finds a way out of his boring routine by doing something productive for a change and enjoying it.

A Rich Setting Ropes Us In!

The first four paragraphs are totally about the setting and full of world-building extrapolation from our present time. Why does this world-building work without a jump-into-the-action-as-close-to-the-climax-as-possible beginning?  We don’t even find out what The Blaumilch is until the second section of the story.  I feel the world-building works because of Tidhar’s clear and logical extrapolation and his too-real depiction of young males with little to do getting caught up in an artificial world.

Third Person Point of View – Seems Distant at First, But Is Actually Close

Told in the past tense, from a seemingly distant (but actually close) third-person point of view, we are drawn in each time Tidhar tells us how Daud is feeling. These tellings are scattered throughout the story and I needed to think about them to realize they reflected Daud’s thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. For example, in the first section alone, the following quotes show how Tidhar uses this technique.

  • Daud, in truth, had begun to find the whole thing uninspiring. The problem was, there was nowhere else to go. (Kindle Location 115).
  • But up there, visible as light in the sky, moved spacecraft, habitats, satellites— life, more glamorous and exciting than anything the outback had to offer. (Kindle Locations 118-119).

Overall and a Final Observation

The Blaumilch is a fun, hopeful story with many layers. It is a strong example of how one piece of art can inspire another. 

Lastly, I note that, in his world-building, Tidhar knows and uses the words for less-than-reputable bars in several different languages. I feel this knowledge might be from first-hand experience! So, in closing, I invite you to listen to this song by David Wilcox. It contains some excellent world-building, too.

Links and References

Clarkesworld Magazine (Oct 27, 2023 Issue 205) – There are many other high-quality stories in this issue too!

Lavie Tidhar

Wikipedia. (2024). Blaumilch Canal – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaumilch_Canal

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