Cities of the Red Night was written (or perhaps imagined is a more accurate term) in 1981 by William S. Burroughs - a well known beat era author. My first reading of the work has left me a bit confused, as I expect it may have left many others. It seems to present a twisted mythology of Burrough's own creation involving homoerotic pagan rituals coupled with time travel through the transference of souls from one body to the next. It gives off an aura of ancient, dark religion - long forgotten beliefs..
It is most definitely Burroughs' longest work - well over three hundred pages - which indicates to me that it may have held some kind of deep meaning for him, perhaps most of it pieced together throughout his adventures as a drug addict.
Apparently, the cities of the red night existed approximately one hundred thousand years ago around the present area of the Gobi Desert. There were six cities: Thamaghis, Ba'dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, and Ghadis. The population of the area and within the cities was constantly stable - no one could be born without a corresponding death. The two major classes of inhabitants were Transmigrants and Receptacles. I will let Burroughs describe their functions:
"The inhabitants were divided into and elite minority known as the Transmigrants and a majority known as the Receptacles. Within these categories were a number of occupational and specialized strata and the two classes were not in practice separate: Transmigrants acted as Receptacles and Receptacles became Transmigrants."
"To show the system in operation: Here is an old Transmigrant on his deathbed. He has selected his future Receptacle parents, who are summoned to the death chamber. The parents then copulate, achieving orgasm just as the old Transmigrant dies so that his spirit enters the womb to be reborn. Every Transmigrant carries with him at all times a list of alternative parents, and in case of accident, violence or sudden illness, the nearest parents are rushed to the scene. However, there was at first little chance of random or unexpected deaths since the Council of Transmigrants in Waghdas had attained such skill in the art of prophecy that they were able to chart a life from birth to death and determine in most cases the exact time and manner of death."
"Many Transmigrants preferred not to wait for the infirmities of age and the ravages of illness, lest their spirit be so weakened as to be overwhelmed and absorbed by the Receptacle child. These hardy Transmigrants, in the full vigor of maturity, after rigorous training in concentration and astral projection, would select two death guides to kill them in front of the copulating parents. The methods of death most commonly employed were hanging and strangulation, the Transmigrant dying in orgasm, which was considered the most reliable method of ensuring a successful transfer. Drugs were also developed, large doses of which occasioned death in erotic convulsions, smaller doses being used to enhance sexual pleasure. And these drugs were often used in conjunction with other forms of death."
"In time, death by natural causes became a rare and rather discreditable occurrence as the age for transmigration dropped. The Eternal Youths, a Transmigrant sect, were hanged at the age of eighteen to spare themselves at he coarsening experience of middle age and the deterioration of senescence, living their youth again and again."
In any case, I would definitely recommend this book for any fan of Mr. Burroughs, although I would recommend that newcomers to his realm read some of his other works before diving into the world that is Cities of the Red Night..