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Literature / The Red Night Trilogy

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"The Cities of the Red Night were six in number: Tamaghis, Ba'dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, and Ghadis . . . The traveler must start in Tamaghis and make his way through the other cities in the order named. This pilgrimage may take many lifetimes."

The last major work of fiction by Beat generation author, William S. Burroughs. The trilogy consists of the novels Cities of the Red Night (1981), The Place of Dead Roads (1983), and The Western Lands (1987).

A deadly new plague, Virus B-23, is sweeping the human race. It causes the skin to blotch and peel, swelling into massive red bumps that spew white pus. Before death, the body shakes in heavy spasms of erotic convulsions. What has caused this new virus? Where has it come from? Is it somehow connected to the six long lost ancient cities that are said to have sat on the banks of an oasis under an glowing red sky? Cities of mutants said to be teeming with radiation from either a massive asteroid or a localized black hole? Is the virus humanity itself, or some mutated component of it? Could it be that the virus is our most basic need, twisted and cultivated into a grotesque perversion? Love? Your guess is as good as ours.


The first book in the trilogy Cities of the Red Night sets up a dual narrative. The first is inspired by Captain Mission's attempt to establish a Democratic utopia in South America, circa 1848. The Articles for his colony of Libertaria would have abolished slavery, outlawed the death penalty and established total religious tolerance. Twenty year old apprentice Noah Blake, and his friends, become deck hands on The Great White, lead by Captain (Opium) Jones. They're eventually shanghaied by Captain Strobe, and his crew of cross-dressing pirates, who are looking for recruits to take down the tyrannical Spanish government. Meanwhile, about two hundred years later, Clem Snide, the Private Asshole (er, Private Eye) is contracted by a man to find his son, Jerry Green, who went missing on a trip to Athens. He's found dead, with his head severed, with body mysteriously embalmed and evidence that it was hanged. Could the culprits be working for the diabolical Countesses de Gulpa and de Vile? Is this just part of a bigger conspiracy? Again, your guess is as good as ours.


Things only get weirder from there. As is typical of Burroughs, the trilogy is a fiendish and surreal mash-up of genres and set-ups. Much like in a dream, events, objects and characters seem to suddenly shift and change, and the casual reader will get very lost, very quickly if they're not paying close attention to what's being said. The Detective and Pirate yarns unravel into a tangle of boy's adventure fantasy, black magic, old western shoot outs, Urban Fantasy, Egyptian, Aztec and Mayan Mythology, high school plays, color comics, memoir, nostalgia, 1920's B-movies, dreams, war stories, Alternate History, stand-up routines, homosexual erotica, and hanging. Lots and lots and lots of hanging. Long scenes of savage and bizarre sex that wouldn't look out of place in the darkest depths of the Internet might make this a Bile Fascination for some and divisive to others. Regardless, the series is an epic adventure, and a fascinating one at that.Dazzling and truly original, it's an experience you will not soon forget.

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  • Mockstery Tale: Cities of the Red Night features a story of a private eye called Clem Snide on the trail of a missing teenage boy who gets involved in a story featuring dark cults, government conspiracies and ancient civilizations, obviously mirroring and parodying the pulp fiction cliches of the time. However, the storyline becomes increasingly surreal and incoherent, and the detective's story remains unresolved (one of the sequences even suggests that it could have been a fever-induced dream of a yet another teenage boy).

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