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The Cipher

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  945 ratings  ·  136 reviews
Nicholas is a would-be poet and video-store clerk with a weeping hole in his hand - weeping not blood, but a plasma of tears...

It began with Nakota and her crooked grin. She had to see the dark hole in the storage room down the hall. She had to make love to Nicholas beside it, and stare into its secretive, promising depths. Then Nakota began her experiments: First, she put
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Paperback, First Edition, 356 pages
Published January 5th 1991 by Dell
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The Shining by Stephen KingIt by Stephen King'Salem's Lot by Stephen KingDracula by Bram StokerPet Sematary by Stephen King
Best Horror Novels
208th out of 1,153 books — 3,652 voters
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe HillThe Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldDamnable by Hank SchwaebleSineater by Elizabeth MassieThe Rising by Brian Keene
Best First Novels - Bram Stoker Award Winners
8th out of 36 books — 25 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Missy
The Basics

Nicholas and Nakota have found a hole in the storage room of Nicholas’s apartment building. It’s far from normal, holds some mysterious power, and compels them to play with fire again and again. Unluckily for Nicholas, Nakota is just the sort of person that could become entirely obsessed with the “Funhole”, as they’ve dubbed it. And he’s just the sort of guy who could become a pawn in a very complicated and existential game.

My Thoughts

Horror is rarely poetry. A lot of authors who try t
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Charles Dee Mitchell
Just about everyone has known at least one guy who always hooked up with crazy girlfriends. In that same vein, who hasn't known girls whose boyfriends were invariably losers. Nicholas and Nakota, the central characters in The Cipher, are made for each other. Both are college-educated underachievers. Nicholas works in a video store and only writes poetry when he is drunk, which is often. Nakota, also known as Shrike and whose real name is something like Diane, is manipulative and just downright m ...more
Tressa
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andy Smith
I found this a little bit difficult to read, though I made fairly fast progress with it anyway. I think it's because the punctuation is a bit odd, almost like a stream of consciousness in places. I found the initial idea and characterisations great; grotesque, thoroughly unlikeable people yet complex and believable.

However, I felt the story never really went anywhere. By the end I was left disappointed and wanting so much more.
Will Errickson
Truly one of my favorite horror novels of all time. I was fortunate enough to buy it around the time it came out, when I was hungry for horror fiction far removed from the bestseller likes of King, Saul, Koontz, etc. And with THE CIPHER I got it! Koja's clipped, unpolished, impressionistic prose evokes avant-garde icons like William S. Burroughs or J.G. Ballard, and sets a jittery, jagged tone of bleakness and rot. I sort of identified with the insular characters and their existential plight (wh ...more
Holly Rusak
I mercilessly hunted down this book after io9.com mentioned it. I finally bought it from the author. All that effort propelled me to keep reading after I was turned off by the first few pages. Half-way through the first chapter, I couldn't put it down. I read a little more than half on the few hours before bed, and finished it up the same way the next night.

The tone was off putting at first, and I hardly consider myself a prude. I think I just had a hard time connecting with the narrator and hi
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Stacy Vinny cruden
2.5 stars for me. After having searched trying to get a copy of this book I was super excited to get it and start reading it.
Needless to stay the first part of the book was great, and I found myself quite involved with it not wanting to put it down.
In saying that I was finding myself skimming towards the middle and end as it seemed to just repeat and drone on about the same things with no real progression. The ending was fine for me, it did leave things unanswered, but to be honest with the way
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Leslee
This novel was written almost 20 years ago, at the height of the horror resurgence and was part of the 'Dell Abyss' line of books that was supposed to bring horror back to the mainstream - Stephen King even gave its praise for this line of books, and Kathe Koja won the Bram Stoker for best newcomer for this entry.

I have a love/hate relationship with splatterpunk. I do like gore, but I don't like gore and grossouts just for the sake of being 'subversive'. Take Edward Lee for instance. I can take
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Robert
An arty, punk rock, existentialist sort of horror tale, with a pretty good-sized cult following. It’s recently been republished in an e-book version, which is pretty impressive for a lowly paperback original from the early 90’s. Kathe Koja is a talented writer and The Cipher is a unique, impressive debut. Koja conjures up a believable milieu of under-achieving, alcohol-soaked thirty-something losers and deluded artists, with the “fun couple” protagonists, weak-willed Nicholas and his über-bitch ...more
Kimberly
First person POV has always been a tough sell for me. I have been pleasantly surprised numerous times; sadly, this was not one of them. I felt that the narration had a choppy feel to it. There were only two characters I liked, Nicholas and Randy, neither of whom I felt I really "knew" by the end of the story. The rest of the characters felt inconsequential. The story itself was somewhat intriguing, but I just didn't feel that it went as far as it could have. Overall, this one just wasn't for me.
Hannah
I'm not sure how to go about writing a review of this. I made it to 60% before my brain refused to go any further. It just wasn't worth it. The concept of this is so interesting and intriguing...and CREEPY, but the writing style, while, yes, is edgy and artsy, it also tends to be REALLY annoying. And while the plot, as I said, is creepily intriguing, it keeps you hanging on, and in the end, there is no reward. Well, maybe there is. I didn't make it far enough to find out. All I know is I couldn' ...more
Melissa Helwig
Nicholas and his lover, Nakota, discover a black-hole-like thing, which they name "The Funhole," in his apartment building's storage closet. They are so fascinated by it that they perform experiments to see what the Funhole will do. First they put a jar of insects next to it, then they dangle a mouse over it and they eventually lower a video camera down. The video makes Nakota obsessive and she almost dives into the Funhole, being saved by Nicholas who inadvertently plunges his hand into the hol ...more
Christopher Ruz
What is the funhole? A portal into another world, a fold in reality, or as Nicholas always puts it, a process? An equation of maths and biology and physics that takes whatever is inserted and gives a good, hard twist?

The Cipher is a horror novel, but also a novel of human frailty like Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, and also a mystery that reminded me strongly of Murakami's Dance Dance Dance. It's an unrelentingly bleak tale of what happens to two young semi-destitutes (Nicholas and Nakota) after
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Jared
That... I... she... is there... can I... what?

There are some horror novels that come at you with gushing innards and discarded limbs, swinging cleavers and pulling triggers and slashing with razor-sharp blades. These can be scary, but they can also fail miserably. There are other horror novels that wait for a while in the shadows, lurking like a mutant reptilian creature in the corners of your awareness, heightening your paranoia with bumps in the night and scratches against the floorboards. Th
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Thom
Between the stream-of-consciousness narration, the unlikeable characters and the inevitable ending that took forever to arrive, I just didn't like this book.

The plot is this: Nicholas, a video store clerk finds a mysterious hole in an abandoned storage room. He shows it to Nakota, who wants to explore it - lowering items into it, and eventually a camcorder. She becomes obsessed with the resulting video and he with the hole itself.

The unexplained provides the horror here, but not to society or e
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Lydia
If I could give this 0 stars, I would. I really didn't like this book. I got about halfway done, and realized that I really didn't care about the characters. My mind wandered a lot while I was reading it, and the way it was written was so difficult to understand. I think the author was trying to make it seem like you were actually in the mind of the main character, so he wrote in a stream of consciousness fashion. It was so irritating. It was like reading facebook status updates of some people. ...more
Adam


The Cipher has a unique premise, but Koja's approach to the story was stiflingly cerebral and failed to provide dramatic payoffs. The narrator is a cynical, neurotic former poet. Koja captures his voice, but he was not a character I cared to spend time with. Too often the narrative derails due to one of the narrator's many digressions, and while the story has a number of nightmarish surprises, I was skimming by the last chapter.
Juliette
How do you review a book that spins your mind around so fast that you aren't sure if you are reading a book or studying the contents of a blender?
The Cipher isn't my normal reading taste, but I will say that for some reason I was unusually drawn to this book and just like the "Funhole" it didn't let me go. I was captivated, not by the writing style (it took a bit to get used to as it was a extremely haphazard) but by the idea of such a thing as a "Funhole" actually existing.
I found the character
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Paige Ellen Stone
I picked this book up for one reason and one reason only: Caitlin R. Kiernan mentioned it in something she wrote. There is no question that Ms Koja now belongs in that subgenre of fantasy/horror which is owned by CRK, in my opinion, but also includes John Shirley, J.A. Konrath, Clive Barker and a few others, specifically, every literate, darkly funny, and yet still scary stuff. This was KK's first book and it shows. It is a bit wordy, but still readable. I could move faster, and given the length ...more
Teri
I love horror and I love psychological horror even more, and when the two collide, the results can be brilliant or they can be tedious and plodding. The Cipher is the latter.

I liked the dreamy, loose prose, and I liked the voice of the main character, but I didn't find a shred of decency in any of the characters, nor did I really give a damn what happened to any of them. By the end of the book, I wanted the "funhole" to swallow them all up, or better yet, just jump down there myself to get away
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Juushika
When Nicholas and Nakota discover an inexplicable, endless hole which they christen the Funhole, they're both drawn to it. Nakota experiments with the hole's otherworldy transformative properties, but it's Nicholas who finds himself transformed by the Funhole. The Cipher is, at its heart, a simple book—but it sells itself on boldness. The premise is straightforward, but so outlandish that it immediately intrigues; the plot is sparse, but its simplicity allows the book to focus on the bizarre Fun ...more
Debra
Stephen King endorsed the entire Dell Abyss Horror line. Here is his blurb:

"Thank you for introducing me to the remarkable line of novels currently being issued under Dell's Abyss imprint. I have given a great many blurbs over the last twelve years or so, but this one marks two firsts: first unsolicited blurb (I called you) and the first time I have blurbed a whole line of books. In terms of quality, production, and plain old story-telling reliability (that's the bottom line, isn't it), Dell's
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Adam
I heard good things as other reviews have mentioned. The book does a great job of detailing some pretty grotesque things. But in the end it just feels like it never truly went anywhere.

We are given the view of narrator Nicholas, but constantly reminded by Nakota that we don't understand everything going on. And by the end we still don't know for sure what she was talking about.

By the end I was mostly skimming for dialog and hoping that the typos meant there may have been a puzzle hidden within
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Itanah Asuncion
Kathe Koja's The Cipher is a novel not for the squares who can't stoop low enough to peek inside the rabbit's hole, let alone imagine the bizarre wonders it keeps below. And that's what the novel is about. The rabbit hole and how the lives of Nicholas and Nakota revolve around it. Except it's not called the "rabbit hole"; it's called the "fun hole".
Nicholas and Nakota's relationship is like the casual-mild-SnM kind. Nakota is the fierce one and mostly is the active one; while Nicholas is the pas
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Laura
To be honest, I don't know what to say about this beyond "it was weird". I'm not sure if I liked it or not -- I usually like having one character I'm fond of, or at least can be sympathetic toward, and I had a hard time finding such a character here. I appriciated the deep strangeness of it, however, and didn't know where it was going to end up, which is always good. If nothing else, this has made me curious to read Koja's other (and widely accepted as better) Strange Angels.
Simon


I heard many good things about this book and was enthusiastic to read the recipient of the Bram Stoker Award...how wrong I was! The premise is awesome and the 1st chapter sets the scene for a spooky story, but the as the book continued I found the characters less and less likable to the point where I was hoping they would all just get consumed by the hole. The typos in the ebook format didn't help either.
Downward
Kathe Koja's The Cipher is a Lovecraftian horror story: obsessed with the unknowable, but more specifically with what the unknowable can do to us, and with no interest in explanations. It also shares David Cronenberg's obsession with wounds and the bodily grotesqueries that sort of initiate the body into this world of unknowable horrors. This is a modestly scary book with terrific descriptive language that would be much better if it didn't establish the scary stuff in the very beginning and then ...more
Katie
Again I wish there were 1/2 stars. This is 3 1/2 for me. At first I hated everyone, then the story kicked in and was really interesting so my hate was less because I was distracted by cool things happening. You think it's about some dip- shit kids that stumbled on some crazy shit, but if you look I think there is way more in there.I look forward to some other abyss books.
David Schwan
This book reads like a poorly written William Burroughs story. All of the characters are narcissistic and not very interesting. This book seems like a story describing a bad couple of weeks of a bunch of junkies. I don't get why people think this is a good novel. It is a mediocre clone of some great books.
Steve Schlutow
I was disappointed with this book.. I heard it was a good spooky book, so I went out and found it.. It's not the easiest book to find, since it is no longer published.. I really had trouble following the characters and the story throughout the book.. I am just glad I am done..
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Horror Aficionados : April 2013 Group Read: The Cipher *SPOILERS* 114 121 May 14, 2013 04:02PM  
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Kathe Koja (born 1960) is an American writer. She was initially known for her intense speculative fiction for adults, but over the past few years has turned to writing young adult novels.

Koja is also a prolific author of short stories, including many in collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Most of her short fiction remains uncollected. Koja's novels and short stories frequently concern characters
...more
More about Kathe Koja...
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“Gone as usual in the morning, and me left behind and naked, inner thighs lightly scaled with the dried spoor of our lovemaking: she liked to stay on top afterward and let the juice run down, and I liked whatever she liked. Imagining in the shower that I could smell her still, the angular scent of those secret bones, had she always smelled so fierce and so good? Recalling those gone times, old memories lit by the fire of the new, I did not this time wonder how long it would last; I was too smart for that now. Take what you get, and don’t think. Of course it could never be that easy, but there were moments, like now, that I could successfully pretend that it was, and I had no inclination to try to peer past those moments. I’m not one who wants to know the future: at the best it spoils the present, with longing or dismay, and at the worst, well. Who really wants to find out how tight the sling is, for your own very personal ass, who wants to know how deep the shit will really be? Not you. Not me either. Because it’s rarely bliss saved up, is it, when you finally get there. I’ll take my now, waking with a lover’s scent on me, around me, take my hopes before they’re maybe tragedy; a good morning is still a good morning, even if it leads to apocalypse at night.” 3 likes
“The worst wounds are internal, I should have known that from my own experience, but I’m the type of guy who doesn’t learn.” 0 likes
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