Vector reviews Jesus & The Eightfold Path

Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association, has recently reviewed Jesus & The Eightfold Path:

Jesus and the Eightfold Path began life as an irreverent brain-nugget: the story of kung-fu Jesus. The final result is less cheeky than you might imagine, fusing classical Chinese novel Journey to the West with the life of Christ as recounted in the New Testament. Plenty of liberties are taken, of course; in Tidhar’s take Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing (“Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy”) do not travel to India to protect the Bodhisattva on his quest to retrieve sacred scrolls but instead voyage to Judea to find the child who is the reincarnation of the Buddha. They are the three wise men who witnessed the newborn Christ, although in this version they eschew excessive wisdom, preferring to indulge vices: food, fighting, women, the usual heroic stuff. The story spans the life of Christ from before birth to shortly after his death, touching upon many of the most memorable Biblical fables – overturning the tables of the moneylenders, now with added kung fu; his love affair with Cleopatra, which was definitely in there somewhere; and ruining the livelihood of local farmers by filling their pigs with demons.

The book is a characteristic example of Tidhar’s writing and storytelling; it repurposes the mythic with a deft touch that retains some degree of familiarity yet introduces enough difference to produce a stark sense of contrast. It also has his characteristic lightness of tone juxtaposed with gravitas and respect for his subject matter. It’s rarely wildly funny but produces plenty of wry smiles. Readers who enjoy laughter lines will find this book does actually crease them up.

However, it inevitably feels episodic; a side-effect of re-telling the life of Christ in under 70 pages. We leap from one set-piece to another and Jesus rarely feels like more than the fulcrum around which the story pivots; even his kung-fu skills provide only intermittent thrills. Still, Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy prove to be fun characters, Roman-Judean agent Josephus Flavius helps lend the last act some thematic weight and the conclusion rings true to its Judaic and Buddhist roots. As a story it could have been longer but that may have led the concept to overstay its welcome. As a result we have this enjoyable compromise.

Jesus & The Eightfold Path cover and pre-orders!

I’m delighted to announce that Jesus & The Eightfold Path is now available for pre-orders! The book costs £10 for a limited edition hardcover of just 200 copies. While these are not signed, I should be at Fantasycon this year for the launch, and will make sure to sign copies there.

The awesome cover – and isn’t it an awesome cover? – is by Melissa Gay, who did the cover for HebrewPunk back in the day. Check it out!

THREE WISE MEN CAME FROM THE EAST for the infant Jesus in The New Testament. Three brave companions accompany the Buddha in the Chinese classic A Journey to the West. Could they have been the same three? Guided by a star, three strange companions arrive in the barbarous land of Judea to seek a newborn child–a possible messiah to some, and the reincarnation of the Budda to others.

When the child’s life is threatened, his family and new guardians escape to Egypt, returning years later, to a Jewish land on the cusp of annihilation by the Roman Empire.

Once a general in the Judean army, now a Roman agent, Josephus Flavius is sent by Caesar back to his home land to observe and report on the actions of the troubling young man now preaching sedition in the Galilee–a boy with the unsettling powers of kung-fu…

Their lives would collide in a cataclysmic confrontation between Romans and Jews, between empire and rebels–and change the world forever…

And here is Gardner Dozois reviewing the book in the latest issue of Locus:

Lavie Tidhar is one of the most interesting new writers to enter the genre in some time, and his chapbook novella “Jesus and the Eightfold Path” is another major work by him, although even harder to pin down by genre than is his usual work.  A vivid and gonzo reimagining of the life of Jesus, it’s less sacrilegious and more respectful than you would think a story whose working title was “Kung Fu Jesus” would be, although Jesus does indeed get to use his martial arts skills, learned under the tutelage of the Eastern Masters who taught him to follow the Eightfold Path, to beat up the moneylenders as he casts them from the Temple, defeat some attacking mummies, and so forth.  Although all this would probably have been enough to get Tidhar burnt at the stake during the Middle Ages, he actually treats Jesus with a fair degree of reverence, as a man who really has been touched by the Divine (although what Divine remains open to question) and possesses immense preternatural abilities.  Much of the gonzo humor, and much of the entertainment value, is carried by the Three Wise Men, here reimagined as former kings, wizards, and minor gods impressed into service by a superior supernatural force, and called Sandy, Monkey, and Pigsy; they get many of the best lines.  There’s also a supporting role for the slippery Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius.  Perhaps what this reminds me the most of is the movie Big Trouble in Little China, if the filmmakers had decided to tackle the Gospels as well as Chinese mythology.  Although some of the more pious may be offended, most readers will probably find this hugely entertaining.