Smile on the Void by Stuart Gordon

I was going through some bookcases, trying to consolidate, and found copies of Smile on the Void, a novel from 1983 that I really think is quite unusual and worthwhile. I think about this book quite a bit, because the author is pretty much forgotten now, and yet this novel is so original. Somehow doesn’t seem fair. Here’s what I wrote about it a few years ago.


Publicized as “the stunning novel of the coming millennium,” Stuart Gordon’s novel uses the conceit of a fake biography to tell the story of Ralph M’Botu Kitaj, a “conjurer, arms dealer, visionary, con-man,” and possible messiah-a man who disappears in plain view of 100,000 people on December 25, 1992, in Venice, but promises to return at the beginning of the new century.

As Big Lies go, Smile on the Void is one of the biggest: an engrossing tale supposedly penned by one of Kitaj’s followers as he evades the authorities, Kitaj’s religion having been banned in most countries. With wit and sincerity, the book relates the story of Kitaj’s rocky path toward ultimate enlightenment. Just as any good biographer should, Gordon, through his narrator, grounds his novel in precise detail. The book convinces at a micro level even as it teases the reader with impossibilities at the macro level. Few books manage to get under the skin the way this one does and few novels of any type-fantastical or mainstream-manage to portray a character as convincingly, flaws and all.

Due, I suppose, to the “new age” marketing of the book, Smile on the Void has been lumped in with The Illuminatus Trilogy, but the novel has much more to offer than jokey conspiracy theory paranoia. Ultimately, despite disavowals and disclaimers, Gordon tells the story of a difficult and heartfelt search for individual spirituality in our sometimes soulless consumer world.

Originally published by F&SF

6 comments on “Smile on the Void by Stuart Gordon

  1. Do you have any idea if this is the same Stuart Gordon that directed Re-Animator and From Beyond?

  2. Toni says:

    Wikipedia tells us that this Stuart Gordon is a Scottish author, whose real first name is Richard:

    So not the same guy as the horror movie director.

  3. Joe says:

    Always makes me sad when a good and original book just doesn’t get the notice it should – it’s one of the reasons I’ve always plugged good writing in-store and online. A bit depressing to see shelfloads of Robert Jordan being bought while the more challenging titles on the Recommends shelves would sell a handful – then again, at least by doing that display we did sell some of them and that’s something. One aspect of the book trade the continues to concern me today is that the ‘mid-list’ authors, those writers who are still new to the majority of the public, if they are lucky enough to get a book deal with a large publisher today often get a mere one or two books to prove their sales worth rather than taking the time to build a following as used to be done, which leave me wondering where the next David Gemmell or Iain Banks will come from if we don’t have that sort of system. Thank goodness for the small presses and for the web to promote them.

    (oh and Stuart Gordon is no relation, but I’ll have to keep an eye out in the second hand shops for this book)

  4. scott says:

    this book is among the handful at the very top of my list of favorite books. i’ve just recently begun re-reading it for the umpteenth time. whenever i’m in a used bookstore, i look for it, and if they have a copy, i buy it, because i want to be ready to lend it to a friend, and don’t want to have to worry about whether or not i get it back (which i rarely do). this is the kind of book that should be passed on to others and then passed on and on and on. . .

  5. ralphie says:


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