John Shirley Website



A Cult Classic!

In a post-apocalyptic, near-future world, the apocalypse has surpassed all expectations. Evil demons roam the earth, delighting in the sadistic torture of any humans they encounter, while Ira, a young San Francisco artist, joins forces with a powerful young seeress and an offbeat group of scientists and philosophers to end the reign of terror. Yet the demons draw their strength from an all-too-familiar evil—a deadly malevolence supported by some of the greatest powers on earth, concealed beneath the trappings of status, success, and abused power. Ira and his allies—including a compelling young seeress–come to believe these demons didn’t just appear. They were summoned. But the most shocking revelation is yet to come...


Demons: 20 Year Celebration Edition

Demons (Hardcover)

Demons (Trade Paperback)

Demons (Ebook)

Demons (Audiobook)

Original Novella

Demons (Cemetery Dance Novella Series #9)
“An allegory for our time, full of creepy splendor and excitement...Demons is a brave and smart book. Read it if you dare.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Demons is funny, outrageous, and frightening, and, as a metaphor for our times, it works frighteningly well.”—Rocky Mountain News

Reviews of Original Novella

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Horror fiction that traffics in the supernatural perforce sometimes deals with matters of psycho-spiritual import. Rarely does it tackle them as directly as in this exciting, vigorously original novella from Shirley. The book is brief, but Shirley packs into it an epic's worth of imagination and ideas. As the story opens, Earth is under siege by marauding demons—seven “Clans” or types of “supernatural creatures” that take pleasure in killing, often with maximum pain. In flashback, the narrator, Ira, a young artist/art director, details the coming of the demons and humanity's response to their mass slaughter. Denial, terror, appeasement, habituation; in the present day, he helps uncover the decades of intentional human depredation that led to their arrival. At this level, the novella works well as a brisk, sophisticated action yarn with echoes of classic horror tales, particularly those dealing with alien invasion; especially effective is a rooftop scene that has Ira facing off against a Bugsy, an extremely nasty sort of demon that mimics human form and talks like a drunk. But Shirley ups the ante considerably by doubling the story as a parable about awakening—as Buddha, Jesus and others might have used the term—about awakening from the mind's incessant chatter and dreams to see the world as it really is. Humanity's hope to defeat the demons rests in a mysterious Conscious Circle of Humanity made up of those who have achieved wakefulness; one man connected to the Circle has an exotic daughter whom Ira loves and who turns out to be harboring within her psyche the “Gold in the Urn”, a blazing wheel of energy that contains the “being force” of history's awakened ones and that, ultimately, proves the demons' match. With its potent underlying philosophy, serious theme, fresh vision and taut storytelling, this little novel makes a big impact.

The Barnes & Noble Review

John Shirley gives us a taste of what can happen when we live as if our actions are inconsequential. Through the eyes of one of the main characters, an artist named Ira, we see the future: a world where demons are everywhere. As is the case with humanity, good and evil aren't easily discerned, and so the folks one would normally count on have failed us, and, like the Bible says, the meek do inherit the earth.

So it is that we see the Gnashers, Spiders, Grindums, and Dishrags all doing what demons do best—torturing humanity. Shirley does a great job giving dimensions and personalities to each of the demon clans, which makes the story that much more enjoyable to read. The Bugsys, for example, are galactic gamblers and love the thrill of laying down a bet—I'd love to see some Vegas croupier catch them cheating and try to throw them out!

Although Demons is a lot of fun to read, it is also a very deep and profound story.

Reviews of the Novel

Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus panned Shirley’s Boschian The View from Hell as “Without question the worst book of the year” (2001), and Shirley charged us with missing the human side of his hellscape in a novel that remains the year’s grisliest lurid fiction.

Well, he has done it again, though this time adding a saving humor to his stinger’s grim message about the ghastliness mankind accustoms itself to—and the mind-bendingly horrific acts it accepts as part of daily life. Demons, less a pastiche than Hell, falls into two parts (the first published by Cemetery Dance in 2000). In the very near future, the world is overrun by seven clans of demons. These demons, who speak a hilariously schizoid Tartaran and eat cars, handicapped children, planes, and people by the tens of thousands, look like creatures out of R. Crumb: Tailpipes are massive leviathans, slugs with nothing like a head; multi-batwinged Sharkadians have heads that are all jaws, with a human female’s body and savage claws; Gnashers are abusively sadistic telepaths with human eyes but four arms and jaws like the Sharkadians’; and just as independently horrible are Grindums, Spiders, Dishrags, and Bugsys. Ira, Part One's nerdy storyteller, tells of the day the demons arrive in San Francisco while he romances Melissa Paymenz, the daughter of SFSU’s babbling professor of occult practices. Symbolic of mankind’s meltdown: a Central American country makes fast money as a vast waste dump, no farms, no forests, barely a village left: “Barges come from North America, Mexico, Brazil.” Only Melissa bears the Solar Soul, whose light will awaken sleepers from whom the demons emerge. In Part Two, nine years later, Stephen Isquerat investigates the Demonic Hallucination and finds endless governmental cover-ups. Masterful, amusing, and sent from Mars.

Postcards from a Dying World: David Agranoff

There are books that change your life, no matter how great I think it is, I doubt that this book will have the effect on most of you that it did me. When I discovered the work of John Shirley I had just made the decision that I wanted to take my own writing seriously. I was getting lots of advice, and mostly I was trying to learn lessons from the greats I grew up reading. The discovery of this book and John Shirley at Bluestocking Books in San Diego upended my thinking and was a huge influence on me as a writer.

I bought Crawlers and Demons, in part because they were Del Rey books, a brand I mostly trusted, and this writer who I missed until that point somehow. It had blurbs from Clive Barker and William Gibson, wait he wrote The Crow!!! When I looked him up he had a career in both Science Fiction and Horror. I kept getting advice to pick a lane, and this dude was doing both. That was a goal I had. By all accounts, he was political and radical in his thinking. That was something I was craving in the genre. He fronted some of the first Punk bands in Portland??? This guy rules!

Demons is two novellas put together, and I think the first one is an absolute masterpiece, a genius piece of work. The second one is good and important but it has the unfortunate job of following up a story that was complete. The first book was published with a indie small press, and the thinking was that needed to be expanded to make it a full book to be published for a national market. At the time doorstop, huge epics were all the rage in publishing. Demons is not that but it had to be longer. Trade paperbacks of novellas were not in like they are today.

The fact is the first book is worth the cost of admission. The whole shebang opens with the narrator saying it is amazing what you get used to. The people in this novel have gotten used to eight clans of demonic creatures attacking and killing people across the globe. An invasion from where? And by whom? These monsters are described in a helpful and hilarious glossary before the story starts. Bugsys are described as a parody of humans, and tricksters, The Sharkadians have head-like jaws, wings and apparently female. Nightmare stuff. Spiders and massive leviathans called Tailpipes, just to name a few.

When the demons show up society has no answers, the people just have to run and survive. There is fun monster action, and in the hands of most authors, this would set up a kaiju story that might have a message that goes over the heads of most readers. This is a John Shirley book, the radical voice of the genre that wore a spiked dogged collar to Clarion and scared the shit out of Harlan Ellison (who read part of this novel’s audiobook) by jumping out of a tree onto him while tripping balls.

Demons is not a typical kaiju end-of-the-world monster mash because the person who wrote it is a radical voice commenting on the world. Published in 2000, and written in the late 90s Demons is a book in the SF horror tradition of ecological horror. The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner released in 1974 might be the best example of this. Brunner’s book is so bleak it makes McCarthy’s The Road look like a rom-com. Demons also makes a powerful statement about the destruction of our ecology and tie it to capitalist assholes profiting from it, and does it with a sense of humor and fun.

Demons doesn’t just take aim at the capitalists; it finds a way to comment on in sly little ways about nearly everyone. You can’t do a story about demons without talking about religion.

“If the commentator was Christian, he said it fulfilled revelations. The Jews, the Sikhs, the Muslims pointed to other prophecies, the fundamental Christians, anyway, were easily refuted: the Second Coming never came about. They waited and waited for the Judgement; for the angel with the flaming sword, for the Rapture, for the dead rise, but not (now and then the demons raise the dead but not the way Christians expected), for Jesus to come in his glory. Jesus was a no-show. Naturally, the evangelists rationalized his conspicuous absence: The Sacred Timetable, don’t you know is a little off, that’s all but the most “righteous” of them were eaten alive, a limb at a time, in public no differently than sinners. I remember when the demons rampaged through Oral Roberts University. The sniggering delight that some hipsters and cynics took in the brutal series of blood atrocities was most embarrassing—for the rest of us cynics and hipsters.”

This passage was a huge indication in my first read all those years ago, that Shirley had zero-f's to give if his commentary hit a little too hard for some in the audience. I grew up with lots of safe voices in the genre, who wanted to appeal to everyone. I had read the splatterpunks, and needed more voices like that. Here was a voice in the genre who had stood on the stage in a basement as the focal point of a punk band and was channeling that energy into a book of ecological rage, using hilarious metaphors of this demonic invasion.

Who are the demons? In the end who are the demons? The rampaging monsters or the capitalist forces that caused them to rise? Are the storms, heat waves, forest fires, and dust bowls of climate change the monsters of our future? No the reality is it is the suits making cash in board runs, the capitalist bastards trading your grandchildren’s future for money. John Shirley’s Demons is about exactly that.

“Yes, the little city of Hercules,” Nyerza said. “all but wiped out a few years ago in an industrial accident. Very like what happened in Bhopal in the last century,I understand. Perhaps you lost friends or relatives there?”

One after another they traced the demons you these accident sites where sacrifices caused the demons to rise. This is a hardcore allegory and one that instantly hooked me as a Shirley fan. He was the voice in genre I was looking for all these years. That was almost two decades ago now. I have a three-layer John Shirley shelf. I have written extensively about his career and work, including the bonus features for the e-book of his horror masterpiece Wetbones. I worked with John to adapt one of his short stories for a screenplay. My love for his work is pretty boundless but the spark that lit this flame was this allegory.

Demons book one is a short, funny, and exciting novella that services that allegory. It is not a spoiler, as there are many laugh-out-loud and holy shit moments. It is what I call idea dense with moments that seem like a throw-away joke but provide great commentary.

“You guys are staring at me like I’m nuts, but you’re special—they have that mobile Fox Channel transmitter, on that bus that uses that satellite info and dodges the demons. They have that show The Clans and it’s pure demonphile stuff.”

Keep in mind this line, obviously, a dig at shows like COPS was written before the rise of reality TV. Shirley has had a habit of mocking the future before it came true. If you read his [2021] SF novel Stormland you should be worried. As far as the Demonphile stuff, we have seen in our current times that the MAGA cult has taken a criminal moron like Trump and turned him into what they view as a saintly figure. They do this when the list of his anti-American actions is endless. They worship him.

As for Demons: Book Two: While it is not the unfuckwithable masterpiece that the first half, it is also saying important stuff about today. It doesn’t have the humor or the monster action but it is very much about how we as a society bury the obvious right in front of us in an attempt to just carry on.

I think Demons is an underrated book. Reading the reviews online it is funny to me how many people just don’t get it. Now that I have read everything by Shirley I don’t rank as high as some novels Wetbones, City Come’ A Walkin, Transmaniacon, and the Song Called Youth trilogy are absolute masterpieces. Stormland I think will be one of the SF books that with time will sadly pre-date stuff.

Anyways I pulled this one on the shelf on a whim, planning to re-read one of my favorite scenes, and got hooked. Demons rules. Shirley is right: The cultists in boardrooms are wrecking the planet and killing you in a ritual sacrifice, the problem is they raising money, not demons but you are in no less danger.