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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Knife Dance

10th Feb, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Michael Cisco's The Knife Dance was released by Dim Shores in a limited edition of 200 copies back in 2016. It's sold out according to the publisher's website, so if you're interested best start a campaign for a new edition or set up an alert at eBay and/or similar online markets.

The book opens with an introduction by Paul Tremblay and then there's an Author's Note from Cisco himself in which he talks about his feelings for the story and the circumstances in which it was written. And after the text of the novella, in an appropriately bookending manner, there's an Afterword by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. explaining how he came to save the manuscript after the author had given up on it for which, along with so many other things, we all owe Joe Pulver a huge debt of gratitude. Finally mention should be made of the wonderful illustrations contributed by Harry O. Morris.

The story is set in the city of San Veneficio, where various religious delegations have convened to present their ideas on the nature of Christ to the fabled committee, with the one whose belief system is selected as 'correct' getting to shape the future of the world. The Homoiean delegation believe that 'Jesus is neither man nor God but something similar to both and identical to nothing but himself', and their patron is St. Siccim, the Saint of the Knife, who challenged the Antichrist and fought him to a standstill through means of the Knife Dance. The novella's protagonist Struve is one of their number and destined to be a pivotal figure in the changes that are coming, through his actions and those forced upon him becoming a channel for the divine.

Okay, on the face of it a discourse on the nature of Christ might sound rather dull to the non-theologians among us, a case of dotting I and crossing T ad infinitum. The reality is something entirely other, the atmosphere in San Veneficio one of conflict, with the various factions spying on each other, making and breaking alliances of convenience, openly attacking each other, all of which makes for an action packed story complete with firefights and armed raids. And there's also a visionary feel to certain scenes, as with the account of St. Siccim's battle with the Antichrist and Struve's memory of events in his childhood.

The background setting is even more mysterious, with such things as a throwaway mention of Beatrice Bradley landing on the Moon and messages sent round San Veneficio by tubes, while the committee descend on the city in what could well be a spacecraft. You could argue that there's a steampunk vibe going on.

Finally there is Cisco's writing, a prose style that is consummately expressive, throwing a different slant on every event that takes place, with repetition and word choices that highlight what is important and unique about the things being described. And from the first there is motion, a dizzying velocity, as Cisco's phrasing captures something of the nature of the fabled Knife Dance itself, foreshadowed in Struve's initial appearance, tumbling out of a cafe and into the street, into the story and into our hearts and minds.

The Knife Dance is a book that has about it a hallucinatory quality. I was engrossed and delighted by the prose and the mix of heady ideas the novella contains, which play effective counterpoint to the scenes of armed conflict. Recommended.




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