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Atomik Aztex Paperback – July 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Punk sci-fi and kitchen-sink realism create a startling, morally fraught vision in Foster's genre-straddling tour de force. In this codex of simultaneously existing alternate histories, the "Azteks," after defeating the Spanish, went on to conquer much of Europe, adding millions of hearts to the triumphant pyramids of sacrifice. Zenzontli, the narrator, is from a distinguished "Aztek" family, but he is in obscure disgrace with the powers that be. As a Keeper of the House of Darkness, Zenzontli deals in European slaves, who are slaughtered to honor the gods, their hearts taken out and their bodies consumed. His role in that world corresponds with his role in the conventional one, where he works as a pig butcher in a slaughter house in Vernon, Calif. To complicate matters further, in the world of Aztek supremacy, Zenzontli has a Double, controlled by his lovely wife, Xiuhcaquitl. Zenzon must evade Max, his boss at Farmer John's, and Maxtla, his political foe in the Aztek world. It sounds completely unmanageable, but readers will be blown away by Foster's control over the material, the beautiful segues between worlds and the way in which the question "what time is it?" accrues more and more weight. Brilliantly inventive, k-heavy spellings give Zenzon's voice totally unexpected tonalities. (Dec. 1)
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"...a graphic, hilarious and violent chronicle of multiple realities that could emerge... an amazing exercise of radical imagination." -- Guillermo Gómez-Peña

"...this is an ambitious, energetic, and fiercely intelligent novel." -- Bookforum

"A fine example of alternative fiction with a strong social theme; recommended for most collections." -- Library Journal, January 2006

"Atomik Aztex is hip, bloody, occasionally baffling and often piercingly brilliant." – Cherie Parker -- Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 15, 2005

"Hilarious, poignant, and at times devastating, Foster has crafted a fine... cocktail of sublime anarchy to toss into the machine." -- Rubén Martínez, author of The New Americans: Seven Families Journey to Another Country

"The prose is an electrifying, eclectic phantasmagoria of Groucho's marxism, dadada, surreal and naturalcombined with double-edged intellectual/historical hysteria." -- Rick Harsh, author of the Driftless Trilogy

"This is one mad neighborhood carnival roller coaster ride through Aztlán, the underground, the QT... Oddball, hilarious—deep." -- Marisela Norte, author of East L.A. Days/Fellini Nights

"a book so heedlessly imaginative it often seems ready to burst its pages like a comic-book POW." -- Emily Barton -- Bookforum, December 2005

"puts his finger on a particular nexus of World War II-era racism, factory life and the landscape of Los Angeles" -- The Los Angeles Times, January 2006

Atomik Aztex was chosen the Winner of The Believer Magazine Book Award 2005!! -- The Believer Magazine, March 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (July 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872864405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872864405
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sesshu Foster has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 20 years. He's also taught writing at the University of Iowa, the California Institute for the Arts, the University of California, Santa Cruz and Naropa University's Summer Writing Program. His work has been published in The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Language for a New Century: Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, and State of the Union: 50 Political Poems. One of his last readings at St. Mark's Poetry Project NYC is Mp3 archived at and local readings are archived at He is currently collaborating with artist Arturo Romo and other writers on the website, His most recent books are the novel Atomik Aztex and World Ball Notebook. Atomik Aztex won a 2006 Believer Magazine Annual Book Prize and World Ball Notebook won the 2009 Asian American Writers Workshop Poetry Prize. His blog, with links to Mp3 files, photos and video is

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on December 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Foster speaks pretty good Spanish (he has explained that he grew up in a Chicano barrio in East LA) and is an accomplished author of several now classic books of poetry (and prose poetry). Today his new novel ATOMIK AZTEX shows that he is capable of great wit and a Celine-like vision of human nature at its most scabrous and horrifying. No, not Celine Dion, but Louis-Ferdinand Celine, the French novelist whose book VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE NIGHT I thought of more than once as I explored this tale of a modern -day Aztec in a postmodern predicament. Picture the European invasion of Mexico as having gone exactly the other way around; routed, the Spanish find themselves slaughtered, tortured, their country a pawn in the game of world Aztek domination. As the ancient peoples used to pull the hearts out of living victims, so do their present day counterparts, and our hero is in charge of eviscerating white natives of several European nations, all of which he treats with a Celinean wit that glories in brutality and (literal) heartlessness.

And yet Foster is all heart, and for proof you have only to turn to the other side of the story, a Dreiser-like tale of poor people just trying to earn a living at "Farmer John's" a slaughterhouse in the City of Vernon. You can't stand the smell, but then you get used to it, just like all working class people have to get used to the worst humiliations. Poor guy is pulling back to back shifts, owes his former in-laws two grand, and he's losing his son to the gangster life. His boss, Max, is one of those kind of guys who seems alert and cheerful in public, but when you're alone with him you realize, he wants to destroy your very soul.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Sesshu Foster's ATOMIK AZTEX is a trip like no other. Foster himself acknowledges Ishmael Reed's MUMBO JUMBO and William Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH as models for his wild satire, as well as Kerouac -- VISIONS OF CODY in particular, I would say, especially its chronic use of lists. Foster warns the reader: "Persons attempting to find a plot in this book should read Huck Finn." This is a fair warning, and the non-linear cyklikal conception makes the book hard to describe. But it grabbed me right away, and it's a great read if you like the out-there novels of Reed, Burroughs and Kerouac.

Foster is a long-time poet of LA's east side, and the strength of ATOMIK AZTEX is his poetic riffing, like jazz improvisation. The weakness is the structure, or lack thereof, which of course is covered by the introductory caveat. So realize that what makes this a great read is the frenetic improv -- it's Ornette, or Cecil, or Trane, not Beethoven.

In a couple of interviews I've read, Foster describes the book as a satire, a social critique of America. I can't say that it succeeds on that level, it's too out-there to draw blood. The protagonist, an Aztek warrior, is presented as a heroic hipster, and this is clearly too over-the-top to be taken seriously -- the Aztek Socialist Imperium is based on human sacrifice on a planetary scale! So there would seem to be a parallel between the U.S.A. and the A.S.I., but Foster never drives it home.

The protagonist also lives in another dimension where he works in a slaughterhouse in East L.A. and participates in a CIO union drive organized by the CPUSA. The Aztek warrior is assigned to lead an elite unit against the Nazis at Stalingrad.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. T. Clinton on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
"Persons attempting to find a plot in this book should read Huck Finn" Sesshu Foster recommends in the opening of his premier novel Atomic Aztek. So I did. Read Huck Finn, I mean. I found in the introduction of Huck Finn the advice that if readers want a plot, they should be shot.

The literary transformation of consciousness created by reading this text had (at least) three parts for me:

1) I laughed my ass off. Because of the allegorical spin and elliptical critique of the American historical paradigm. If you are as weary as I am of searing political, cultural and historical distortion, and need a good laugh, read this book.

2) I was engaged. With the energy and literary brilliance of the language. If you are as burnt out as I am of fiction that shouts in clich� narrative, ordinary time, flat characters born from dry imagination, no sound, no ear, no rhythm, if you need a drug-like interface with words that bounce through your mind with crazy magic, read this book.

3) I was relieved and rejuvenated. Because I realized again why I read, why I write, why this creative life of engaging text is my life-long choice. For the sheer pleasure of infusion with profound literary and political aesthetic of expression. If you seek connection through text with imaginations as wild, intelligent and brave as your own, I would say, take a chance and read this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By William R. Nevins on May 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
Sesshu Foster's backhanded homage to that foggy old fascist W.B.Yeats in Atomik Aztex is worth the price of this book all by itself: "Stalingrad 1942" rips up the pompous pretension of WBY's revered "Easter 1916" in a manner both hilarious and touching. Like Atomic Aztek's itself, this is parody taken to the highest level. Sesshu Foster is a dark, lightning-struck genius--bursts of Joyce, Warren Zevon, Burroughs, Jose Torres Tama and Vonnegut. This is the "movie" that Apocalypto should have been--eat your heart out, Mel!
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