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The Cipher

Narrated by: Joshua Saxon
Length: 8 hrs and 52 mins
5 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Summary

Kathe Koja's classic, award-winning horror novel is finally available as an audiobook.

Nicholas, a would-be poet, and Nakota, his feral lover, discover a strange hole in the storage room floor down the hall - "Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive." It begins with curiosity, a joke - the Funhole down the hall. But then the experiments begin. "Wouldn't it be wild to go down there?" says Nakota. Nicholas says "We're not." But they're not in control, not from the first moment, as those experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.

THE CIPHER was the winner of the 1991 Bram Stoker Award, and was recently named one of io9.com's Top 10 Debut Science Fiction Novels That Took the World by Storm. Long out-of-print and much sought-after, it is finally available as an audiobook, with a new foreword by the author.

©2012 Kathe Koja (P)2020 David N. Wilson

Critic reviews

"An ethereal rollercoaster ride from start to finish." (The Detroit Free Press)  

"Combines intensely poetic language and lavish grotesqueries." (BoingBoing)

"This powerful first novel is as thought-provoking as it is horrifying." (Publishers Weekly)

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Disturbing

This was pretty bleak and depressing. It was a fascinating premise but I'd have preferred to learn more about the funhole and cut out a lot of the daily drudgery. I had to stop listening for a while and jump to something more lighthearted as it was getting me down. I suppose that's a sign that it was very effective!

The narrator, Joshua Saxon, is just brilliant as ever. I pick books to listen to simply because he narrated them and I'm never disappointed in that respect.

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"Love Is A Hole In The Heart"

Nicholas is a directionless twenty-something video store (LOL the 90s) worker living a quasi-hermit life of drinking, smoking and, in the company (and at the instagation) of his on-again off-again never-again always-again lover Nakota, performing weird experiments with the portal to hell in his basement. It is a completely impossible black hole in the floor, which seems to have no end, and which exerts a terrible fascination over anyone who sees it. Nakota's obsession grows as she begins to experiment with introducing live insects, a mouse and a shadily-sourced human hand to the Funhole, as she dubs it, and begins to discern messages and meanings in the unpleasant results. She persuades Nicholas to 'borrow' a camcorder (LOL the 90s again) from his work in an attempt to discover more about whatever lies below, and everything, of course, goes to hell.

This flippant plot summary illustrates how amazing Kathe Koja's work here is. This is a book which by rights should be a splattery romp with monsters, body horror and copious amounts of blood - and on one level, it is, with no judgement if that's what you want from your horror fiction! Koja, however, treats this goofy premise with absolute seriousness, and meticulously illustrates the effect that a fundamentally inexplicable event can have upon people, and most importantly on the relationships between those people. The heart (a word with a great deal of thematic weight here) of this book is love, communication, interaction - and how the absence of these destroys people. I will not go into any details which could spoil plot elements, but Koja sharply sketches and catalogues a series of profoundly dysfunctional relationships that run the gamut from distant and uncaring to manipulative and abusive, and how all of them are made worse by the Funhole. Cruelties are magnified, obsessions are sharpened, betrayals are encouraged.

Nakota is the centre of this, and at the centre of the entire book. She is an extraordinary character, one of the best I can remember in any horror book, and worth the price of admission alone. She has true interiority - her own motivations, unique reactions, her own agency - and all of this is achieved at a remove, with Nicholas being the narrator, and thus attempting to filter our perception of Nakota through his eyes and experiences. She is not having that! Nakota grabs hold of the narrative at various unpredictable points, and relinquishes it equally unpredictably, leaving Nicholas (and us) in a perpetual state of bamboozlement over her motivations. She is brilliant, and in many ways the most profound monster in the entire book.

Koja's prose is hypnotic, with sentences running on and joining into each other, eliding perceptions and events into complex shapes. Joshua Dixon deals with this skillfully, acting as a guide into the madness, but maybe leans slightly too far into Jonathan's passivity as a narrator.

This is a true horror classic that's great to have on audiobook. Highly recommended.


I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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A Blast From The Past

I first became aware of Kathe Koja in the summers months of 1991. I was reading an article, I think it may have been in an issue of Fangoria, about a new wave of horror authors and in it I discovered the names Poppy Z. Brite and Kathe Koja; names that stayed in my head and followed me around until I went on my weekly excursion through the book shops of my home-town

I found nothing from Poppy Brite, which wasn't surprising as she wouldn't have a book out for another year even though Lost Souls had already been touted as a big thing by reviewers; but I did find something from Kathe Koja.

The Cipher had a weird step-back cover, a hand cut-out, a face or something like it and an inner cover that spoke of exceptionally dark things. I was twenty years old and fresh from the books of Clive Barker, who had successfully redefined horror a few years before, and I was looking for something new; and with the story of Nicholas and Nakota, with the story of the hole and the madness that came with it, I got my wish.

The Cipher is a cipher, both as a book and as a phenomena within the book. There are no explanations, no ready ones at least, but there are many interpretations and each of these interpretations may in itself be a cipher.

The book is not for the faint of heart, neither creative weaklings or the easily repulsed should apply, but if you are in the necessary place in life,you are not easily repelled and have the creative fortitude to travel a route that offers little explanation, then The Cipher is certainly a route to take.

Originally I read the book in one feverish sitting, not noticing the sun had set and I had obtained my night-eyes until the orange street-lamps outside turned the page to a watered down blood red. I turned on a light then and kept reading; and it was dawn before I finally completed it; though I'm not sure I ever really closed the book.

Some books stay with you, they infect you like a virus.

So some years later, almost thirty (unbelievably) I saw an audiobook version pop up on Audiobook Boom that seemed to have my name on it. I mean, a free audiobook for nothing more than an honest review I'd write anyway?

If you hadn't realised already The Cipher is a book I hold in very high regard. Its one of those books that I hear people talking movie rights to and I shudder, as a part of me shuddered when I thought of an audiobook; that was until I saw who had done it.

Seriously if I ever get my novel finished (are we all writing novels?) than I'm going to get Joshua Saxon to do it for me. Anyone who can capture the obscene poetry of Kathe Koja and in the process transform an audiobook into something closer to a nine-hour one-man audio play can handle anything I could throw at him.

If you got this far in my little review then you probably should get this audiobook,just be warned its not an easy experience and you won't have an awful lot of fun with it; but it is captivating, compelling and more than a little rewarding.

As long as you don't expect to fully understanding any of it that is.

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  • Rachael
  • 21-04-20

An Interesting Book of Weird...

I often find it amazing people can listen to the same book and come out with completely different interpretations, that said I'm not a big literary scholar, cannot speak intelligently about the differing aspects of a book like I have read so many times here and on goodreads (sometimes I read reviews and wonder if I am either incredibly dumb or not reading the same thing as some people). I can say, however, I own thousands of audiobooks and all purely for the entertainment of it! I rarely rarely write reviews, but feel compelled to here.

To me this book was a ride, immediately interesting, not requiring too much background or build up, I love the verse, how it has a slightly poetic tilt to it that reminds me a bit of the way Poppy Z Brite writes. Horror I think is a hard genre because we all fear different things, but I truly enjoyed this book. Sometimes I struggle with how many books I buy (addiction perhaps) and will get bored with one book and hop to another, rarely will I listen to a book from start to finish but I did with this one. There was something identifiable with the main character and his problems, of being swept away by life. I could feel his bewilderment of the situation, his being pressured by others - giving in, and hating yourself for it is something we all experience.

The book may not be especially profound and "funhole" a bit childish, but the book is interesting! If you want a few entertaining hours to get lost in someone elses troubles for a change I'd suggest you give this one a try!

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  • Char's Horror Corner
  • 05-05-20

I Am A Convert to the Church of Koja!

THE CIPHER! I don't even know what to say.

I've only recently joined the church of Koja. It may not be as big as some, Stephen King's say, but there are joys to be found in smaller congregations.

This is the story of Nakota and Nicholas who one day found a black hole, named it the funhole, and changed their lives forever. They stuck different things into the hole, (getting uncomfortable yet?), including bugs, a mouse, and then a hand. What happened to these items when they were thrust inside? You'll have to read this to find out!

I absolutely adore Ms. Koja's prose, and Joshua Saxon the narrator brought it home with flare. This must not have been an easy performance due to the style of the aforementioned prose-especially in the second half of the book because it's a stream-of-consciousness narrative. His voicing was phenomenal.

I'm a bit irritated with myself because the few clips I made of the audio that highlighted the prose apparently did not save. There were short, staccato-like descriptions that...stabbed at my heart. Beautiful, honest and evocative words that my brain immediately transferred to a visual-like a direct injection. For instance "...the flat was full of drizzly day." 7 words that draw a perfect scene. Brief, staccato, BAM: there's the picture-full and complete.

I could go on and on about this prose but I'll leave it at what I've written. Kathe Koja's writing probably isn't for everyone; the reviews seem pretty split on Goodreads. For me, however, I feel like I have been missing out out an author that is perfect for my dark and black heart. I'm on a mission to read everything she's written. I'm a Koja missionary, baby!

My highest recommendation!

*I received the audio-book from Audiobook Boom! and the narrator, in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

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  • Kayla Krantz
  • 10-05-20

Very Unique

Nicholas and Nakota have a pretty normal life until they discover a black hole in their home. They ironically name it the fun hole and from there, they start to experiment. Various items go into it, and with it, their obsession starts to grow. What happens to the items that they put in and what would happen to a person?

So when I first started listening to this audiobook, I wasn’t sure what to think. The prose is written differently from a lot of books I’ve read. It’s almost poetic, and at times, I had to pause it to really stop and think about what it was that the author was trying to say. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that with a horror story before, but that made it all the more interesting.

There was plenty of suspense and intrigue in this story. The more Nicholas and Nakota messed around with the black hole, the more I was curious to see what else they would do. Of course, as the items got bigger and bigger, so did my questions.

Narration really brought the characters and story to life.

Interesting unique piece of fiction here. Not for everybody, but I recommend it for people looking for something that’s outside of the box.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.

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  • lmauer2
  • 25-04-20

Terrific, weird, wild

This is a book of extreme body horror done in a first person narrative. It’s much different than most books I have read and I found it fascinating. The narrator and his sometimes girlfriend find what they call a fun hole. It is more like a portal or a black hole. I feel like it may be a metaphor for addiction, but anyways, there is nothing but evil and destruction on the other side. This has a very poetic feeling throughout and many may find the writing over done, over wrought, or maybe even too descriptive.
The narration was superb, Joshua Saxon’s voice once again amazes.
I would rate this as one of the weirdest books I have read in terms of the feelings it brought out in me. With the descriptions being so on point I couldnt help but visualize the story as it unfolded which is quite different from many books where I have to work at visualization.
I received this audiobook free in return for an honest review.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael McCLain
  • 19-04-20

They find a "funhole" but it leads to....boredom

The narration is superb, it's in the words that you find yourself lost. While the story seems interesting, it turns into a stream of never ending words that falls through the hole in the floor that it initially invites you to travel down. I am a fan of the narrator -- so for Joshua, I give 5 stars, for the author, I want to send them down the black hole of authors that have over-thought a decent idea. Like King making a 150 word idea into a 7000 page book! I got through it because I could listen to Joshua's tone and vocal prowess all day long, but at the end of 8 hours...I have no idea why this was 8 hours long, why the same scenarios were regurgitated with new words and no drive towards the actual story. I can say I've heard it....I can't imagine how long reading would have taken me...because, had it not been for Joshua, I would have stopped at chapter three and never picked up the book again.

1 person found this helpful