Authors: Michael Cisco
Tags: #Weird Fiction, #Fantasy
“Michael Cisco is of a different kind and league from almost anyone writing today, and
is Cisco at his startling best.”
, author of
Perdido Street Station
“An extraordinary story of war and the supernatural that combines the creepiness of
with the clear-eyed gaze of
Full Metal Jacket
The Other Side
if it included soldiers who could glide over the water, a mysterious tower right out of early David Lynch, and infused with Kafka’s sense of the bizarre. Destined to be a classic.”
, author of the
is not a subversive fantasy novel. It eliminates all other fantasy novels and starts the genre anew. You must begin your journey here.”
, author of
Move Under Ground
Love is the Law
Lazy Fascist Press
PO Box 10065
Portland, OR 97296
Copyright © 2004, 2015 by Michael Cisco
Cover Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Revert
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
All persons in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance that may seem to exist to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental. This is a work of fiction.
Printed in the USA.
Few writers within the realm of nonrealist or “weird” fiction have created more original work than Michael Cisco, who over the course of two decades and several novels, including his critically acclaimed debut,
The Divinity Student
, has forged a singular path in creating visionary, phantasmagorical settings, uniquely alienated anti-heroes, and genuinely creepy happenings—while also exhibiting a healthy absurdism and dark sense of humor. The work he has created sits comfortably between that of Thomas Ligotti and Caitlin R. Kiernan, compares favorably to that of Thomas Bernhard and, yes, Kafka. In short, he is one of the most interesting writers I’ve encountered in the past 30 years.
In Michael Cisco’s, the narrator Low is conscripted into an army to fight against the “blackbirds,” who possess lighter-than-air armor. But first, our hero must play a waiting game in a city of cannibal queens and uncanny dead things, with priests for both the living and the dead. The Edak, strange remnants of a mighty imperial power, must be avoided at all costs. Once his unit is mobilized, Low sets off on a journey that is by turns absurd, surreal, deadly, and one of the great feats of the imagination thus far in this century.
I’ve rarely come across so many instances where I was simultaneously in the moment of the novel but also recognizing that I was encountering images and situations unlike any I’d ever read before. Sleepwalkers that bruise the skin of reality, assailants who skim the surface of the water in armor that’s lighter than air, guns that are not guns, conjurings with unexpected consequences, a huge ship “like a black egg,” refugees from an insane asylum who assemble as soldiers.
There are many battle sequences in
, and they all translate as action without meaning, sometimes so chaotic that even individual action is hard to discern within the movements. As near as is possible in text, Cisco conveys the jerky, roving, incomprehensible experience of men on foot shooting at each other across broken, often hilly ground. The individual meaninglessness of it and the group rationalization of it. The result is to come close to conveying the derangement required to wage war.
“An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing.”
But the uncanny and the hook of a powerful theme are rarely enough to sustain any novel. The next element at which Cisco excels is in creating characters like Saskia, a woman “all in armor” who “has a short sword with a basket hilt on her right side and a flapped holster on her left hip.” If there’s a hero of
besides Low, it is this battle-tested woman who never falters in her bravery under fire. She’s a deliberate counterpoint to the senselessness of war—an entity with a tactical purpose who brings order by simple focus. Saskia is also perhaps the only character who remains consistent from beginning to end, and in a sense she gains her own agency as narrator because of it. (But she’s not alone: Makemin, Nardac, Punkinflake, Thrushchurl. You’ll remember all of them. By the end, the book will be buried in your skull.
What does Cisco layer on top of searing scenes of the uncanny and of war, in the context of unforgettable characters? AThe narrator of
may not be the narrator of the entire novel. Where does his narration really begin and end? What to make of the asides between chapters? Of meeting another narrator, who in a sense begins to narrate the tale in a different way? What of the accounts of others, which the narrator narrates by adding notes like “an unhurried, slow inhalation” and “Her voice dropped there.” And “She caressed the air by her knees with stiff old hands, seeming to coax the guillotine blade out of the sparkling air so that I for a moment saw it.”
Should we be worried? I think instead we should relax into reading a work of true originality, verve, and intellectual rigor.
An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing. They say you might change your mind about that when the country is invaded and your people are suffering wrong, but for me this is all just more horror, more army-horror.
It’s through rags of fast-moving smoke that I first catch sight of Tref. I’m standing in the pass, to one side of the pumice road, looking down from my perch on the massed roots of some dusty old cork oaks. The city below me is like a shining, smoking lake, thrusting its troubled glints into my eyes and making them smart. Overhead, the sun is lost in a white sky without circumference, above the flashing waters of the city.
One flash of the sun and I am down in its streets. Why is the station so far out of the city limits anyway? Most likely a collusion between the builders of stations and the builders of long roads. I walk into Tref unremarked as a ghost, and now this is me, here, in its bare broad avenues. The sky showers the street in volleys of sharp light. I take step after step, feeling the street and the city existing all around me, like figuring out all the parts of an unfamiliar flavor. My mind is too tired and weak from travel to do much of it. The city washes by me and its outlines dance and glitter as they will, playing their fairy games with me. I stumble along in a boulevard so wide the opposite side seems to sit on the horizon and the whole world bulging in between me and there. Out from my pocket I pull again to look at the implacable pink lot that tells me that I am