The world of ZEN CITY is a world of passionate desires: the desire for power, the desire for order, and the desire for self-transcendence. ZEN CITY is a story about the struggle and violence of people who see themselves as striving for the ultimate. Along the way, ZEN CITY presents a sly critique of the practice and perversions of imported spirituality in twentieth-century America.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review "...this book succeeds brilliantly, deftly weaving a tragic romance that’s about all of us, and none at all!
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Zen City is like nothing I've ever read before, an eccentric book indeed. But the brillant author knows Zen philosophy and scifi, and the art of weaving them together to create a unique urban tale. ~ Maha Erwin, GoodReads
(Zero Books, June 2016, pb, 125 pp.)
Reviewed by Dave Truesdale
I have been a fan of Eliot Fintushel's work since his first published story in the late Algis Budry's Tomorrow magazine, the fledgling magazine's 5th issue cover dated October 1993. With a title like "Herbrand's Conjecture and the White Sox Scandal" you knew you were in for something different.
From that first story Eliot has sold 41 others through 2012, and from 1993 through 2004 no fewer than 16 to Asimov's with others scattered among such magazines as Amazing, Science Fiction Age, Tomorrow, Crank!, and Strange Horizons (with several being chosen for several Best Of collections). Taking time off to write his only full-fledged novel in 2007, Breakfast with the Ones You Love (Bantam Spectra), his short fiction output has taken a back seat for the past four years. Until now, and his long novella Zen City (packaged as a paperback short novel).
Fintushel's fiction is difficult to pigeon-hole into any one sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy, for he mixes and matches elements of both to suit his own view of the world, which often is not quite like anyone else's. Early in his career his fiction was likened to that of the late R. A. Lafferty, in that many of his stories ended up reading like tall tales, so wildly imaginative and with an internal logic of their own they defied categorization, yet delighted readers in such a way that their charm was impossible to resist (whether they fully understood what they'd just read or not). Such a reaction might very well prove to be the case with Zen City.
Zen City takes place in a post-collapse society where many live outside the City in old, rusted cars and vans and make do while studying to pass the strict tests allowing them entry into the City, where they believe they will be "enlightened" (the city representing the embodiment of the enlightened state) and will no longer be forced to live their hardscrabble lives in the wasted environs of the outside. While some eventually pass the criteria and are admitted to the City, never to be heard from again, others—including the protagonist, Big Man—attempt to sneak in, and this is where most of the story action takes place. All the strange goings-on are based on two ideas Fintushel has used before in short stories—hypostating and hypodyning. Hypostat comes from the actual word hypostatize, which means to take some abstract idea to be an actual physical thing. In the world of Zen City, thoughts, ideas, or feelings are transformed into physical objects by means of a hypostatizing ray (or something, it doesn't matter.) Hypodyne, on the other hand, is an invented word and the opposite of hypostat. (Static vs. dynamic.) Thus, you can hypodyne any physical being to make it into something abstract, non-substantial.
Successful applicants to the City are transferred into it by a combination of these two processes: first they lose their physical bodies through hypodyning, turning, as some of the characters say, "into jazz," and then that "jazz" is hypostatted into the City, becoming part of the general condition of the City, without any personal self left. The "whaddayagets," who live down in the caves, are the rejected experiments that led up to the city-making process of hypodying and hypostatting—they are wild, crazy combinations of various feelings and ideas made together into weird fleshly creatures. One of them, for example, is a combination of weltshmerz, nooky, and genital crabs.
Everyone wants to get into the City because of the promise it holds, but many are rejected and must try over and over.
Big Man's attempt to sneak into the City involves fragments of insider knowledge pieced together from hearsay; some reliable, some not—and possibly deadly. The obstacles he faces—both external and physical as well as emotional and mental—lead him on a journey which will change not only his life but those of others as well (including outsiders as well as those already in the City) as the philosophy of the Far East made real via advanced technology meets the materialistic world view of the West. Can they co-exist? Can the idealistic promises of both worldviews deliver? Are both viable in their own way? Are both hiding an ultimate lie? Zen City offers but one possible scenario and springs from the fertile imagination of its author, born in the West but spending many years in the East as a Zen student, and now through his fiction attempting to possibly reconcile these two wildly opposing world views.
The best advice I can offer any reader unfamiliar with Eliot Fintushel's work is to give your imagination a thorough dusting off, and if your "suspension of disbelief" is a quart low, top it off before reading Zen City. And try to keep up.
♣ ♣ ♣
Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award six times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO. ~ Tangent Magazine: Dave Truesdale, http://www.tangentonline.com/print--other-reviewsmenu-263/novellas-chapbooks-misc-reviewsmenu-338/3192-zen-city-by-eliot-fintushel
Fintushel, Eliot. Breakfast with the Ones You Love. Mar. 2007. 288p. Bantam, paper, $12 (9780553384055).
Fintushel’s first novel has it all: a girl who can kill with her mind, an opinionated cat, strange little old ladies who believe they’re daughters of the devil, the Mob, and a spaceship stashed in the abandoned part of a Sears & Roebuck building. Lea Tillim, aka Cadaver Dimples, killed her face so that people wouldn’t bother her. She kills with her mind, which her cat, Tule, disapproves of (Lea thinks her targets are probably better off that way). When she rescues the Yid from a couple of toughs with her power, the two become friends, and he tells her about the room he is making into a spaceship. When it’s complete, the Mesiach, a ship that has been waiting for its moment to come, will join it to take 13 people who’ll be called when the time is right to the promised land. Lea wants to go, too. Bad attitude and all, Lea’s an interesting narrator, whose changes as the story gets more and more bizarre keep the reader guessing. ––Regina Schroeder
2/5/07 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY review
Breakfast with the Ones You Love
Eliot Fintushel. Bantam Spectra, $12 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-38405-5
The standup comedy of Fintushel's stage work echoes through his debut novel, a highly original, seriously skewed take on kabbalistic lore, like a shofar on Yom Kippur. Lea Tillim, a 16-year-old runaway, has a psychic "talent" that allows her to kill anyone who gets in her way. She begins to blossom after she rescues Jack "the Yid" Konar, a smalltime drug dealer who also happens to be "the Chosen of the Chosen of the Chosen." The Yid has constructed a mystical spaceship—complete with a Fleshpot and the Holy of Holies—to transport the select few to the true Ish-ra-el. As Lea aids Jack on his quest, she gets stoned, receives epiphanies, is chased by the mob, is befriended by an adorably whiny minyan, helps foil the Evil One and his marquetry ladies and teams with an unlikely multitude from various religious persuasions. Though Lea's voice wanders from infatuated teen to world-weary kvetch, this uneven coming-of-age story is a virtual cornucopia of strange delights. (Mar.)
Author and performance artist Fintushel blends Asian philosophy with science fiction in a mind-melting exploration of love, loss, and cultural appropriation. Like every other “hick” on the outside of the City, Big Man dreams of gaining access to it: a place of pure Buddha-nature, where every inhabitant has abandoned desire and reached a state of absolute oneness. Unable to enter by official channels, Big Man enlists the help of his would-be lover, Angela, to sneak in through a back way. In the process, he attracts the attention of the supposed bodhisattva No Mind and the less-than-holy Buddhist teacher Bobo Shin, who pursue him into the City for their own ends. Each character is fascinatingly developed in a somewhat Dadaist fashion, all while moving the plot along. Fintushel’s goal is never to mock or deride Buddhism itself, but rather to expose the ways in which the Eightfold Path is corrupted by human nature; in that regard, this book succeeds brilliantly, deftly weaving a tragic romance that’s about all of us, and none at all. (Featured review (June) online and in print) ~ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
You seem to be quite a polymath—and a mime too! ~ Oliver Sacks, letter in response to my writing
“I’m sure that a certain percentage of my readership, the less sophisticated readers, are going to find it completely incomprehensible, and be infuriated as a result. But hey, as we used to say in the Army, fuck them if they can’t take a joke.” ~ Gardner Dozois, perennial Hugo Award winner, former editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
“It reads like a road map to one of my brains.” – Art Spiegelman (Maus) ~ Art Spiegelman, post card to me from Art, 1993
BREAKFAST WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE will enlarge your consciousness, tickle your soul, stop your heart and make you laugh out loud. Although you board this interdimensional roller coaster of a book just around the block, before the ride is over you'll get a glimpse of the Promised Land -- guaranteed! By conjuring up a gaggle of characters that give new meaning to the adjective 'quirky' and typing some of the most amazing sentences you'll ever read, Eliot Fintushel has established himself as the Master of High Strangeness. ~ James Patrick Kelly, author of Burn
Eliot Fintushel and his nifty stories have been an ongoing joy for me for years. ~ Harlan Ellison
If the world ended tomorrow and your soul was ready and your loins were sated, next you’d need a good yarn and a hard laugh. That’s Eliot Fintushel’s brilliant Breakfast with the Ones You Love, a deft, hilarious, and lovable apocalyptic tale that mashes the hardboiled, the nightmarish and the absurdly mundane like some new pharmaceutical with side effects that are equal parts joy, terror and wisdom. Not a bad way to go. ~ Patrick O'Leary, author of The Gift and The Impossible Bird
Eliot Fintushel's BREAKFAST WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE is a fantasy like no other. Certified meshugge Fintushel presents for our edification a Jewish comic knockabout metaphysical thriller, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. You should be so lucky as to own this book. ~ John Kessel, author of Corrupting Dr. Nice