Michael Cisco: The Knife Dance (2016)


DIM shores (chapbook)

Afterword for “The Knife Dance” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Tale That Should Not Exist


Once a month, in the late 90’s, Bob Price convened, weather and life permitting, his Kalem Klub gatherings at his home in North Jersey. 6 to 12 writers and fans of the written word, pizza and soft drinks, we talked about books we loved—we’d just heard about—needed, discussed upcoming publishing news we’d heard, or read new works of our own to each other. We laughed, we plotted, schemed—dared to hope, dreamed. I was privileged to be one of the regulars. The Dark Angel, Our Reporter, C’ys-khone the Phantasmagorist, was also a regular.
Most often, I sat on the sofa next to Michael Cisco. Hung on his every word! Had to, he was a fountain of information and wonder, a generous mage sowing literary miracles! Cisco introduced me to Jean Ray and Alfred Kubin and to Marcel Bealu (and a host of others), and through them and the new frontiers of his own alchemical works, changed both me, as reader and seeker, and my writing.
Early on, the Big C’ys’ readings weren’t performances… the weight, the stealth, the flames burning your small island, transforming your yard, that was coming (and should not be missed should you have the chance to attend one of his readings these days!! !). BUT his works, his visions, all he had carved upon the pages flying around you as you rejoiced, I was there. OVERmoon, OVERwhelmed, listening to the FELT cascading over me. All that imagery filling me, fueling me! I’ve spoke of it before—
I was there. Looked at the loose pages in his hands. Listened to him read his new works.
Swept away.
Listened when he commanded, “Now, Voyager.” And I did voyage. Yes;gladly!
Listened to most of the tales and texts, every impeccable word choice, every vision by this boundary-breaking genius who seared us with the dark dreams that would form his first collection, Secret Hours. The one Ligotti called ‘indispensible.”
Time after time. Every tale he read to us. His cascades sang. The air burned with new dimensions. And this bumpkin danced to his FELT and SEIZURE. You could not escape it. HIM! Moreover, you did not want to. He read “The Night of the Night”, we swooned. Read “The Firebrands of Torment”, we were transfixed. Shared “Dr. Bondi’s Methods” and “Ice Age of Dreams” and the room filled with applause! The Dark Angel gave us “The Water Nymphs” and many others, left us hungry for more. Benchmarks of Weird Fiction, that’s what he read to us back in the late 90’s… also (in ’96 or so) he read the novella you just experienced, the tale that should not exist.
When C’ys-khone was preparing his hallucinatory collection, SECRET HOURS, he asked Bob and me for suggestions regarding what to include. We offered our choices; some he agreed with, yet that was not the case with “Knife-Dance”. In fact, a short time later I was informed he’d destroy all copies of the tale, along with some others he deemed unworthy. I was crushed! !!
But all was not lost. Many times after he read at our gatherings, I’d ask him for the copy he’d read from and he kindly gave the hard copy to me, took each one home and reread them, some many times. The day he read from “Knife-Dance” I pleaded for the copy. I had to read the whole of the novella, couldn’t go home knowing only a small part of this magical work. And he gave it to me. And I kept it!!!!!!!!! Read “Knife-Dance” and reread it, returned to its many gifts time and time again. This tale would not be lost, someday, someway; I’d see it in print. It was too great a work to be lost. It had to be shared with others lovers of Weird Fiction and the legion of fans Cisco would amass—of that, I was certain even then. My friend was a genius, but when it came to his opinion on this work he was wrong. Emily Dickinson had her younger sister Lavinia, Kafka had Max Brod, from the day I heard “Knife-Dance” had been destroyed, I knew what my role in this had to be—SOMEDAY!, SOMEWAY!, you and I would hold this book in our hands!
So I waited and I planned, twice in the last few years this book almost happened, but things weren’t all they needed to be and this book had to be done right. It was a lost Cisco work and I didn’t want it to just come out, I wanted readers and fans to rejoice in the fact they now had the opportunity to experience this wondrous work.
It has been my great honor and privilege to be allowed to curate this project. My deepest thxxxxxxxxxxxxx to Cisco, Harry O. Morris, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Bob Price, and Sam Cowan, for bringing this work to life! I hope you, Dear Reader, are as thrilled as I am to hold this book in your hands.

The Nightmarium
Berlin, Germany
January 2016


ND art - Marsh's Symbol


review (c) This Is Horror

Charging on the scene in 1999 with his novel The Divinity Student, Michael Cisco has made quite a name for himself with the readers of weird and dark fiction. Describing his own work as ‘de-genred’—featuring elements of genre without the structure—it’s extremely difficult to put Cisco in any category other than his own. What he writes is not exactly horror or science-fiction, or even fantasy, but yet it encompasses all three genres, and more. Considering that most would agree that horror, science-fiction and fantasy all come from under the Weird Fiction heading, it’s easy to say that Cisco has all of it covered in spades.

Long thought lost, The Knife Dance returns us to the setting of Cisco’s most famous works. The story is part of the ‘San Veneficio Cycle’, which includes The Divinity Student and The Golem. San Veneficio is a strange hybrid of a locale, blending ancient culture with modern tech, bringing to mind the strange worlds in the fiction of China Miéville, except Cisco did it first. Here we find the different factions of Christianity duking it out in gangland war zone fashion; Gunplay, explosions, sneaky spies sulking around every corner. As these factions continuously argue whose version of Jesus is the right version, a group hunts for the Knife Dance. Once used centuries before to defeat the Satan, the ritual is all but lost to modern man. They have their ideas as who may know the steps to the dance, and seek this person out.

The novella is written in a loose third person perspective, but for the most part, Struve is our focal player. He seems to hang right at the edge of the action, witnessing the gunfights in the streets, often narrowly escaping death by mere seconds, while contrasted with the explosive action are scenes depicting the amazing San Veneficio area. By all means, the setting here is the main star of the story, and this is where Cisco’s writing excels. He has a created a living, breathing world run by the current of ideas and messages, existing in its own blended time zone. Atmosphere is the name of the game when it comes to Cisco, and with the San Veneficio stories, the tone is thick and lush, a world many could visit and stay for a long time, perhaps never to leave.

As much as there is to love about The Knife Dance for fans of Cisco’s work, the novella is far from any type of gateway story into the fiction of Michael Cisco. Without ever having read The Divinity Student or The Golem, readers new to his work might shy away from the heavy prose and even heavier subject matter. And while there are some seriously weird scenes in the story, it’s not horror in the general sense. Of course, it’s Michael Cisco, so there is no general sense to any of his fiction, and perhaps that’s the point. While unfamiliar readers may find the story complex and rather frustrating, fans of Cisco’s work will welcome this novella with open arms. The story does beg for a second, maybe even a third reading, but that’s indicative of most of Cisco’s work. He’s definitely not going to make it easy, or that accessible, and that’s what makes his work so rewarding. You may not understand everything that’s going on, but if you hang in there, he will blow your mind in ways you’ll never see coming.

Curated by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., The Knife Dance is published by Dim Shores in both limited edition hardback and trade paperback. Definitely a book for the Michael Cisco completist, The Knife Dance also features amazing cover art by Harry O. Morris and an introduction by Paul Tremblay, and is available now from the publisher.