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Animal Money

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A living form of money results in the unraveling of the world.

"The bank is there to save and lend."

"Workers work and customers spend."

780 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2015

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About the author

Michael Cisco

82 books363 followers
Michael Cisco is an American weird fiction writer, Deleuzian academic and a teacher, currently living in New York City. He is best known for his first novel, The Divinity Student, winner of the International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel of 1999.

He is interested in confusion.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Ronald Morton.
408 reviews159 followers
September 22, 2016
We discuss each paper, even the latter. In the criss--cross of our conversation the idea of animal money appears. None of us can account for it, none of us can take credit for it.

The idea silences us for a while, as we try to grasp it, each within ourselves. It really is only a chance coupling of two words, but they seem to call to each other. It is immediately obvious to us that animal money does not refer to the age-old practice of rating wealth in head of cattle or otherwise using livestock as money; there is something new in our minds.
As far as I can tell, Cisco is the best of all authors currently active in the long-form Weird Fiction / New Weird space.

And there are a ton of qualifiers and retractions and specifications that go along with that, most of them actually unimportant. But I will say that the general speculative scene has over the years become progressively less interesting and compelling to me, to the point that it receives little of my attention or passion, and that has been the case for at least a few years now. There are a few authors I still pay attention to, and Cisco is high on that list. Truthfully, only Reza Negarestani is higher, and he has still not followed up Cyclonopedia yet, so he might not actually count for these purposes.

And even with Cisco being high on the list I've still got his last three sitting unread on a shelf - this sounded too good to skip though, so I gave it a shot.

As the rating belies, I greatly enjoyed this, though I will say that I still feel The Narrator is his best work. He seems to have evolved a bit over the last few years - where in the past I felt his voice was only his own, at times here he sounds a bit like Miéville (via his earliest works or maybe Embassytown), Eco (via Foucault's Pendulum), and a bit like a less theory driven (not as versed in Deleuze, Guattari, Brassier) Negarestani - but the evolution suits the story he's trying to tell, so it's difficult to tell if he has a writer has changed or if he only adapted for the needs of the narrative. Even all that said, his voice is still firmly his own, just influenced.

At 780 pages this book felt a bit too long at times, but Cisco is doing a lot here, and covering a lot of ground - he's really telling at least four to five different narratives all wound together, so while there is some bloat : : and it's likely what put this behind the more crystalline The Narrator for me - what I've noted as bloat is surprisingly minimal for a book of this size.

All that said, I'm not sure who I would recommend this to outside of people who are already fans of Cisco. It is more difficult that mostly anything currently circulating in the Speculative space, but it's too Speculative (there are aspects of this particular book that make it more genre that anything he's done prior) to really push off on those who like dense literary experimentation (unless they also overlap into some Speculative tastes).

But it's good, and reinforces for me that Cisco is an author to continue to stay aware of (and hell, maybe I'll read those three I've got sitting at some point).
Profile Image for Justin Zigenis.
65 reviews10 followers
April 18, 2022
End money.

What did I just read? It can be read by taking notes, using sticky tabs to track plot lines, flipping back and forth to connect the dots, painstakingly trying to make sense of the surreal metaphors and asides—or you could read it like me: like watching a parade on an unknown planet, celebrating a holiday you’ve never heard of, eating something they call an elephant ear because not even they know what it is, and just enjoy the show.
Profile Image for Tobias.
Author 11 books182 followers
December 22, 2015
Sort of like the surreal offspring of Julio Cortazar's THE WINNERS, Samuel R. Delany's THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, and Renee Gladman's Ravicka novels. By which I mean that I enjoyed this a whole lot.
Profile Image for J.J..
152 reviews44 followers
July 2, 2022
When people click my page, I assume the thing they’ll first see is my list of favorite literary genres, as follows [and I know this is admittedly kinda trite, but bear with me here] - “postmodernism, fantasy, horror, literary, theory, magical realism, classics, western, drama, philosophy, gothic, weird fiction, speculative, surrealism, experimental”. Now take a second to let it sink in, as I did, that “Animal Money” arguably encompasses not one, not two, not three, but TWELVE of these fifteen superlatives, and then realize there is no possible fucking way I could have ever not absolutely loved this as completely and obsessively as I did. This is nothing short of an unbelievably, limitlessly creative tapestry of mind-obliterating psychedelic imagination working at level ten-fucking-thousand the entire way through, a riotous neverending circus of ideas, shifting narrators and timelines, surreal imagery, perfected interplay between the literate and the pulp, economic and political theory, fantasy and reality, and literally everything you can imagine in between, congealing in a phantasmagoric experimental dark fantasy comedic nightmare so genuinely ambitious that Dali, Marx, Pynchon, Lovecraft and Lautremont may very well all have knelt reverently before an altar with this book atop it. This is one of those things that just comes along every rare once in awhile and revivifies my own desire to make art and to fully embrace everything beautiful, wild, fucked up and revelatory about the human creative process in all its glory and history-spanning influence. This is a landmark in my lifelong love for speculative fiction and Cisco here has created something so immense, so cerebral, so mind-bogglingly huge in its creative scope that I almost don't even know where to begin in my analysis, but there's so much here to unpack and so much worthy of discussion that I have to give it my best shot.

Y'know, as much as I loved it I could see why some people would find this novel to be a mess, an explosion of weird wild insanity that engulfs so much range that it results in the novel feeling disconnected, just because there is so much working here at so many levels and so much variation on themes from a page-to-page basis that I could see why some people would get absolutely lost in it and end up giving up out of frustration, trying to find a clear point and failing amidst all the narrative chaos that snowballs upon itself and never lets up. It's understandable because Cisco really is working at maximum overdrive here - every five or so pages of this novel contains concepts and themes that many other sff authors would spend entire three hundred page novels on, and I really don't think I'm exaggerating. This is sheer maximalism in its most realized incarnation, one so massively enveloping that the reader has no choice but to just let go and be swept away in. And considering who I am, who is always itching for more fiction that packs itself to overstuffing with ideas and classification-smashing abandon without a care in the world, this feels absolutely made for me, especially in its integration of its constant sense of devilishly clever class-conscious satire combined with an unabashed [and completely unhinged] adoration for genre fiction, something Cisco seems radically attuned to in realizing just how much genre can elevate a novel, rather than undermine it as many of its detractors throughout literary history would claim.

Yes, there is indeed an ever-present "tropeyness" that abides every page of "Animal Money", an endless torrent of synapse-activating engagement with sci-fi and fantasy mechanics. Androids, cults, Lovecraftian horrors, space travel, time travel, reality bending, alien invasion, zombies and phantoms, body horror, apocalypses, anthropomorphism, etcetera ad [ostensibly] infinitum - point is, if you can think of something confined to the realms of the fantastical and the magical, Cisco, at the very least, touches upon it here. But there's consistently a very clear understanding of the limitations of tropes, and Cisco doesn't ever really linger on a specific cliche so much as he allows the narrative to layer so much of these disparate ideas atop each other that they end up transforming into something whose scope ends up revealing not only the deeply unique and dense narrative texture that is created by weaving so many of these things together but also results in something so phantasmagorically explosive on its own terms that it ends up feeling independent of tropes, despite having such an overflowing abundance of them. Basically, Cisco has looped "cliches" around on themselves so hard that he completely broke through their own limits, resulting in the creative canvas of "Animal Money" feeling truly boundless in the most visionary, mind-expanding way. The final result feels like a frenzied love affair with all things speculative while also completely bursting from its chains and transforming into something that goes beyond the pale for anything in that sphere, or at least anything I’ve read, and I would be surprised if there is much of it that matches the absolute vivaciousness of this book.

But even beyond all the textural detail, there really is a hugely prevalent thematic purpose to all the psychedelic genre-chaos being indulged in here. Fantasy is such a presence here because Cisco is exploring the fantasy of the system, especially the way this system is reliant on the assigning of monetary value and capital as an absolutely dominant governing force in human [and animal] lives. The “central” plot here - there are really three overlapping major perspectives about as integral as each other, but the one that sets the story in motion - concerns five foreign economists who, after inexplicable head injuries, come together in a university in the fictional South American state of Archizoguayla to write a thesis on the titular concept of “animal money”, a nebulously defined yet apparently ostensibly communalistic form of monetary exchange that revolutionizes its own alien form of capital, which leads to the five attracting the ire of world governments and the bourgeoisie classes who double down on trying to eliminate this rapidly [and magically] expanding idea from circulation, including trying to make the economists unpersons. What’s interesting [and hilarious] here are that economists in “Animal Money”’s world are less like what we would imagine in reality and more like cultists, engaging in bizarre rites and routines and exchanging coded phrases amongst each other, even down to the protagonists’ creation of “animal money” itself, which is staged like a taboo occult ritual. But is it really much different in reality? The protagonists are mouthpieces for the worldwide cult of neoliberal capitalism and its economic policies, and when they realize its inefficiency they decide to go against the apparatus that they have been enraptured in, one so huge that when it comes down on them full force they are unable to fully comprehend it even as they themselves have “known” it and worked in favor of it until their discovery.

The question that really feels like it’s being asked here is - why? What purpose exactly does capital have beyond being a fantasy of the bourgeoisie to keep those under their influence in line, money as means for herding the populace and keeping them in control and in numb complacent apathy [or despair, if you’re one who can’t sustain themselves because of lack of the almighty dollar in your bank account]? Much like the economists’ own thesis, there’s nothing concrete about material reality that adheres to capital as we know it, yet those of the capitalist class and its defense force must uphold it as though it is a force as natural as the world itself and must necessarily remain unchanged [religion would also be an applicable apparatus for comparison here as bolstered by the religious subtext throughout the novel, and it’s no secret that religion and elite hegemonies have acted as bread and butter to one another for much of history]. But this is obviously for the ruling classes' own benefit, for changes as revolutionary as those that occur in “Animal Money” would shake their iron grip on the world and its resources to the very foundation, which cannot be duly accepted by these classes. What is capitalism other than a man made system as fallible as any other, unnaturally upheld as natural by the power hegemonies that need to keep it upright and stable at the expense of those who suffer as a result of it? What is economics and the neoliberal apparatus of “all for me, none for thee” that defines this system, other than a fantasy we’ve agreed to repeat to one another over and over until we’ve forgotten that it’s built on a lie, forgotten empathy the sanctity of other peoples’ lives for the sake of conforming to a status quo that grinds our bones to dust daily, a fantasy whose ostensible “naturalism” is so deeply integrated into our thinking that even many of those who are materially harmed by it buy into it completely?

If you’re a Marxist [or at least some kind of anti-capitalist], you’ve probably heard a phrase somewhere along the lines of “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, and this is a phrase that kept entering my head at various intervals throughout this book and one that I think really gets at the heart of what Cisco is going for here. As the clamorous romp of the narrative marches forward it gives way to an increasingly entropic unfolding of events, with the world[s] and the book itself seeming to collapse under its own weight [which also formally justifies the book’s massive length], old structures being disintegrated in place of new ones so beyond the reach of what we have been conditioned to understand in our society that it feels unbelievable, unreal. “Animal Money” is such a bursting bloom of bizarre creativity because it attempts to imagine a world where neolib capitalism is unraveling and giving way to what lies beyond, something that to many would seem like complete armageddon [in light of a lack of class consciousness and centralized worker movements to set up the world after this, which the vast majority of people, being alienated from their class and labor, don’t have the means to do on an individual basis]. A world beyond this is possible but it will need the combined efforts of the oppressed and an understanding of this alienation and the fact that our current apparatus can, and will, unravel, no matter how difficult to imagine it is for most of those who live in a world ravaged by endless and unsustainable growth, especially those in the imperial core. The end of neoliberal capitalism does not have to be the end of reality but a new horizon beyond the shackles this world has endowed us with.

On the character end of things, I really appreciated SuperAesop and Assiyeh’s characters [they are the two other main storylines I mentioned earlier], because both of them respectively act as arbiters for the novel’s spec-fic fixations and political subtext while also both being richly defined characters in their own right. Through her experiments and her devotion to them, Assiyeh explores the dichotomy between fantasy and reality as her own desire for love and desire to concretely prove her own and others’ existence manifest, giving a surprisingly tragic and tender register to her as her arc unfolds, meanwhile SuperAesop truly feels like the heart of the novel and the closest thing to a true protagonist it has; a black revolutionary embittered with the chaos surrounding him, he nevertheless is always unwavering in his convictions and tries to his fullest extent to shape the world in the image he wants no matter how much state antagonism is directed his way. And character-wise he’s just incredibly charming to read, being a true eccentric whose personal and ideological diatribes are phrased very bizarrely and with a tendency to go off on tangents that nevertheless perfectly circle back to his main thesis and end up strongly illuminating not only his worldview but who he is as a person, no matter how strange his trajectory of thoughts may seem.

Also gotta love the abundance of absurdist comedy here, which is sort of to be expected for fantastic fiction this patently obsessed with all things absurd [though too an oft underrated aspect of weird literature in my experience], and the comedy helps further illustrate both the fantasy elements and the actual fantasy of what Cisco is poking fun at here. As far as mind-bending doorstop genre-busters go, I don’t find it as consistently wickedly funny as “Gravity’s Rainbow” [which is a book this shares a bloodline with in a lot of ways, if my preceding review didn’t prove that], but Cisco’s humor is more dry and more overtly sarcastic, which really lends itself perfectly to the amount of venomous anti-establishment satire being engaged in here. I found the five economists’ parts early on especially got a lot of laughs out of me, just because they’re so out of their depth when it comes to the power structures surrounding them and their unorthodox responses to their various paranoias and neuroticisms, as well as the steadfast seriousness with which they take their jobs and the concept of “animal money” that they’ve penned.

And I hate to sound like a broken record, but the sheer amount of incredible imagination here leads to setpieces so hallucinogenic and immense and there are just so many individual scenes that stick out in my mind as clear as a long, weird movie [of which one was vividly playing in my head throughout the entire duration of this book]. Cisco, while engaging with tropes like I said, never fails to put some bizarre spin on many of them as though he was dousing them into a vat of lysergic acid and just rolling with whatever strange, freakish trajectory they decided to take. There’s so much here on a page by page basis that it would be absolutely pointless to try and list everything I loved [because it was pretty much all of it], but I feel like I have to mention some absolute favorites: SuperAesop running from Urtruvel’s infohazardous posters in the subway station, second-Long’s strange astro travels through a Black Lodge-like dimension ala Twin Peaks, Assiyeh’s cosmic adventures, the Arieto scenes where it basically turns into a supernatural action movie, the story-in-a-story about the monastery, and especially , which has probably some of my favorite descriptive work I’ve read in a fiction novel since my reading journey began. There’s so many others, and those were just off the top of my head; Cisco really knows how to craft the fuck out of a scene, he is able to milk powerful and evocative imagery for all its worth and he keeps this momentum going for nearly eight-hundred pages. To say it’s entertaining would be like calling the Atlantic Ocean a bit wet.

Finally, I don't usually do this kind of thing but I feel like I at least have to mention the cover, because it’s just so obviously amazing and so clearly tells the reader that they know what they’re getting into the second they see it so absolutely nobody going into this will get the wrong idea. Though what it depicts isn't entirely present in the text, it's gorgeous, mind-expansive and overwhelming, much like the novel itself and fits just perfectly as an introduction to it, and I feel like the lack of text or a blurb was the right choice to make it stand out as much as it does.

This isn't an easy novel to follow; it's jam packed with everything you can think of on every page, it follows multiple narrators and shifting timelines and at times it's hard to even tell what planet it's supposed to be taking place on. But it's one of the most intensely readable "difficult" novels I've ever read in my life, to the point where I finished this thing in less than two weeks of just being completely, obsessively immersed in the world Cisco has created so beautifully, hilariously and terrifyingly here. I enjoyed the first two works of his I read well enough, but this one has completely convinced me this guy is the real deal. This is the kind of thing that needs only to be experienced to be believed, and experienced multiple times when I have the time to return to it. If there's another modern author of fantastic fiction working at the level of delirious experimentalism and anticapitalist subtext even close to this book, I will be legit surprised. This one here is proof that speculative fiction still has a say in the overall course of contemporary literature, and its influence and capability for boundless creativity isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"What is money? Social human power made numb and separate. Amputated under anaesthesia. You'll feel all that pain later, though. Without knowing what it is.

End money. Why let others decide how your social power, your time, your work will be unitized and stored up? Why not make your own money? Why not make your own society? What choice do you really have? A bank is a symbol of fear. End money. End it by making it. It's all counterfeit, that stuff you use. End money. It didn't come from you. It is you taken away from you by somebody else. Fed back to you in dribs and drabs and drabber everyday. Money is not a means of exchange. Money is a means of preventing exchange. Look at the countries where there is the greatest volume of money circulating: those societies are frozen. There is relentless change but there is no difference. Everyone is bound by the enchantment of the money spell, cast by the most pedestrian magicians the world has ever seen."
21 reviews5 followers
December 20, 2015
Threaded by confusion that compels you to wander until you ... reach the end. Lovely words, ideas mingle, brackishness throughout. So many things, so many of them amazing, so many confounding. Interpretation is critical and it is only yours. We are all economists of our own reality yet slaves to a tongue louse.
18 reviews13 followers
July 18, 2016
By far the craziest book I've ever read! What in the bizarro weird world just happened for 780 pages? Animal Money contains so many fantastic passages, and often has some wonderful narrative momentum. It's some of the most fun I've had reading in years. I also would be hard pressed to describe a plot to someone without sounding like a lunatic. There were chunks of the book where I had no idea what in the hell I was reading but decided to just go along, enjoy the ride, and not insist on clarity or anything being easy.

The book starts in a bizarre fictional future where a bunch of economists traveling to a conference all coincidentally(?) get (hilarious) head injuries. As they recover together, they find their recent work has common themes and the collaboratively develop a new, bizarre and fascinating economic system... and it gets them in a lot of trouble with the powers that be. The book becomes an adventure/conspiracy, with all sorts of powerful forces trying to suppress their treatise on Animal Money .... and it gets weirder as it goes, including aliens and space travel, extra dimensions, at least one dead ghost narrator, a heavy drinking journalist controlled by his louse-infested tongue, a giant spider who runs an island that appears from nowhere and communicates by people drinking her venom (or something), a scientist who may or may not be a fictional creation of other characters to distract from their economic theories that threaten to change the world as it is known, etc etc etc ... Also, one of my all-time favorite characters, SuperAesop. It's a helluva lot of fun and insanely imaginative. Half the time I just was wondering how Cisco's mind conjured this phantasmagorical adventure.

There was a while in the middle of this where I had to take a break for a week or two. Overall it was fairly slow going, but I also never wanted it to end ... It'd be hard to recommend to anybody whose reading preferences I am not super familiar with. Think Pynchon, Wallace, some David Lynch (and/or Cronenberg as suggested by some Amazon reviewer), and then get (a lot) weirder. 95% of the time I was really enjoying each wonderful scene. Losing coherence and clarity of plot as the book got weirder is not problematic for my reading tastes, but surely would be for others. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more Michael Cisco once I've recovered from the mind-melting fun that is Animal Money. I don't think I'll be able to get this book out of my head for a really long time. As soon as it's gone, I might have to read it again...

And if you want a more authoritative recommendation, weird maestro/expert Jeff VanderMeer says of it "not just possibly the finest weird novel of the modern era, but also an uncanny Infinite Jest by way of early Pynchon and Robert Bolaño’s 2666. This novel requires your full and undivided attention, but will not come away from the experience unchanged." https://electricliterature.com/jeff-v...

Thanks to Lazy Fascist Press for consistently introducing me to amazingly creative and fun to read contemporary authors!
24 reviews15 followers
September 25, 2020
Michael Cisco’s nearly 800 page brick of a book Animal Money (2015) is as much fun as a book can be, so much so that it could put television out of business. In short the book is about 5 economists, including protagonist CUNY economics professor Ronald Crest, who travels to San Toribio, Archizoguayla for an academic economics conference in which they all end up suffering debilitating head injuries shortly after their arrival in unrelated accidents.

The group, agents of a secret society of economists known as the International Economists Institution seek the creation of Animal Money. Animal Money is many things, one of which is “latently present in any exchange already,” but it is only a matter of making certain adjustment to current structures of “economy,” “by removing hindrances such as systemic inequalities, wages, salaries, investments, finance, profits, capitalism...its post-financial, the impedimenta of administration, laissez faire, banking, shares, stocks, insurance, markets, would all have to fall by the wayside.”

If you like Shifting narrators; including the desk chair in room 248, smilebot mechanical companions, flying squirrels who exchange dried flower petals for familial relations buying and selling grandparents, penanggalan vampires, secret zoos within zoos within universities, money mutations, telescoping hallways that are time machines, non-codified languages, UFO’s, a man enslaved by sexually deviant chimpanzees, a League of Disgusted Mothers, CIA abductions, neural configurations of money, Uhuyjhn transmissions, communist aliens, investigative tabloid journalists, cultural revolution, particle physics, horses buying sugar cubes with blue cloth horse money, luxury brand gravity - Monopoly Goodwill Gravity, political, and academic conspiracies, hermetic and occult literature, new currencies, economics, philosophy, X13 secret experiments, imaginary people, malevolent standardized spelling campaigns to impose the Greek alphabet, and cymothoa exigua tongue eating sea louses knowledgeable on the secrets of the ocean, you will LOVE this novel, in a world where “the bank is there to save and lend, and workers work, and consumers spend.”
Profile Image for Caulen.
13 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2016
Does the reader want the incidents the reader fantasized?

Does the reader want to escape from the incidents the reader fantasized?

Does the reader want to have not lived those incidents?

Does the reader want to live incidents of an entirely different kind, without going into the details of the difference?

Does the reader want things to change or things to freeze?
I prefer change, but both, really.

Does the reader want to escape from these questions?
No, thanks for asking.
Profile Image for Vincenzo Bilof.
Author 36 books110 followers
January 2, 2016
VOICE: “What can you tell us about Animal Money?”
Assiyeh awoke after the conference and began to wonder if all of her revolutionary technologies had made a difference, but it is not the difference that she wondered about, but rather, the idea of the technologies being revolutionary and what it meant for those technologies to be revolutionary. There is a sort of awareness that occurs for Assiyeh while reflecting upon the definition of a revolution and whether or not something can be revolutionary, and her mind began to consider the idea that a revolution is a movement that can only exist in opposition to stagnation and that same movement might better be understood during her attempt to create a state of absolute rest. Assiyeh began to experiment, and her conclusion that we are always moving to search for something that is better than ourselves by constantly creating materials that will enhance our state of existence—whether it is a brand new television set or a new way to have sex by using only your fingertips—each new idea both a quantitative and qualitative doubling from nonexistence to existence. Through discussing the idea or the awareness of the idea there is a doubling that occurs between all individuals who partake in the exchange, for if they did not have the idea before they now have the idea. When you consider what you know about Animal Money and then begin to learn about it, your experience with the very literature that discusses Animal Money doubles your knowledge from zero to something more than zero, which is a sort of doubling. There is always a sort of self-awareness that the exchange is taking place; that an author of a book, for example, knows they are composing a piece that becomes a medium of exchange with the reader, because the reader starts with zero experience with that book and upon completing it becomes the beneficiary or inheritor of a type of currency that is qualitative relative to the reader and the author; the book need not be about Animal Money, but it could be a science fiction novel in which the idea of Animal Money becomes a sort of metaphor for those people or characters who first talked about the idea of Animal Money but could not exactly determine where the idea came from, because their own knowledge of Animal Money became itself an exchange of experiences and ideas…. and the only way to review such a book is to ask what Animal Money is and to wonder whether or not we should expect a certain kind of answer or whether or not there is an answer, or maybe whether or not we are capable of understanding that the question itself exists and we are aware of the question…

(Note: I don't think you can actually review the book, on a philosophical level, but it is very good, interesting, a challenge to read, with aliens or maybe not aliens, with ideas, some action or maybe not action depending on whether or not everything is a dream, and if it is a dream or not a dream then what is fiction if not Animal Money...?)
Profile Image for Axolotl.
103 reviews61 followers
Want to read
September 27, 2017
So far it is a lot of hilarious non-sense and I love it! There is more to hold onto than I feel Cisco usually allows.

There was an early narrator switch that I think was just a mistake as right now Ronald Crest appears to be the man in charge.
Author 23 books16 followers
April 24, 2016
This is a difficult book to review, and I think it will be a five-star book for a small number of people. On the one hand, I enjoyed the writing enough to continue through to the end. Cisco has a strong voice and can create compelling imagery. He has a wicked sense of humor and the occasionally graphic or explicit content stands out in contrast to the rest of the text to good effect. I think I did not ultimately enjoy the book as a whole because of several issues:

Animal Money is willfully non-linear, with the narrative jumping perspectives, times, and in and out of hallucinatory episodes without any warning or roadmap. I can live with this; I'm a big fan of David Lynch, and I am more than willing to do the work to try and meet a work on it's own terms. However, I didn't have a sense of this technique reflecting any underlying coherence. It too often read as surrealism for its own sake. If you enjoy the disorienting long strange trip for its own sake, then you might get more mileage out of this than I did. I don't need to read nearly 800 pages to get the point that things don't necessarily conform to our preconceptions of what narratives or reality are supposed to be. It's old news. If that is the only goal of Animal Money, it isn't enough. Besides, Hunter Thomson does a better job of describing drug-induced experiences. (Besides, if you want to experience that terrain, reading is a very indirect and poor substitute.)

Animal Money is intentionally obscure. There is a thesis, of sorts, about economics and its relationship to reality in the text, but Cisco goes out of his way to hide that point. Every once in a while, he seems to get to some sort of more explicit statement (the closest he comes, really is "end money"), but why all the obfuscation? He is brutally critical of academic institutions and the absurdity that often goes with the ritual orthodoxy of the Academy, and I agree with his views there - so much of academic writing is nothing more than fancy verbiage that hides a lack of rigor or meaning. Yet Cisco critiques obscurantism only to double down on it in the book. If he has a real thesis about the things he is concerned about, then why hide it?

He offers hints that may explain it - comments about the need for teachers to communicate the message over and over again in as many ways as are possible in order to disrupt the complacent understanding of the unenlightened. The un-woke masses are consistently referred to as dupes in various ways. It's the sort of thing common in Leftist revolutionary theory: the masses must be dragged into revolution against their will as they will never get there on their own. It's a very elitist philosophy for all the alleged glorification of the worker. I also have a sense that Cisco may be entertaining the idea that the medium is the message: that by disrupting expectations and generating dissonance, the reader will somehow be forced to question all. In the book, the release of an economics treatise (also called Animal Money) disrupts the economy of the world and the shape of history. I just disagree with that perspective. A meaningful point or idea can be expressed plainly, and I don't think this kind of exercise will have any sort of impact on any individual not already on board with the ideology. Again, if you are already there, you may enjoy it, but a text like this can only preach to the choir.

Last, as a critique of capitalism, Animal Money fails in the most important respect: it offers no alternative. No one in the text is able to offer a coherent explanation of what Animal Money is, or how it actually functions. It's fine to talk about the failings of capitalism - it has many. But the text offers no more than magical wish-fulfillment about what might replace it. Capitalism sucks, then, I don't know... a miracle... maybe aliens or something... and then we are in a brave new post-capitalist economic utopia, isn't an alternative. If that's all Animal Money can accomplish then it is a profoundly nihilistic text, stating that the system sucks but there is no way out. I don't think that was Cisco's intention, which would make the book a failure on its own terms.

If you like the writing, and can take the trip at face value, then you might enjoy the ride. Otherwise, I think this is going to be a tough sell. I don't think the Emperor is actually naked, but the elaborate suit he is wearing doesn't actually cover the bits it is supposed to. That is, the naive boy would point and say "his junk is still showing!"
Profile Image for Remi.
146 reviews5 followers
October 18, 2018
Before the imposing Edinburgh castle gates, sits the statue of Adam Smith, the father of modern Capitalism. Keeping a watchful eye on tourists, tourism representatives, street performers and the odd vagrant scuffling through the crowd, hoping someone will lend them a fiver. Although, should you find yourself overwhelmed by the number of people, all gnashing for the same photo of the cathedral and the litany of selfie sticks, a refuge is just a short walk around the corner.

Blackwell books, Edinburgh's oldest bookshop and one that I found myself in an absolute awe of the selection. With my hands already overflowing with a number of finds that have been on the backlog for quite some time; spotting Animal Money was like some dirty trick played by the employees. It sat in the horror section, with a staff recommendation that absolutely thrilled my imagination, coupled with the eye-catching artwork and to make matters worse, a doorstopper, seemed to check all the boxes of all my literary weaknesses in one fell swoop. So the armful was dropped and the tome (along with two other separate smaller novels for balance sake...) brought to the til.

The novel itself is a beguiling cascade of Lovecraftian divination of cultists, nightmare logic and unknown horror wrapping itself behind every page. But, not just limited to HP, for economic theory pervades the book, and one could be forgiven for thinking that it is a treatise against Capitalism. If anything the novel concerns itself with a new form of capital, rather than standard paper or credit systems that the developed world utilizes, one of growth and with a rhizomatic sensibility takes over. What comes after capitalism, and how the world will change, and within the novel, the world literally changes employing a strange foreign pervading every step.

While it is an alternative reality, the world in which Animal Money exists is very much like our own, and the current pitfalls of late-stage capitalism. The revere of businessmen and economists as some sort of gods or wizards who steer the world, the destruction of Earth and resources to benefit a few; I could go on but anyone familiar with the current arguments against the system, have heard these time and time again. Though while critical of the "source material", Cisco does employ the arguments for the current system, and why/how people squeezed by its tendrils.

"...opening the book is like bursting a chaotic evil puffball in your face. A gush of malignantly psychedelic invective inundates your head whirling in the brain to form mental twisters that are autonomous hate elementals herding the thoughts, driving the thoughts before them, raking the mental air with alarms and searchlights and snarling police dogs that send hapless fantasies, emotions and other mental personnel scrambling for safe places to hide.

If you're a fan of New Weird, economic/social capital theory, which itself is a strange melange of elements, then this novel will completely take you to another thousand plateaus altogether.
Profile Image for Lucas Warford.
2 reviews3 followers
February 21, 2016
Would have been 5 stars if this book had been half as long.
Fucking frustrating experience.
Great ideas, great style, great humor, great insight.
Crushed to death under its own weight.
Read Steve Aylett or Brian Catling.
Same quality of content in 1/4 the size.
Profile Image for Tait.
Author 5 books45 followers
September 12, 2022
Cisco’s “Animal Money” may be the most anarchic and anti-capitalist novel I’ve ever read—both in its content and style—which should have granted it an automatic five stars from me if it weren’t for the glaring flaws that mar a lot of the New Weird genre, namely a focus on image over plot and a lack of any emotional depth to humanize the cerebral explosion.

The story follows a group of wounded economists who through an occult experiment invent the concept of Animal Money—an economic system based on living, experiential forms of exchange, which has the potential of upending global capitalism. The rest of the novel spans out an increasingly chaotic and exuberant exegesis of what possibilities might emerge in the wake of capitalism’s demise. Smashing together a wealth of genre tropes and slathering them with torrents on torrents of rich, evocative imagery, Cisco’s text tries to linguistically perform the kind of anti-capitalist, fun house anarchy his dark economists long for. Cisco seems to be channeling Pynchon at times—both in the themes of globalist paranoia and spiritual hope, but also in his use of endless, iterative pocket narratives.

Frustratingly, the fragmented nature of the text made it difficult at times to follow the various narrative threads over against pages of hallucinatory language. This I could accept as intentional and necessary for such an anarchic book. But also the characters felt more like stock cardboard cutouts than the kind of living, emotive human beings that readers identify with and root for. And personally, I would feel that a truly anti capitalist text would open up deeper possibilities of human feeling than evade them.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed Animal Money and highly recommend it. Honestly I think it stands up there in terms of significance (and literal weight) with such greats as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, RAW’s Illuminatus, and Bolaño’s 2666.
Profile Image for Jon.
223 reviews5 followers
December 19, 2018
I don't know what of the events in the book actually happened, how many narrators there were, how many of them actually existed, how many were alive or dead, when it was, when it wasn't, what it was or wasn't, or even why it was. But I do know it was funny, bizarre, occasionally lucid, interesting, confounding, complex, and all sorts of other adjectives. Four stars to begin with. A fifth added because of the exceptional amount of confusing material, and then one subtracted because of the exceptional amount of confusing material. Michael Cisco still has not done wrong by me. A very difficult book to get through, but worth it to me.
Profile Image for Jacob Wren.
Author 9 books370 followers
December 27, 2017
Michael Cisco writes:

"It isn’t authority, it’s the look you see on a child’s face when she is in an unfamiliar situation and fiercely understanding everything she sees. It’s what patronizing adults call the exaggerated seriousness of the child. They say that because adult seriousness is not serious but just a hollow meringue of affect. That hard, hard understanding look is the real seriousness."
Profile Image for Andrew Sare.
167 reviews
June 8, 2017
"You like to read and speculate about the nature of things, about reality, about history... So, speculate with me now about animal money.
All right - if you like -
I like." Michael Cisco

Cisco has put out a big novel here - its full of play and big ideas that will shake your values: new thinking on the value of money, the rat race, self fulfillment and interplanetary travel.

Enjoy the ride.
Profile Image for Autumn Christian.
Author 15 books315 followers
April 22, 2016
Economic professors come up with the concept of Animal Money - which begins to insinuate itself into their lives, and transform the way that human beings interact with each other. A star taken off because the middle of the book begins to slog, taking away from a brilliant and engaging beginning.
90 reviews2 followers
September 3, 2022
A maze. A brilliant maze of a book. Topped with unreliable narrators, never a clear idea of who is actually speaking or what they are speaking about. Constant contradictions, implausible situations, uncanny explanations, confused puzzle-piece like subplot or tangents, or otherwise. Cisco's extreme motifs. If anyone should ask you what this book is about, just show them the cover art and length.

"Were you stupid for liking that idea, or was it that you articulated a good idea in a stupid way?"

"This obstacle is insurmountable."

"We are still not entirely sure what we mean by animal money."

"Don't as me to repeat that word, or to explain."

"It isn't unknown. I know what it is. Describing it is a chore, though."

"Why am I never closer to clowning than when I am thinking my most serious thoughts?"

"The with to the at."

"I don't know, but I keep forgetting."

"The publication of Animal Money was a non-event having no effect at all, or it changed the world."
Profile Image for Paul Dembina.
437 reviews92 followers
January 9, 2020
More like 3 but upgrading to 4 for sheer oddness (and we like oddness - don't we?)

Starts off with 5 economists coming up with their theory of "animal money". It's not fully explained - but what the hey, I'm not too bothered.

Then another character comes into focus , a physicist experimenting with trying to bring her paent back from the dead (or something like that or time travel maybe).

For the 1st 500 pages I was enjoying the ride, even if it wasn't really leading anywhere. But after that you get a series of monologues with eerie/weird connotations, heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft. The book lost whatever focus it had for me from then on.
Profile Image for Matthew Hall.
153 reviews22 followers
March 10, 2016
There might be a pretty good sf allegory here, but it's buried beneath 780 pages of bloated, hysterical, masturbatory dream sequences. This was touted as a brilliant archetype of what New Weird fiction can accomplish, but it's so laden with the desire to impress you with its prose and knack for metanarrative gaming that any meaningful point feels completely lost.

Were there a few great lines? Yeah, here and there.

Were there salient criticisms about the way we think of economics? Totally.

Could those few moments surpass the rest of this mess? Nope.

It is, however, an excellent example the way in which MFA-style writers have been trying to co-opt the language and toolbox of sf in order to create a sui generis Literature-with-a-capital-L but get lost in a lexicographic mire because they're too in love with their own vocabularies, and only passingly interested in substance.

Maybe I'm just really tired of white guys competing for world's longest/most esoteric work of fiction.
12 reviews1 follower
September 8, 2022
To read this book is to eat a capitalism-induced cluster-headache for breakfast.
To read this book is to be kicked in the crotch a thousand times for every single instance of your life that you noticed that the way the the system is structured is specifically structured in such a way that to live within that system feels like a thousand kicks in the crotch.
To notice those thousand kicks in the crotch, and to attach the sensation of a thousand kicks in the crotch to being a part of the system will increase the speed and the fervor with which the kicks will find themselves firmly placed in your crotch.
The system is a thousand boots, horny to kick a thousand crotches.
The system is a crotch, begging "please daddy, please can you kick me a thousand times?"
The system is a crotch, anesthetized by the passage of time. It does not know that it is being kicked a thousand times, or it does not care.
One way or another, the kicks to the crotch will continue until morale improves.

Fuuuuuck.... End Money.
Profile Image for Jaime.
199 reviews2 followers
March 21, 2017
Cisco se corona como el rey del surrealismo moderno con esta obra. No le pongo cinco estrellas porque 780 paginas de stream-of-conscience son demasiadas hasta para mí. ¿Pueden imaginar algún editor maloso que impregne de LSD las esquinas de las paginas, para que el lector incauto al humedecer el dedo con su lengua vaya adentrándose cada vez más lejos en divagaciones metafísicas y fenómenos oníricos? Eso es esta novela. Es tan grande y densa que genera su propio campo gravitatorio.
Profile Image for Evan Martin.
37 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2017
Not for the faint of heart, but the cover probably tells you as much.
Pros: Incredibly inventive and imaginative. As if Ray Bradbury was a Psychonaut.
Cons: Very hard to get through. I don't need my book to be a walk in the park but this was like scaling a rock wall due to the extreme dreamlike story telling and elusive plot. But even for that it definitely had some gems hidden throughout.
Profile Image for Drew.
1,569 reviews507 followers
August 29, 2016
Fucking weird. Totally wild.
This one is gonna take a second.
Profile Image for Andy.
666 reviews19 followers
February 24, 2016
The wildest read-ride since the first time I read Gravity's Rainbow! This will take time for recovery!
Profile Image for Stephen Toman.
Author 6 books13 followers
September 18, 2019
This is easily the weirdest book I’ve ever read. I have so many thoughts I don’t even know where to begin.

It starts more or less as other reviewers and the blurb describes - some economists visit a South American country for a conference but each suffers a head injury and in the hotel bar come up with an idea for animal money. This section, the first 100 pages or so, is oddly reminiscent of the first section of Bolano’s 2666 (even down to the centred bullet point section breaks).

But then it gets weird. There are demons, aliens, politics, SuperAesop, time travel, space, a secret cabal of economists, lovecraftean things, a social commentator with a parasite for a tongue who reminds me of Jordan Peterson.

Having just read it, there are broadly a few different plot strands:
The story of the economists.
The story of SuperAesop (seriously, his character is one of the best in fiction, particularly when it’s his turn to narrate)
The story of Assiyeh, physicist/economist who may or may not be real, who brought back her parents as ghosts, can time travel, ends up in space...
All taking place in a fictional country whose president has gone mysteriously missing.
Oh, and animal money has been released and caused global meltdown.

The narration changes frequently, the economists often narrating individually or together, with no indication as to when the speaker changes. Assiyeh And SuperAesop also narrate, But this too goes unannounced, just happens. And frequently the first person narration goes omniscient a la Moby Dick.

There are also some metatextual moments where the book being written in the book is the one being read, even down to the name of the publisher, Lazy Fascist. There is also mentions of a genre of economic fantasy books, that, I think, involve taking real concepts from economical theory and using these constructs to create works of Fantasy, in which case Animal Money would be an example of one of these (in the world of the book).

I have no idea how much of this book was planned. It’s too tight to be written on a whim but too baggy to be planned to the nth degree. It’s an ideas book. There are more ideas in each section than most author’s have their entire careers (even China Mieville). Some of it is bafflingly surreal and hallucinagenic, others are laugh out loud funny (like the planet where they idolise manual labour, and kids trade cards with stats about plumbers and construction workers on them).

This book is up there with Gravity’s Rainbow in terms of difficulty, scope, humour, ideas, but, sadly, is unlikely to receive anywhere near the level attention it would require to really parse this novel. No readers guide for this one.

I’d love to speak to Cisco about this but the few interviews and podcasts with him I’ve read/heard, none of the interviewers seem to have read Animal Money, which is a real shame.
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