ISBN 978-0-9571213-7-9. Paperback. 366pp. Publication date: January 2014. Equus Press: London.
Frightening, hilarious, insane…
Shortlisted for the 2014 Guardian Not-the-Booker Prize
From the author of BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT “a perfect modern noir” (Richard Marshall, 3AM)
What do a crashed satellite, a string of bizarre murders and a time-warp conspiracy have in common? Welcome to CAIRO, where the future’s just a game and you’re already dead.
Set between New York, London, Prague, Cairo and the Australian desert, CAIRO has been described as “a vivid, dizzying and ultimately exhilarating exploration of the global nightmare… forceful and convincing and fist-pumpingly hilarious” (Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown).
“A genre defying anti-novel… Like communism it is the movement of vast majorities unfettered by a state!” Stewart Home, author of Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie
“Hard to find this kind of fusion-lit combining highbrow sci-fi with semi-noir mystery; nearly impossible to find it done well. Hell yeah it’s a romp, but it’s a serious, time-shifting, corpse-bumping romp as Joblard the anti-hero lurches through a grungy kaleidoscope of a world.” Vincent Farnsworth, author of Theremin
“The book follows a disparate collection of narrators. Lawson is an Aboriginal geophysicist in central Australia, tracking meteorite debris to sell to collectors. Osborne, a lost soul in New York City, is recovering from a mental breakdown with the help of the mysterious Dr Suliman. Joblard is a former heavyweight boxer turned low-level thug, working for a pornographer with a fascination for the weird. Shinwah is an assassin from the future, tasked with hunting down anachronisms – future technology – in our present. The fifth protagonist begins the novel nameless and confused, waking in a Cairo that doesn’t yet exist, led by instinct through its decaying ruins to an uncertain destination. An apparent accident, the destruction of a previously unknown satellite, brings each of these characters into conflict with shadowy forces.” Sky Kirkham, Australian Book Review
“A timely reminder of what fiction can do when it chases ideas, Cairo will reward those looking for a way to escape the enclosure of realism, cutting a hole in the fence so readers can wriggle out into the more interesting and dangerous terrain of the unknown.”Jennifer Mills, Sydney Review of Books
“Beware the savage jaw. The future is here now, and it’s gonna eat you up and shit you out like a half-digested Wozzie Burger. Louis Armand as the Swiftian prophet of the Virtual Age? CAIRO is the best psychogeographic sci-fi detective novel I’ve read. An original take on the genetically engineered, pornographic surveillance state that we are living in right now (in case you hadn’t noticed). Dark, frightening, hilarious and utterly gripping.” Phil Shoenfelt, author of Junkie Love
“CAIRO is downright playful… filling us in on not only the tangible space, but also its sonic properties, its perfume, truly creating in three dimensions the underbelly of the underbelly.” Benjamin Woodard, Numéro Cinq
“Armand’s prodigious gifts as a storyteller, wordsmith, imagineer and general fiend are copiously and carnivorously on display in this wonderful, horrifying book. CAIRO is a vivid, dizzying and ultimately exhilarating exploration of the global nightmare and our big ideas about mental illness and democracy. Raw and ruthless, yet richly detailed and human, Armand takes a circular saw to the dusty corpse of western narcissism and the dread afflictions that torment and beguile the contemporary psyche. Peopled with a staggering array of the doomed, depraved and flat-out zorched, everybody’s on the last gasp and time’s running short. It’s forceful and convincing – and fist-pumpingly hilarious. Armand is a formidable, first-class writer.” Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown
“Much has been written about Louis Armand’s affinities with noir fiction and cinema. His eloquence dealing with the sordid reminds one of Raymond Chandler, and in CAIRO his cinematic cuts from short chapter to short chapter containing seemingly-unrelated plots remind one of the best of film spy thrillers. But imagine the hallucinatory opening of The Mystery of Edwin Drood punctuating a whole book; imagine the fog and smoke darkening the beginning of Bleak House, the dust penetrating Our Mutual Friend darkening our whole planet. Imagine an author as familiar with the landscapes of New York, Northern Africa, London, Prague, the Australian outback as Dickens was with London, The Thames, and Rochester. Imagine the latter’s 19th-century grime become radioactive, dusting our globe. Then imagine a frustrating and destructive conspiracy like Dickens’ Chancery insinuating itself everywhere, but armed and dangerously aware of all current technologies, and characters’ lives caught up in this conspiracy they understand no better than Chancery’s victims understood their tormentor. All this comes to you, no at you, in a complex style that blends staccato phrases, short sentences, deadpan observation of amazing phenomena with apt quotations from philosophy, and with an instructive but never bothersome range of technical information. A gripping, lively, intelligent novel both rooted in tradition and absolutely current. And hip: why give up style when all the lights might go out?” Lou Rowan, author of Alphabet of Love
“A grim and hilarious reckoning with the future and how we got there. Jonathon Swift on a crack binge channeling James Ellroy on a transnational time-warping blitz through the contemporary hallucination and these strangest of end days. Compulsive reading, relentless, unlike anything you have read but uncomfortably close to the life you’ve been living in some fractured corner of the moment.” Michael Brennan, author of Unanimous Night
“A dark, challenging, dystopian novel that is addictive to read. It warps the boundaries of genre, time, identity and place. It’s like being sucked into a video game where you have to figure out the rules on the go. You hit the ground running and hold on till the end with this novel. I’ve not read anything quite like it before.” Michele Seminara, author of Everything Strange & Sacred
“Cairo is an anachronism waiting to happen, a black hole, a black-market book, a demolition of the corporate oasis, a walk through the city of the dead. Transnational but never global, CAIRO is also what WILL happen if things go on as they are. Shinwah’s gaze meets the picture of a future more artificial and more real than you could ever imagine. A novel of ruins. The name of a place. A return to zero, the apex of all possible futures. Psycho-pharmaceutical biocapitalism is tomorrow’s news; so ours too. Cairo: a perfect encapsulation of what it means also to be living in the end times.” A.J. Carruthers, author of The Tulip Beds
“A terrifying and mad mix of sci-fi and international conspiracy.” Damien Ober, author of Doctor Benjamin Franklin’s Dream America
It was gridlock across the island all points south-east of Port Authority. Osborne’s feet ached with the cold. Blackouts had put the south-bound subway off limits. There were crowds blocking the avenues and cross streets, but the scene below Chambers was like nothing he’d witnessed before. There were people everywhere, spilling out into stalled traffic, moving in a type of zombie automatism. It reminded him of a scene from Dawn of the Dead, except it wasn’t. It’d been different when the Twins burned. There was no panic this time, only the sense of a great spontaneous migration, spiralling towards the Zero.
After Chambers, progress became almost impossible. Osborne tried heading towards Cortlandt, but it was the same story. Then quite suddenly he found himself being swept along by the crowd, trapped by competing cross-currents. For a while the transition left him completely disorientated. Then, as he entered deeper into it, he became aware of the crowd as a complex entity with its own mind, its own stream of consciousness: thought-objects knotted together, eddied, spread out. He searched for the flows, the still points, seeking to make headway towards the impact site.
As he drifted east Osborne gradually sensed a change in the atmosphere. The crowd grew more diffuse, less of a mob and more like a gathering of the tribes, each with its vaguely defined zone. It reminded him of the park enclosures on Tomkins Square. Winos, punks, hustlers, old guys playing chess.
At Sixth Avenue the peddlers, sniffing a buck, had set up along the sidewalk. The first one he saw was a black woman, hunched under a blanket in a wheelchair, selling bits of Martian rock behind a makeshift stand. A tiny bleached-out version of Old Glory fluttered at the end of a car aerial taped to the back of her wheelchair and a black-and-white portrait of Buzz Aldrin. It jived weird. Flashback to the old man’s blizzard balls on 181st street. Flash forward to people standing on the roofs of parked cars. Over the sound of whistles and sirens, a stereo was blasting out a retro Public Enemy track. 911’s a Joke. Some of the people on car roofs were dancing to it.
Osborne persisted southbound. Three blocks down, a UPS van had been rolled and set on fire. A mob of office clones gathered around it stamping patent-leather shoes against the cold, shouting into cell phones. A prophet of UFO doom ran through the crowd screaming religious nut gobbledegook. In the distance a police loudhailer, rippling with feedback, repeated an order to stand clear. It was impossible to tell where it was coming from. Up above, the black wasp-like silhouette of a helicopter moved silently in and out between the tops of buildings.
Osborne veered left and found himself in a narrow cross-street, a backwater the human tide had almost passed by. Abandoned lorries blocked most of it. Under a scaffolded overhang, a dozen or so dead souls were gathered in front of a storefront window, transfixed. Osborne edged by. Behind the window, TV screens flared in unison. Images cascaded. A fireball falling through night sky. Helicopter searchlights above a trademark Manhattan skyline. Aerial views. Smoke rising from the impact site. Crowd shots. Hysterical. Car horns blaring. Someone flipping the camera the bird. Talking heads on fast rotation. Then cut to a patched-in view of what looked like some post-apoc excavation site, flooded up to the knees of emergency workers, circa Ridley Scott’s Alien, only this one was real.
The Zero. A mile-wide hole in the ground. It’d been that way since Al-Q kamikazied a pair of 737s into the Twins a decade-and-a-half previous. It seemed like ancient history already. Archaeology. Across the bank of TV screens, a team of army engineers in radiation suits were sifting through debris above the water-line. The remains of a ruined subway train hung from a wall of exposed girders. Tilting up, the camera revealed the smashed façades of neighbouring monoliths, their windows blown in.
Osborne pushed-on again, circling, cutting back, navigating by indirection, past makeshift barricades, across St Paul’s cemetery and almost getting within sight of the Fulton Street station before being forced back again by a scrum of Krishnas in yellow bedsheets. Half an hour of shouldering through the peaceniks he found himself at Broadway and Liberty, at the lower end of the Zero. A street preacher was standing in the middle of the intersection howling into a megaphone. “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth. and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake!” The crowd-mind had opened a space around the preacher. On one side of the intersection, the riot squad lined up behind striped blue and white barriers. On the other, a procession of flagellants stalking back and forth like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, weirdly menacing. The crowd dug the scene. Bottles flew. Cops stroked truncheons and tear gas canisters, expectant. The preacher ranted. The chorus threw up their arms and writhed.