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Cities of the Red Night (The Red Night Trilogy #1)

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  3,644 Ratings  ·  177 Reviews
While young men wage war against an evil empire of zealous mutants, the population of this modern inferno is afflicted with the epidemic of a radioactive virus. An opium-infused apocalyptic vision from the legendary author of Naked Lunch is the first of the trilogy with The Places of the Dead Roads and his final novel, The Western Plains.
Paperback, 332 pages
Published May 4th 2001 by Picador (first published 1981)
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Naked Lunch by William S. BurroughsCities of the Red Night by William S. BurroughsJunky by William S. BurroughsThe Soft Machine by William S. BurroughsQueer by William S. Burroughs
The Best of William S. Burroughs
2nd out of 21 books — 19 voters
1984 by George OrwellThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerAnimal Farm by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Cult Classics
151st out of 628 books — 874 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Arthur Graham
Nov 19, 2015 Arthur Graham rated it it was amazing
Cities of the Red Night follows a dual narrative, slipping fluidly between the early 18th century exploits of a libertarian pirate crew, led by gunsmith Noah Blake, and the late 20th century “private asshole” (Clem Snide) hired to find the decapitated remains of one Jerry Green -- victim apparent of a bizarre hanging/sex cult. It is worth noting that hanging and the spontaneous erections/ejaculations induced by this mode of execution factor heavily into both tales, at times serving as the litera ...more
Scott F
Oct 29, 2011 Scott F rated it it was amazing
An amazing roller-coaster ride through the unconscious. The main plot lines (a pirate story, a detective story, a sci fi/fantasy story) run parallel at first, but frustrate any hopes of proceeding in a straightforward fashion - they get more and more confused, hazy, and collapse into one another, until eventually you have no idea what you're reading. But this is misdirection, and here lies Burroughs' genius: even as you try to make sense of the inexplicable, he is painting in your peripheral vis ...more
antónio alves
Jul 22, 2016 antónio alves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cidades da Noite Vermelha é um romance que mistura, numa linguagem direta, visceral e crua, temas tão polémicos (e recorrentes no autor) como sexo, drogas, exploração sexual, violência...

Neste livro cruzam-se duas estórias: uma, passada no séc. XVIII, que narra a viagem de navio que leva os seus tripulantes a um novo mundo, regido pelos “Artigos” de James Mission (que antecederam em 100 anos os princípios da Revolução Francesa). A outra decorre no séc. XX, quando um detetive privado tenta descob
Nov 21, 2007 Mike rated it liked it
WSB doing bathhouse steampunk: a cut-up tale of boys, pirates and cowboys, queens, ejaculating weapons and wangs, private dicks and drugs all set in cities, deserts and jungles situated at various point in time and reality. There isn't much in the way of character development, most of the players are adolescent in form (as well as sexuality). Theatrical throughout to the point of sometimes becoming a gay burlesque within a gay burlesque. Regardless the chemical additives running in his veins, Mr ...more
Apr 27, 2014 Andy rated it really liked it
AIDS-era Burroughs tale of a killer virus, pirate shenanigans and boys doing what boys do best(guess). After re-reading it I kicked it up one star to four because it reminded me of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Dusan Makavejev movies from the early Seventies. If you liked Holy Mountain or Sweet Movie you'll like this. The plot is a dog's breakfast but I'd read it in small spurts, yes spurts - we need to use that word in a Burroughs review.
Mike Kleine
Jun 22, 2012 Mike Kleine rated it did not like it
There are times when you know something is probably good and you know others think its probably good and for some reason, you should probably read that something but no matter how many times you try, you just can’t ever get over the mind-fuck that ensues. And yes, there are good mind-fucks but sometimes, there are also bad mind-fucks. This one is a terrible mind-fuck.

The premise is awesome: lots of people are dying because of an epidemic/plague/what-have-you and some queer stuff takes place (it
Robert Kaiser
Oct 29, 2012 Robert Kaiser rated it it was amazing
I loved Cities of the Red Night, as well as the Red Night trilogy as a whole. I have been through the trilogy twice now, and plan on reading them all at least one more time. When discussing literature with friends, I always tell them I think Bill Burroughs should be ranked up there with the greatest of American writers and that, if it weren't for the level of homophobia in this country, he would be considered the American James Joyce. I was an honors student in a university English program, and ...more
Angus McKeogh
Extremely strange with loads of extraneous jabber tossed into the mix about naked boys, rectal mucus, and the like. The narrative wasn't terrible but it bounced around so much it was nearly impossible to follow. Some of Burroughs more autobiographical stuff is phenomenal (i.e. Junky & Queer). But this opener to a series is just to jumbled to be great.
Tempo de Ler
Cidades da Noite Vermelha terá necessariamente que ser um dos livros mais confusos, estranhos e repulsivos que eu já li… William S. Burroughs foi muito bem-sucedido nesse propósito. É também um livro que eu não gostei de ler

As narrativas, separadas pelo tempo, espaço e sabe-se lá mais o quê (!), tornam-se cada vez mais caóticas e bizarras até um final do qual é muito difícil tirar algum sentido. Contudo, não foi sua complexidade que me impediu de apreciar a obra.

Também não foi a sua violência v
John Molina
Feb 28, 2015 John Molina rated it it was ok
I never ever want to sound like an elitist. Literature has given me so much and to deprive one of the feeling they get from a good book is horrid to me. That said, I do respect good literature and William S. Burroughs "Cities of the Red Nights" does not fall into this category. It is a fun premise at first with pulp detective stories and tales that wouln't have felt out of place in a Pynchon book. However, the second half of the book is complete nonsense. I don't wan't to hear any post modern cr ...more
Perry Whitford
Jan 27, 2016 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Virus 23 is a virulent and fatal disease which causes sexual frenzies and violent death and is threatening to break out into a pandemic. The virus has been latent since pre-history, before the existence of white-skinned peoples, caused by a meteorite / black hole incident in the Gobi Desert, where peaceful townships suffered mutations when the radiation triggered the virus and turned paradise into The Cities of the Red Night.

Burroughs, in an uncharacteristically (mostly) coherent vein, adopts (m
Mar 08, 2013 Mat rated it really liked it
A Warning of the Faustian Decline to Come........and it has already started.

I'm not sure why but this was a really enjoyable book to read over the summer. (Read this during the summer of 2011)
Many criticisms have been levelled at this book. However, I feel the reviewer of December 2, 2005 on in particular has hit the nail on the head. It is not easy reading and is definitely not for the faint-hearted or prudish.

As the above reviewer points out, this trilogy is for thinking people an
East Bay J
May 12, 2008 East Bay J rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Having recently read The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats got me interested in checking out some Beat writing. It's been a long time since I read any Burroughs or Kerouac. The last thing was Burroughs' Exterminator!, which I really enjoyed, so I thought I'd have a go at Cities Of The Red Night. It's definitely getting into Burroughs with a bang. Non linear as they get, this story is impossible to explain. What would be the point? I'd say it's a metaphor for rulers and the ruled and the dream of o ...more
Michael William West
Hm. Not aged well, Burroughs. Or maybe I have, as I was mad about this aged 17 but now it seems tiresome. Taking the repetitive gay porn out of this would reduce its mass to a pamphlet. It would be an excellent pamphlet. The AIDS/Spanish Flu/Love as a virus conceit feels a bit of a vague platform. The cut-ups in CotRN seems more arbitrary than in earlier stuff, a shame because there's occasionally very interesting Burroughs-gents into astral projection, Shakespeare, ancient races and the state o ...more
Del Herman
Jul 14, 2014 Del Herman rated it really liked it
Anthony Burgess referred to this 1981 installment in the canon of Beat writer William Burroughs as "a piece of sexual strangulation" while J.G Ballard referred to the book as Burroughs creating a new "literary mythography". My position on the book seems to lean in a moderate position between the two critics, as I agree to a certain extent on both of their points. This is a mixed bag, I in some ways loved it and in some ways condemned it, my thoughts sometimes sympathizing with Mr. Ballard and at ...more
Burroughs can introduce himself:

"The usual costume is boots and chaps, bare ass and crotch. Some have tight-fitting chamois pants up to midthigh and shirts that come to the navel. Many are naked except for boots, gun belts, and hang-noose scarves. Nooses dangle every ten feet from a beam down the center of the room."

"Streaks of phosphorescent shit, a smell like rotten solder, burning shivering sick, he needs the Blue Stuff. Dry blue crystals of snow on the floor stir in an eddy of wind and a cry
James Newman
Mar 17, 2011 James Newman rated it it was amazing
"Cities" affords a logical conclusion to the various literary techniques and experiments employed by Burroughs over three prolific if somewhat confused decades of work. The straight forward narrative style of his debut novel "Junky" is thankfully reinvented peppered with a Chandler type detective story which sets the early theme of the book. This overlaps a pirate story based on the apparently factual adventures of Captain Mission and his colony of Libertatians. The book develops to suggest an a ...more
Feb 27, 2008 Bradley rated it it was ok
Shelves: from-library
Five stars for the first two hundred pages. After that, not so good.

I really loved this book in high school. Not anymore. I cannot handle non-linear books right now.

The first two hundred pages uses a dual narrative with the occasional chapter related to a virus. One story is about a pirate utopia while the other is about a private detective. I liked them both a lot. It was nice to read Burroughs using a hardboiled style with a detective.

After about two hundred pages, the stories collapse. Burro
Mar 15, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: magic-realism
Burroughs's best, with reservations. In the intriguing parts of this 'everything AND the kitchen sink thrown-in' book you get (amongst MANY varying plots and scenes) non-Disneyesque liberal-minded pirate culture, Clem Snide's 'private asshole' detection into wealthy men seeking immortality through sodomy-strangulation, and an episode of a possible black hole in China's distant past that breeds a modern 'radiation virus,' B-23. All of these are wild, but solid narratives that are ruined by Burrou ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Mabomanji rated it it was ok
I was fascinated at first but then he mixed too many timelines and characters without any purpose and relied on sex too much so i totally lost interest. A weird book like an experiment but maybe one needs to be under drugs to appreciate it as the writer wrote it.
Josiah Miller
Jul 03, 2015 Josiah Miller rated it it was amazing
Burroughs weaves a thrilling detective yarn in this novel and really gets down to the elements and structure of society.
RubySerendipity .
Sep 09, 2016 RubySerendipity . rated it really liked it
I came across Cities of the Red Night by searching for 'similar to Thomas Pynchon' and wasn't disappointed at all. There's the chaotic plot lines (if that's what you want to call it), the vivid imagery, a great style and lots and lots of sex.
Many people here have said it becomes increasingly confusing and incoherent up to a point where you're not even sure where you are anymore. Oh, we're in the cities? No, hold on, this is a hospital... oh no, it isn't... but maybe if there's a pandemic apocal
Jack Brånfelt
Aug 11, 2015 Jack Brånfelt rated it really liked it
Spasmic spurts of jizz under the fiery sky; burning orgasms exploding in flashes; never-ending smell of rectal mucus; animalistic sex, opium induced hallucinations and hashish. A nightmarish, perverted alternative dimension with sexual sacrificies, hangings, strangulations, beheadings and magic. Commodification and commersialism; sex and death. America.

A hallucinatory pastische of an adventure story, of a hardboiled detective story and of fantasy/science fiction, all at the same time with intert
Guy Salvidge
Nov 22, 2015 Guy Salvidge rated it liked it
I first read this at about age twenty, which is fourteen years ago, and I haven't re-read it or the rest of Burroughs' late trilogy since. I distinctly recall disliking Cities of the Red Night and much preferring The Place of Dead Roads, so we'll see if I can get around to re-reading that.

Cities is similar in structure and subject matter to all of Burroughs' work. It's a late rehash of Naked Lunch, but less memorable. The book has a highly elliptical structure but in the first 100 pages or so i
Ian Drew Forsyth
Starts out strong, slows down and starts to repeat itself about half way through, doesn't really end up anywhere as interesting as suggested by the opening. Characters fall off and new ones appear at random intervals. Certainly better and more coherent than naked lunch.

There is simply no room left for "freedom from tyranny of government" since city dwellers depend on it for food, power, water, transportation, protection, and welfare. Your right to live where you want, with companions of y
Sep 18, 2013 Josh rated it it was ok
Somehow both highly readable and largely incomprehensible. I got through half of it in a weekend, so it's no slog, but I still don't think I'm going to finish it. I'm already starting to feel like I've had enough of Burroughs' obsessions and, per numerous other reviews, I'm not even to the part where things get really weird.
Jun 30, 2013 Ken! rated it did not like it
Everyone's injecting and ejaculating and exploding. I like that there's a detective story, a pirate story and I think an end of the world story going on at the same time but none of them were interesting enough to stop me from putting this down halfway through.
Brian Fagan
Feb 08, 2010 Brian Fagan rated it it was amazing
This is the only book I've read of Burroughs after Naked Lunch that really stood up to the author's immense powers. It's just as crazy only with a slightly more coherant storyline, but only slightly.

Great book with lots of homo-auto-erotic-axphysiation.
Kirk Johnson
Jul 18, 2015 Kirk Johnson rated it liked it
Burroughs ventures into new territory here, but the first comes off ham-handed and clumsy - or maybe he's just imitating the pulp novel writing styles to a degree i couldn't appreciate. Credit for a fascinating structure and some passages that belong in a better novel, but discredit for continuing to harp on some themes that i'm well tired of by this point. largest case in point: i was tired of hangings and ejaculations halfway through Naked Lunch; over twenty years later, not only has he not st ...more
Am I too old for William S. Burroughs? I read Naked Lunch when I was 17, and it was such a breath of fresh air. Obviously, Burroughs wasn't too old for Burroughs, and he was much older than me when he wrote Cities of the Red Night. This is the fourth book of his I've read, and it's easily the least impressive. And I'm not sure, but I think I probably would have liked it a lot more as an impressionable teenager. Some good bits here and there, some rather fun futurism and surrealism, but at the en ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Cities of the Red Night by William S Burroughs 1 5 Dec 24, 2015 03:59AM  
Burroughs and his novels 7 37 Nov 13, 2013 08:23AM  
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William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century ...more
More about William S. Burroughs...

Other Books in the Series

The Red Night Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Place of Dead Roads
  • The Western Lands

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“This book is dedicated to the Ancient Ones, to the Lord of Abominations, Humwawa, whose face is a mass of entrails, whose breath is the stench of dung and the perfume of death, Dark Angel of all that is excreted and sours, Lord of Decay, Lord of the Future, who rides on a whispering south wind, to Pazuzu, Lord of Fevers and Plagues, Dark Angel of the Four Winds with rotting genitals from which he howls through sharpened teeth over stricken cities, to Kutulu, the Sleeping Serpent who cannot be summoned, to the Akhkharu, who such the blood of men since they desire to become men, to the Lalussu, who haunt the places of men, to Gelal and Lilit, who invade the beds of men and whose children are born in secret places, to Addu, raiser of storms who can fill the night sky with brightness, to Malah, Lord of Courage and Bravery, to Zahgurim, whose number is twenty-three and who kills in an unnatural fashion, to Zahrim, a warrior among warriors, to Itzamna, Spirit of Early Mists and Showers, to Ix Chel, the Spider-Web-that-Catches-the-Dew-of-Morning, to Zuhuy Kak, Virgin Fire, to Ah Dziz, the Master of Cold, to Kak U Pacat, who works in fire, to Ix Tab, Goddess of Ropes and Snares, patroness of those who hang themselves, to Schmuun, the Silent One, twin brother of Ix Tab, to Xolotl the Unformed, Lord of Rebirth, to Aguchi, Master of Ejaculations, to Osiris and Amen in phallic form, to Hex Chun Chan, the Dangerous One, to Ah Pook, the Destroyer, to the Great Old One and the Star Beast, to Pan, God of Panic, to the nameless gods of dispersal and emptiness, to Hassan i Sabbah, Master of Assassins.

To all the scribes and artists and practitioners of magic through whom these spirits have been manifested….
“Who was I? The stranger was footsteps in the snow a long time ago.” 2 likes
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