The Cities of the Red Night is the first book in a trilogy by William S. Burroughs. Originally, I was going to do one review for the whole trilogy but that idea quickly fell aside as the vortex of Burroughs’ creation sucked me in.
1. The book opens with a kick ass invocation.
2. Was written in ‘81 and has remarkably frank descriptions of homosexual sex and recreational (one might even say ‘ecstatic’) drug use given the political climate at the time.
3. The ingestion of opium pills is almost always mentioned in a favorable light. Those who benefit from its effects have about them a ‘reptilian grace’ and are depicted as being both ‘poised’ and ‘detached’.
4. I wonder if a publisher would have even touched this book had it been written by someone other than Burroughs. Its plot is outlandish and absurd and it frequently mentions the occult and cumshots in one breath. In the hands of someone else it would have been laughable.
5. The book is a mélange of genres from sci-fi, to private eye detective fiction, to adolescent adventure stories, to techno thriller and he does an admirable job of balancing them all.
6. There is at least one Egyptian sexual rite involving: the cardinal points, the Egyptian goddess of those who hang themselves, and, lube.
7. While it’s clear that Burroughs has a deep interest in the bygone civilizations of Egypt and South America, and is seemingly preoccupied with the aforementioned brown skin boys as sex objects, there are troublesome passages in which he seems to fall into the ‘noble savage’ trap.
8. There is hypnosis, astral projection, reincarnation and a sexual frenzy/rank odor inducing infectious disease known as Virus B-23.
9. If the male orgasm, ejaculations or cum in general make you uncomfortable this book is not for you.
10. There is a transvestite assassin known, alternatively, as: the Popper, the Blue Octopus and the Siren Cloak.
It doesn’t get any cooler than that.
11. Lots of North African and South American boys aboard pirate ships playing grabass.
12. ‘Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.’ The last words of Hassan i Sabbath, Old Man of the Mountain. (pg.158)
12.5 Pick up a copy of the hardcover for the sake of the Bruegel dust jacket.
Judson Hamilton lives in Wrocław, Poland. Twitter: @judson_hamilton