Song of Kali is a very personal horror favorite of mine, and has been ever since I tracked it down around 1989 or '90 and had to place a special order for it even then. Can't recall how I'd heard of it; probably some interview with Ellison somewhere. The glorious red textured paperback cover was like manna from heaven for me, while thanks go to Jill Bauman, for a cover illustration actually relates to the plot. For years I'd kept my original paperback (Tor, November 1986) in perfect condition, and I also bought this beat-up used copy so I could reread it - three times now! - and mark my favorite passages, for instance:
I think that there are black holes in reality. Black holes in the human spirit. And actual places where, because of density or misery or sheer human perversity, the fabric of things comes apart and that black core in us swallows all the rest.
An aspiring American poet named Robert Luczak, his Indian wife Amrita, and their infant daughter trek to Calcutta so he can track down a lauded and mysterious old Indian poet, M. Das, whose unsettling new work has been making the rounds of the literary world - after his supposed death some years before. But the young American finds an exotic and dangerous world beyond his worst... oh, you know. You know. But Song of Kali also has something to say, as its dour anxieties address (inherent?) xenophobia, fear of women (manifested in the devouring goddess of Kali), the all-too-real fear of our children being harmed, as well as our unholy, unending passion and capacity for violence.
1991 Tor reprint
Simmons also does the nearly unbelievable job of bringing an unhallowed, nightmare version of Calcutta to life on the page - I believe he was in the city for only several days to do research - a dank dreadful atmosphere, swarming noxious crowds, shadowy cult secrets, and bloated, rotting corpses. It's so palpable, and strikingly unique in the annals of '80s horror fiction. And those with some knowledge of India's ancient religious myths will find the tale all the more disturbing. But in the end the only true evil, the only evil ever, is human and never divine.
The song of Kali is now sung, the age of Kali has begun. Listen.
"The world is pain/O terrible wife of Siva/ You are chewing the flesh/Your tongue is drinking the blood, O dark Mother! O unclad Mother/O beloved of Siva/The world is pain."
Oh. Hells. Yeah. And still in print. Pick it up.