Step right up to the Funhole, but be advised: Do not get too close! Tomorrow marks the release of The Cipher by Kathe Koja. A book that was originally published in 1991, but has since gone out of print. The amazing team over at Meerkat Press is now once again bringing the Funhole to readers everywhere.
I’m so excited to be a part of this special blog tour. In this blog post, I’m bringing you my review, an excerpt from the book, and if you stick around to the end a giveaway from Meerkat Press! So let’s get started!
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award and Locus Awards, finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and named one of io9.com’s “Top 10 Debut Science Fiction Novels That Took the World By Storm.” With a new afterword by Maryse Meijer, author of Heartbreaker and Rag.
“Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive.” When a strange hole materializes in a storage room, would-be poet Nicholas and his feral lover Nakota allow their curiosity to lead them into the depths of terror. “Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?” says Nakota. Nicholas says, “We’re not.” But no one is in control, and their experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.
I first read The Cipher about ten years ago. It stayed with me ever since, and I was so excited to find out that Meerkat Press was publishing it again. Since reading the book for the second time, I have read several reviews and opinions on it. I have to be honest and say, this book might not be for everyone.
There are different kinds of horror, and if you are expecting ghosts or murderers to pop out around every corner, then this isn’t for you. There are no physical demons or monsters to fight. This book is so much more than just a simple horror story. It is complex, and can be interpreted a lot of ways. Reading it for the second time still left me with questions, which might never be answered. I personally believe that books are art, and any art form can be interpreted in different ways. This is why I want to advise you, that my interpretation might not be correct per se, but just my thoughts on the topic.
To me, The Cipher, is a powerful story about an artist who struggles with his own identity. Nicholas knows he could be a poet, if he only tried hard enough. But certain powers keep him from achieving his goals. I think a big counterpart to his artistic abilities is depression. As we read the novel, we see a lot of unused talent and lack of ambition from all “players” within. The entire setting of The Cipher is bleak and dark. To me, the Funhole is almost a metaphor for the darkness of depression. A darkness that becomes an obsession for everyone around it.
There are still a lot of actual horror elements within the book, and it can be quite gruesome and gory. In its essence it is a horror novel, but also so much more than that. The entire book is written from the perspective of Nicholas. It is written in a conscious-narrative style, something that I have never seen before in this way. It does get confusing at times, but don’t all of our thoughts confuse us sometimes too? I believe Koja picked a perfect writing style for her story. It made it seem so much more real and believable.
You also can’t go into this book and expect to find likable characters. You simply won’t find them. Every single person in this story is a broken individual with their own monsters to fight. They don’t try to achieve great things, instead they simply live day to day. Most of those days are a mix of bad jobs, drinking and simply existing. The Funhole seems to give the characters a purpose in life, no matter how weird and twisted the outcome.
Though this book was first published in 1991, I believe it will always be relevant. I simply can’t stress enough how profound this book is, and I am convinced if you just give it a chance, you will be as impressed as I am.
And now an excerpt from The Cipher:
Nakota, who saw it first: long spider legs drawn up beneath her ugly skirt, wise mouth pursed into nothing like a smile. Sitting in my dreary third-floor flat, on a dreary thrift-shop chair, the window light behind her dull and gray as dirty fur and she alive, giving off her dark continuous sparks. Around us the remains of this day’s argument, squashed beer cans, stolen bar ashtray sloped full. “You know it,” she said, “the black-hole thing, right? In space? Big dark butthole,” and she laughed, showing those tiny teeth, fox teeth, not white and not ivory yellow either like most people’s, almost bluish as if with some undreamed-of decay beneath them. Nakota would rot differently from other people; she would be the first to admit it.
She lit a cigarette. She was the only one of my friends who still smoked, without defiance or a guilty flourish, smoked like she breathed but not as often. Black cigarettes, and sweetened mineral water. “So. You gonna touch it today?”
Another unsmile. “Wiener.” I shrugged. “Not really.” “Nicholas Wiener.”
So I didn’t answer her. Back to the kitchen. Get your own mineral water. The beer was almost too cold, it hurt going down. When I came back to the living room, what passed for it—big windows, small floor space, couch, bed and bad chair—she smiled at me, the real thing this time. Sometimes I thought I was the only one who ever saw that she was beautiful, who ever had. God knows there wasn’t much, but I had eyes for it all.
“Let’s go look at it,” she said.
The one argument there was no resisting. Quietly, we had learned to do it quietly, down the stairs, turn right on the first landing (second floor to you), past the new graffiti that advised LEESA IS A HORE (no phone number, naturally; thanks a lot assholes) and the unhealthy patina of aging slurs, down the hall to what seemed, might be, some sort of storage room. Detergent bottles, tools, when you opened the door, jumble of crap on the floor, and beyond that a place, a space, the dust around it pale and easily dispersed.
Behold the Funhole.
“Shit,” Nakota said, as she always did, her prayer of wonder. She knelt, bending low and supporting herself on straight-stiff arms, closer than I ever did, staring at it. Into it. It was as if she could kneel there all day, painful position but you knew she didn’t feel it, looking and looking. I took my spot, a little behind her, to the left, my own prayer silence: what to say before the unspeakable?
Black. Not darkness, not the absence of light but living black. Maybe a foot in diameter, maybe a little more. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you looked at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive, not even something but some—process. Rabbithole, some strange motherfucking wonderland, you bet. Get somebody named Alice, tie a string to her . . . We’d discussed it all, would discuss it again, probably tonight, and Nakota would sit as she always did, straight-backed as a priestess, me getting ripped and ripping into poetry, writing shit that was worse than unreadable in the morning, when I would wake—more properly afternoon, and she long gone, off to her job, unsmiling barmaid at Club 22 and me late again for the video store. She might not come again for days, or a day, one day maybe never. I knew: friends, yeah, but it was the Funhole she wanted. You can know something and never think about it, if you’re any good at it. Me, now, I’ve been avoiding so much for so long that the real trick becomes thinking straight.
Beside me, her whisper: “Look at it.”
I sometimes thought it had a smell, that negative place; we’d made the expected nervous fart jokes, the name itself—well, you can guess. But there was some kind of smell, not bad, not even remotely identifiable, but there, oh my yes. I would know that smell forever, know it in the dark (ho-ho) from a city block away. I couldn’t forget something that weird.
For the millionth time: “Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?”
And me, on cue and by rote, “Yeah. But we’re not.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally. She can be found at kathekoja.com.
GIVEAWAY: $50 Book Shopping Spree!
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