Gabino Iglesias Reviews Dark Factory by Kathe Koja

Dark Factory, Kathe Koja (Meerkat 978-1-94615-475-0, $17.95, 300pp, tp) August 2022. Cover by Tricia Reeks.

Talking about Kathe Koja’s work is never easy, and that’s a good thing. Koja brings a constant explosion or language and ideas to the page, and Dark Factory, a novel that combines her skills as a writer with her experience as a performance artist, is no different. Complex, fast-paced, bi­zarre, and walking a fine line between reality, the page, and the online world, Dark Factory is an expansive beast that barely manages to hold in everything Koja’s work contains. And that, too, is a good thing.

Dark Factory is the name of a club that is also an experience and, for some, a way of life. There are different levels to it, but the idea is the same for everyone: a fun, immersive experience that transcends the idea of a club with just drinking and dancing to offer people something more, something that seems to matter in a more pro­found way given the strength of the experience. It is also a place to get inspired, have sex, and drown your sorrows. Ari Regon works at Dark Factory, running things. He is Dark Factory. Max Caspar is an artist looking to understand reality in a world that seems obsessed with fabricating it. He might be in love. Marfa Carpenter is a journalist trying to bring all of it to the page. These characters, and many more, collide with each in this novel, all of them looking for something, engaging with art and the interstitial space between reality and created worlds, and experiencing life as they do so.

Koja is a name that almost always pops up when readers discuss modern horror fiction masters, but this is not a horror novel. In fact, Dark Factory defies classification. It contains elements of science fiction and literary fiction, but it is also a meta work of art that explores the nature of art and reality, an LGBTQ+ narrative, and a story about being young, losing your job, and finding your place in life.

While Dark Factory is not a horror novel, it is a weird one. It is also a book that only Koja could have written, and the writing is something that must be experienced to be understood. The energy and style Koja brings to the page are special. For example, readers have probably never experienced an author who uses the em dash the way Koja does. The em dash in usually used as a stop, a break, an aside. Here, it is that and much more; it works as a magical sign that opens up new realities, shifts points of view, and births conversations. In almost every instance, what follows the em dash is a different action, the start of something, or information that enriches a scene. I could provide several quotes here, but not even a dozen would be enough to show exactly what Koja does in this novel.

Dark Factory is a novel that exists outside itself. Readers can visit <> and continue to ‘‘live’’ the narrative. Koja is there, but so are Marfa, Ari, and Max, along with much more content. Similarly, the novel takes breaks from the regular narrative to offer articles that tell the story of those in the novel and, in some cases, offer different perspectives on the events in the narrative. When taken together, every element of Dark Factory points to the same thing: Koja is a multitalented artist with a knack for storytelling across various media and a unique voice unlike anything else found in contemporary fiction.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and more like it in the September 2022 issue of Locus.

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