Kathe Koja is the author of The Cipher (1991), one of the books I read on random internet recommendation. I am very glad I did, because it’s one of the weirdest, most interesting books I’ve devoured in a long time. Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award. It hasn’t been available for a long time, but is now available on e-book with a new forward by the author.
Trust me when I tell you that The Cipher is difficult to explain. See, there’s this hole in an apartment building, where would-be poet Nicholas lives, which has fascinated both him and his sometimes lover (and super-strange lady) Nakota. The hole, which is dubbed “The Funhole”, is not living but alive all the same. Whoever comes into contact with it is changed, has already lost their control. It attracts more people, things get weirder. I really can’t say much more than that.
Koja isn’t a straightforward horror author – many people say she isn’t a horror author at all. But whatever she is, it’s exciting and interesting. She’s been compared to a poet, and I can see where those comparisons are coming from. The language in The Cipher isn’t straightforward, and there is a lyrical sense/nonsense to it. But it’s such beautiful, terrifying lyrics.
Koja’s works are divisive – I’ve seen glowing and scathing reviews for the same novel right next to each other, which only makes me want to read her work more. We are lucky that Koja’s older works are coming back in e-book editions. Her 1993 novel, Skin, was just released last month. I am downloading it right now. Books not yet in digital format can be purchased used on Amazon.
It’s not an easy read, but The Cipher – and Koja – are worth your time.