Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires

Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 8-Jul-1998

A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is: http://members.aol.com/MLCVamp/vampcrpt.htm

Steven-Elliot Altman. Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires. Hell's Kitchen Books, 1994 [apparently published 1997]. Hardcover, 169 pp. ISBN 1-889830-00-3; $18.00.

(Note the title: Zen IN the Art, not Zen AND the Art. OK? OK)

ZEN IN THE ART OF SLAYING VAMPIRES is the first-person narrative of a professional vampire slayer ... who is himself a vampire. He works for an organization called simply The Ministry, a position he achieved through meditation and, in all likelihood, destiny. The book alternates between his own experiences and exposition on the Zen training through which Aspirants to the Art of Slaying Vampires become Disciples and then Initiates of the Art.

As a child the narrator recognizes the sacredness of life in a moment of illumination, his first *satori*. In college he begins meditating at his girlfriend's insistence, a process he is only beginning to become comfortable with when both of them are attacked by vampires. Deirdre is killed, the narrator transformed. Determined not to give in to blood hunger, he boards himself up in his apartment and meditates, ultimately starving for lack of blood ... then being mysteriously revived by energy from no identifiable source. Through this unusual transformation, he lacks the drive to drink blood but has all the other vampire traits, including an inhuman appearance and superhuman senses.

His quest to learn about other vampires brings him to a vampire hangout just as The Ministry raids that establishment. There the narrator encounters a Master in the Art of Slaying Vampires with seven piles of vampire ash around him. That Master, however, addresses him as Gentle One and says, "You have our blessings." And vanishes.

Taken captive by the Ministry people performing the raid (they call it a rake), the narrator sits very uncomfortably bound and gagged at Ministry HQ until a Master (another one) comes to examine him. This Master orders him released and does everything short of bowing down and worshiping him, for with his inner eye he can see the narrator's true nature. The narrator is taken to a monastery where the Way of Slaying Vampires is taught and there interrogated by a number of Masters. The Master of Masters allows him to stay in the monastery and learn, on condition that he also teach disciples there -- although the narrator has no idea what he will teach. He ultimately "graduates" from monastery residence in a somewhat unconventional way, to go on rakes with human Ministry personnel, who sometimes resent him for being a vampire. (The Ministry, after all, is dedicated to slaying vampires.) He kills vampires in an unconventional way: Not with the traditional stake that all other Initiates carry, but merely with his touch, which causes them to spontaneously combust.

Becoming a professional vampire slayer, however, is not enough. When The Ministry uncovers evidence of an extensive vampire underground, the narrator infiltrates it. All too quickly, he is discovered for something other than a standard-issue vampire and suffers the consequences at the hands of beings determined to make him share their bloodlust. The discovery about his nature that his redemption brings promises to be the foundation of sequels.

Having come through all his strange adventures, and being someone who has seen both sides, the narrator receives a new assignment from The Ministry: to disseminate knowledge of its existence and its methods by writing a book. This book. And this is where perhaps the neatest part of the book comes. As the narrator concludes, vampires are sentient beings, if "truly fucked-up souls"; slaying them is a stopgap measure, the treatment of a symptom only. At the last, the narrator condemns The Ministry as "guilty of stagnation within the edict, in its failure to see out the further spiritual growth [of vampires] which is so obviously required."

This is a neat response to and wonderful inversion of the archetypal/stereotypical "turnstory" that underlies much good guy vampire fiction. In the turnstory's most fully realized form, the human protagonist is chosen or recognized by the vampiric elite and undergoes a transformation that results in membership in the elite group and the acquisition of corresponding powers. The good guy vampire protagonist, however, refuses to become (or at any rate, to remain) an elitist but harkens to his human origins and speaks in favor and support of humans, despite the scorn of the vampire-kind.

In ZEN IN THE ART OF SLAYING VAMPIRES, conversely, the vampire protagonist is recognized as exceptional and consequently accepted into a *human* elite -- of vampire slayers. Not only does he become one of their number, he "out-slays" group members through his natural abilities. He then goes one step further, condemning his "elite group" for its lack of adherence to its ostensible underlying principles. Like a human who becomes a vampire and champions protection of humans, the narrator becomes a vampire-turned-vampire-slayer who champions the spiritual growth of vampires.

ZEN IN THE ART OF SLAYING VAMPIRES is a little better in conception than in execution: the tone never quite overcomes an almost clinical dryness perhaps appropriate to a follower of a Zen Path. It nonetheless remains readable, particularly because of the rising suspense that follows the narrator's transformation as he crosses unlikely threshold after unlikely threshold: What will his Ministry captors do to him? What will the Master of Masters do to him? How will he infiltrate the underground? How will he be rescued? The piquancy of the conclusion, however, in which the narrator rejects the ministry's methods and resigns his post as an operative, would compensate for more and greater flaws than afflict this volume.

Three sequels are planned: TAO DHAMPHIRE, slated for June 1998 publication (may be available now); DREAMING A BLACK SEASON; and VAMPIRE MESSIAH (no date set). If your local bookstore can't obtain this (mine couldn't), the publisher suggests Amazon.com , Dark Delicacies , and Dark Carnival .

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

Vol. 1 No. 80
The Once and Future...
Vol. 1 No. 21
Enter Freely and of Your Own Will