Kathe Koja’s 1991 novel The Cipher is considered a classic of contemporary horror fiction. An unusual blend of body horror and cosmic horror, the story examines how a mysterious, physics-morphing hole found in an apartment building – called the Funhole by many of the characters in the novel – alters the lives of everyone that comes into contact with it, and especially the life of the narrator, Nicholas. Filled with sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque physical transformations, and laced through with meditations about nothingness and the unknown, The Cipher is an intense exploration of the outer edges of human experience. A new print edition is forthcoming this September from Meerkat Press. I recently interviewed Koja through email about the novel.
Kathe Koja has been writing in multiple genres since the publication of her first novel, The Cipher, in 1991, but a consistent thread within her work – whether it’s in a dark fantasy vein, veering towards gothic historical fiction, or exploring the more surreal edges of horror – is its focus on characters who are fragmented, driven, and obsessive. In contrast to horror and weird fiction that involves fairly normal individuals being confronted with forms of the unknown, Koja’s characters frequently seem to harbour something strange and unsettling within themselves. The weird, in many of Koja’s tales, works from the inside out, not just the outside in. And her new book, Velocities: Stories (Meerkat Press), continues this theme.