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Publisher's 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)

What listeners say about The Cipher

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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!

15 people found this helpful

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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!*

8 people found this helpful

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Good Narration, Annoying Main Characters

The idea itself is intriguing. But it was ultimately unsatisfying because of how unbearable the protagonist and his POS "lover" were. The whole time I just wanted someone to slap one and punch the other. A story can really be ruined by unlikeable characters.

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Strange

I did not enjoy this very much although it was well written. I was never scared at any time but annoyed with how horrible the people in this book are. The narrator did an amazing job though.

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  • D.
  • 05-08-21

My only wish

This story was incredible. It's very difficult to capture what horror feels like. Perhaps you can make someone feel dread but revulsion and horror are a trickier thing, because usually writers just stick to gruesome and leave it there. This book was horrible in the best possible way. Once they started messing with the fun hole, I felt actual war. As he described what was happening to him and the slow changes he was going through, I felt revulsion and could distinctly imagine how things looked and smelled. The author also did a really interesting job of writing the way people think. We don't think in sentences. We don't think in complete thoughts. Rather we think in scattered images and concepts, which is how the writing and the narration felt. All of that said, my only wish was for a real ending. Certainly there was some climactic and inevitable closure for Nakota, but you had to make up the "ending" for Nicolas. It doesn't seen it would take many more chapters to see how things end for him, so I suppose Koja had her reasons for leaving us to choose our own conclusion.

2 people found this helpful

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The Cipher

Let me start by saying that I love how Koja writes. I think it is poetic and raw and leaves little to the imagination somehow all at the same time. Joshua Saxon has always performed stories to perfection and this was no exception. What I loved about the book could not get me through the content of the story in this particular case. The idea of the story and the creepy way the mystery drew everyone in was great. I didn't like any of the characters which may have been by design. I have never enjoyed horror and sex mixed and this had it in spades. I didn't enjoy getting bombarded by the content... maybe it hit me wrong, maybe I was not in the right mindset to tackle this one... not sure. I really liked Skin and I am still going to search out new Koja reads. This one just didn't do it for me.

This audiobook was given to me at my request for my free and unbiased review.

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a classic

this book was weird, very very very weird, but excellent. another great novel from one of the most creative authors out there.

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Poetic verse and unique ideas, but far too long

I had mixed feelings about this book. The voice of the book's main character, Nicholas, is so well-developed that it's easy to immerse yourself in its story as the bizarre events unfold. The prose is poetic and beautifully written, but the same themes are constantly revisited.

I chose this audiobook to enjoy a well-reviewed horror novel. What might be "scary" to the reader is very subjective, but who would not be unnerved by a mysterious black hole whose functions and phenomena are unknown to its observers? Because the concept is so new and unique, the book manages to avoid many tiresome horror tropes. That said, it falls into some tropes of its own creation.

It is established early in the book that Nicholas is a jaded poet who hates nearly everything and everyone around him in his depressing life. Developments and discoveries about the mysterious "funhole" that appears beneath his flat drive the story forward, but these developments are too few and far between. Between these discoveries about the funhole are pessimistic musings about the character's own crappy life and job, his volatile relationship with his lover Nakota, and his constant cycle of boozing and being hungover. The descriptions of these events are incredibly well-written, but you can only write about these same concepts so many times before they become redundant.

I would recommend this book to people who feel that their lives are going so splendidly that they need to read something oppressively dispiriting to counterbalance their good mood. If you're not that person, this book has some kernels of weird horror and poetry, but you're going to have to wade through 8 hours of the character's griping and self loathing to get to them.

2 people found this helpful

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On the seat on the edge of your seat!

I truly enjoyed where this book went and how evil and twisted it portrayed humans and everything they are capable of doing to achieve some sort of delusions of grandeur; to live as a superior being.

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  • jc
  • 04-21-22

Twisted fun

Mesmerizing, dark, and beautifully narrated. The writing is gorgeous, the voice crystal clear, lovely style, immersive storytelling. Chilling, compelling, up-market horror. Loved every second!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Alan Preece
  • 04-25-20

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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  • A. B. Frank
  • 10-04-21

Exceptional

The narrator give an incredible performance and captures the bleak descent the character goes through perfectly.

The story itself is magnificent, weird, cruel and gripping. The author captures and blends the themes of struggling artists, dead end jobs and abusive relationships so skilfully.

I'll probably read this every year!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-04-21

Drawn Out

No complaints about the delivery at all. The premise caught my attention and I was excited by the pace of the start of the story - but the bloating and growth of the cast during the middle act became a chore to read. The concepts didn’t grow to match this. The slow descent into insanity or worse for our Nicolas was certainly interesting and the prose was imaginative and brilliant but I can’t help but wish the story was a novella instead. No real discernible satisfaction is earned by continuing through the slog of the second half of this story. The best parts come from the mystery and thrill of the initial discoveries. After that it is really just as pretentious as the artists who flood the pages within.

Great concept - disappointing execution. Literally.

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  • MR J LAMBERT
  • 11-01-20

Bleak & Disturbing Early '90s Horror Masterpiece

Equal parts body horror and nihilistic drama, Kathe Koja's superbly written The Cipher is a bleak and disturbing story about two people that find a strange black hole in their apartment building. Soon after they start experimenting with the 'funhole' and things start to get seriously out of hand. The prose is hard, edgy and reminiscent of generation X writers like Bret Easton Ellis. Kathe Koja is a fantastic writer and she's in complete command of the material.
Joshua Saxon's performance is truly magnificent. He delivers the perfect tone for this type of story. You believe every line he reads. It's yet another pitch perfect narration from my favourite audiobook narrator.
It might not be for everyone, but it's well worth a listen if you want something extremely dark to try.
A modern classic.

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  • Ste
  • 09-10-20

not a bad story

narration was amazing shame the story wasnt as much. worthy of a listen but id stick to clive barker.

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  • A K SEAM
  • 07-20-20

A love story with a gaping hole in the middle.

Totally worthy of its cult following. Experience and perhaps discover what's down your fun hole? Weird and inventive body horror with a very messy love story at its centre. Here performed very well by Joshua Saxon.

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  • Suzi Baker
  • 06-29-20

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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  • Andrew C.
  • 04-27-20

"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.