imagoThis short story collection demonstrates that Laird Barron is clearly a master of his art. What art he’s a master of, I’m not sure.

Some stories are like “Shiva, Open Your Eye” – short, compact blasts of ice-tipped imagery and efficient prose. Other stories, like “Procession of the Black Sloth” are longer and more languorous, and tend to develop more like vines, growing in indecisive directions and sometimes looping back on themselves. Only at the end does it become clear…sometimes.

You could name-check all day if you’re looking for comparisons. Lead-off story “Old Virginia” seems to have some King/Koontz DNA: a black-hat government spook and a research team are out in the wilds during the height of the Cold War, in possession of what they hope is a powerful psychic weapon in the body of an old woman, when an unknown person begins sabotaging the program. I liked this one, the way it spins together several ideas – the CIA’s MKULTRA program, the legendary disappearance of the Roanoke colonists, even some subtle Weird Tales pastiches – without the story collapsing into a mess.

“Procession of the Black Sloth” reminded me a lot of Dan Simmons’ “The Song of Kali”. Especially the way the specific horrific events of the story sort of merge with the nonspecific horror of being in a far off, unfamiliar place. In this case, the scares come 50% from the setting itself. Right on the heels of that is “Bulldozer”, which seems a bit like a Beat generation horror story – specifically the southern-influenced kind of Beat of Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs.

The volume’s powerful grace note is “The Imago Sequence”, a kind of multiply-layered tale (like House of Leaves, but less obvious in what it’s trying to do) involving a series of disturbing photographs. A great main character in this one, as well as a strong and compelling atmosphere. The story’s paradoxically languid but paranoid – like a drugged man groping in the dark, before the thing in the dark finds him first.

Not everything here is pulled off perfectly – “Old Virginia” is queered at the end by some goofy Bond-villain-esque monologues, while “Shiva, Open Your Eye” probably could have benefited from some more subtlety. But overall, the Imago Sequence is an impressive, diverse, and memorable set of stories. There’s lots of stuff here for you, no matter who you are.

My digital copy of this somehow has an error that credits it to “Laird Barron” and also “Laird Barron”. Maybe that works, in a way. Maybe he’s multiple people. But no matter which Laird Barron is behind the word processor, The Imago Sequence carries a high recommendation.

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