Kathe Koja’s Dark Factory

Taking Bohemia seriously.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readMar 20, 2022


The cover for Kathe Koja’s ‘Dark Factory.’

In Dark Factory, Kathe Koja — an incredible, versatile writer who has pioneered multiple genres of fiction — presents an “immersive novel,” about a high-stakes Bohemian party scene of mixed-reality artists, wealthy dilettantes, weird theorists and the very serious business of fun.


The titular Dark Factory is a hot mixed-reality club, where dancers, DJs, bartenders and artists combine music, neural interface signals, intoxicants and physical movement to create transformative, all-night parties without rival.

Though Dark Factory is raking in cash, it’s also hemorrhaging it, thanks to a feckless owner; sinister financial backers, petty rivalries, and the restless, precarious tastes of the scenesters, which Dark Factory both leads and responds to.

The story revolves around two poles: first, there’s Ari, a rock-star scenemaker and producer who is worshipped by art-school kids, importuned by would-be DJs and artists, envied by his rivals and resented by his boss.

Then there’s Max, a preternaturally gifted theorist of immersive experiences, who can see and understand the way that scenes come together, nail down the instinctive genius of someone like Ari and explain why it works. Max’s brilliance should guarantee him a place in the pantheon of the immersive scene, but he’s so gnomic, driven and antisocial that he’s a laughingstock to most, and a burden to the few who see his genius.

The novel sees Max and Ari (along with a massive cast of lovers, collaborators, wannabes, trustafarian hangers-on, driven artists, scrappy journalists, promoters, money-people, and scenesters) chasing a numinous, indefinable thrill, as eternal and gigantic as the galaxy. The drugs, neural interfaces, beats, sculpture and movement have captured and united them, even as they jostle and squabble amongst each other.

Koja has an incredible gift for writing about Bohemian scenes, about the urgency and drive it takes to devote your life to evoking emotions that can’t be captured with mere narrative and reason. Her early existential horror novels — The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin — were tales of blood and glamour, of willing self-immolation in service to art.



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr