Kathe Koja writes novels, short fiction, and performance pieces, and directs and produces immersive narratives. Her work has won multiple awards, including the Bram Stoker Award, the Locus Award, and the Henry Bergh Award, and has been optioned for film and performance. She's based in Detroit and thinks globally. Her newest project is DARK FACTORY, coming in 2022.

The Cipher by Kathe Koja

Nicholas, a would-be poet, and Nakota, his feral lover, investigate the depths of what they call "the Funhole," a black hole in a storage room floor that takes them nowhere but down. A horror classic.


I remember when Kathe Koja burst onto the science fiction, fantasy, and horror scene with her jaw-dropping stories. A masterly visceral stylist, Kathe fearlessly explores the dark underside of creativity. I wasn't surprised to learn The Cipher also won the Bram Stoker Award, conferred by Horror Writers of America, and was named by io9.com as one of the Top Ten Debut Novels That Took the World by Storm. When you dive into this selection in the Philip K. Dick Award Bundle, be sure to leave the lights on. – Lisa Mason



  • "The Cipher... combined intensely poetic language and lavish grotesqueries."

    – BoingBoing
  • "Winner of both a Bram Stoker Award and a Locus Award in 1991, Koja's debut has yet to lose one iota of impact."

    – Booklist
  • "This powerful first novel is as thought-provoking as it is horrifying."

    – Publishers Weekly



"Who knows what the hell it is?" arguing over instant coffee (me) and sluggish mineral water (her). The flat reeked of smoke; we'd been fighting, slow and tense, for hours already. Never questioning it, even then, never a shred of doubt, just the birth of the eternal disagreement. Because how could we, how could anyone deny that calm black fact, stationed there on the floor in a crummy unused storage room in a crummier building on a street no developer would ever claim?

Speculation, sure. Where'd it come from, where—Nakota's first, still most passionate concern—did it lead to? "If you went down there," her eyes all shine.

"If you went down there."

"Oh yeah."