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Cities of the Red Night

(The Red Night Trilogy #1)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  4,254 ratings  ·  230 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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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,254 ratings  ·  230 reviews

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Arthur Graham
Mar 09, 2012 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 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
Feb 28, 2009 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.
Nov 21, 2007 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
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's more autobiographical stuff is phenomenal (i.e. Junky & Queer). But this opener to a series is just too jumbled to be great.
Robert Kaiser
Oct 29, 2012 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
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Superb. I have long been a devotee of the prose of William Burroughs. This is perhaps his best novel and also one of his most accessible works. There are passages near the end that are more reminiscent of The Soft Machine in which the gestures of language and the images they contain or express have been fractured and reassembled in odd and confusing ways. But those passages are incidental to the main thrust of the text and are wholly framed by it, and the main text is mostly clear, extremely wel ...more
Apr 09, 2012 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
Perry Whitford
Jan 23, 2013 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
Mike Kleine
Jun 22, 2012 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
Lauren Hansen
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
well that was disturbingly dark
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
So this is a book about jizz I guess? Starts with some really cool settings and interesting ideas but then just sorta devolves into erotic gibberish for the last 200 pages.
May 10, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The only reason I read this book is because I consider it a character flaw to start reading a book and not to finish.

I became familiar with Burroughs in freshman year of college when one of my classmates recited from Naked Lunch in a voice and articulation class. The bizarre imagery astonished us all-probably because we were college freshmen. I vowed to read Naked Lunch one day. (Of course there was Steely Dan naming themselves after an object in that book which kept the flame alive for 36 years
East Bay J
Apr 16, 2008 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
Feb 17, 2008 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
James Newman
Mar 17, 2011 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
John Molina
Feb 18, 2015 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
Mar 15, 2011 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
Nov 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sep 14, 2013 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.
Brian Fagan
Feb 08, 2010 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.
Dec 13, 2015 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
Jun 27, 2015 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.
Patrick O'Neil
Feb 08, 2009 rated it liked it
A bleak future, fascist government, servant boys, and balls of opium - It's Burroughs, need I say anything more?
John Hatley
This is arguably one of the most bizarre, unusual, horrifying, craziest books I have ever read. It is a very entertaining read. It shares these characteristics with The Place of Dead Roads which I read almost two years ago and I am almost certain that the final book in the Red Night Trilogy, The Western Lands, will be just as bizarre, unusual, horrifying and crazy.
Massimo  Gioffre
It's Burroughs. No one could really say he likes Burroughs. It would be like saying you like to be kicked in the balls or spit in the face. His writing is supposed to shock not to please. Yet, ejaculation, hard ons and drugs were very shocking at those times and in some ways they still are. Altough such arguments are very trasgressive they tend to be rather boring in the long run.
Del Herman
Feb 26, 2014 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
Harry Casey-Woodward
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
You know, I'm starting to think that after writing 'junky' and 'naked lunch', Mr. Burroughs just re-wrote 'naked lunch' in various guises because once you've read that one you've kind of read all the others. They're all violent, hallucinatory, non-linear, apocalyptic trips into Mr. Burroughs own messed up, drug and sex mad mind. Whether they were all exorcisms for some kind of disgust Mr. Burroughs had with the world, I don't know. But that doesn't mean 'cities of the red night' isn't worth read ...more
Feb 05, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: could-not-finish
“To all the scribes and artists and practitioners of magic through whom these spirits have been manifested….

I’ve enjoyed Burroughs ‘s Junky, but this book was too bizarre for me. Even if we assume that there was any plot at all, I couldn’t follow it if I tried. The nonsensical dreamy sequence about naked men, sex and drugs eventually overwhelmed me and I had to put it down; that happened months ago and I’ve never picked it up again. So, I’m officially d
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2015 Reading Chal...: Cities of the Red Night by William S Burroughs 1 10 Dec 24, 2015 03:59AM  
Burroughs and his novels 7 42 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

Other books in the series

The Red Night Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Place of Dead Roads
  • The Western Lands
“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.” 4 likes
More quotes…