Friday, July 04, 2003


Michael Cisco is a criminally underrated author, in part because his work is sometimes difficult (in the best sense of the word), sometimes morally ambiguous, and because he's an original. It hasn't helped that many of his manuscripts have been tied up at various publishing houses for literally years and years--or that Mythos Books has been lethargically slow in putting out a Cisco short story collection that when it now appears will be hopelessly out-of-date, no longer reflective of the writer's progress.

Luckily, however, Michael's original triumph, The Divinity Student (winner of an International Horror Guild Award), will be released by my Ministry of Whimsy Press along with its sequel, The Golem, under the title The San Veneficio Canon. The San Veneficio Canon will be published in February 2004. In the meantime, Michael's novel The Tyrant will be published by Prime Books in November 2003. In that book, Michael has the audacity to depict the invasion of Heaven by the minions of Hell--and then the invasion of Hell by the minions of Heaven. Basically, Michael is fearless.

In late 2004, or early 2005, the Ministry will publish Michael's novel The Traitor. I just finished reading the manuscript, and all I can say is that he's somehow managed to create a unique existential horror story, complete with beautiful, blood-curdling scenes--it's an amazing mix of Gene Wolfe, William Burroughs, and Samuel Beckett, with a touch of Thomas Ligotti. I'm excited about all of Michael's work, but I'm very excited about this novel--I think it's a true classic in the making.

I'll leave you with an excerpt. The Traitor is set in an imaginary land in which spirit eaters exist to literally absorb and thus get rid of spirits that would otherwise harass the living. The spirit eaters must then discharge the "ectoplasmic" energy they "eat" by letting it flow into other people, usually in a way beneficial to those who receive it (healed wounds, etc.) The Traitor describes the life of the spirit-eater first person narrator and his interactions with a spirit eater called White. White is a renegade. He does not discharge the energy from eating spirits. Instead, he keeps it for himself--it makes him incredibly powerful, but it also burns him up from the inside. Among the many stunning scenes in the book is the one where the narrator, part of a group charged with bringing White to justice, begins to catch up with White:

Whenever I picture White to myself, I picture him running in the cold humid air between the trees. We caught sight of him time and again, always in front of us, sometimes off to one side and then almost immediately he would be off to the other side. I could make him out only as an obscure patch moving in and out of view in the distance. There was no place he did not seem to be. He appeared and disappeared. I saw him only intermittently, but despite this, I could see very clearly that he was somehow on fire. He was enveloped in fire. A transparent flame played about his body from head to foot, and his body seemed to emit, even in complete silence, as I discovered later, a thunderous, inaudible roar that made the air shudder rigidly as he passed through it. At one point, he appeared close by. He jumped from a bluff overhanging a dry riverbed, and landed on his feet with a deafening report, and the sand around his feet flew back in a circle. White merely straightened himself and vanished into the trees again. The men pursued him, and I followed. They were frightened, and eager, and carried rifles which they held low to the ground, hovering just above the ground. We were all going faster every moment. At this point we had fanned out in a long line several riders deep. The dogs, and the birds in the trees, together with the hooves of the horses and the random shot, were all I could hear - except that at times I would hear White scream from far ahead, this from the great effort he was making. White's screams were brittle and metallic, and they hung motionless in the air, they hung motionless in the air like hanged men. I was terrified, but unable to control my horse, and it followed the others. We were so deep in the woods that on all sides there were nothing but trees, very old, very black, and their boughs closed out the sun, whose light was greyed, flattened and diffused by the clouds. White was all around us, he seemed to flash in and out among the horses, and I saw his pale ghostly face, glaring, furious, flashing past ahead of me in the shadows of the trees. Wind flooded over me and I saw it brought with it the flavor of something invisible that was coming, and then I heard men and horses screaming ahead of me, and dogs howling, my horse jerked back as if he'd been shot and I was nearly knocked from my saddle, leaving me hanging from its side, and I jumped down. My horse staggered back past me.


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