“The Imago Sequence and Other Stories” by Laird Barron is a collection of stories by one of the more acclaimed “weird fiction” (if you will) writers of the last 20 years. His work seems to be heavily atmospheric in the vein of Lovecraft, whom I’m only really familiar with secondhand at this point (I should rectify that this year). While the stories in this volume are well done and creepily atmospheric, I think they do suffer from a sameness that is apparent when read all together in a collection like this.
The book opens with one of the more effective stories from Laird Barron, “Old Virginia”. Set in the late 1950s, it concerns an off the books CIA operation that is headed by Garland, an old, washed-up agent who has gone through a lot of shit and seems to have outlived his usefulness to the Company. He’s on babysitting duty for a couple of scientists experimenting on a woman, but shit goes wrong. Threading in MKULTRA and Croatoan, but pointing to an unnatural creature that predates the first European colonies in the US and which may also outlast us all, it’s a very creepy and effective story.
From there, however, the initial shock and horror is eroded through the book, as again and again the horror is deep, cosmic, and will devour us all in the end. If there is no real hope, then what is the point?
The stories are all well-told, don’t get me wrong, and I liked how some of the stories are linked by a few characters who recur in them. If I encountered individual stories here and there in best of anthologies and such, I probably would enjoy them more (and I believe I have read some of these elsewhere), but all together like this they become a numbing repetition of the same themes of cosmic horror that Laird Barron seems to come back to.
However, “Bulldozer” is an interesting tale of a late-19th century Pinkerton man following a Barnum sideshow strong man who has gone on a ritualistic killing spree. That’s good stuff, but again, in this context, it becomes dulled when in the end the unknowable horror becomes known by the character and it ends up destroying him.
Or then there’s “Proboscis”, which gradually unleashes its horror as the narrator wanders a Washington state landscape after a botched attempt at bounty hunting, and becomes aware of the predators in hiding all around him. But it’s what we keep seeing in these stories.
And the title story is a creepy tale of how a series of photographs of an apparent caveman frozen in ice leads to much more, where viewing the photographs seems to unlock…something…in certain viewers, and one man’s quest to find out what that something is.
In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with this collection of Laird Barron’s stories, but I think the fault lies in too much of a good thing, rather than the individual stories. The stories aren’t the bad part, it’s the fact that it exposes too much the themes that Barron is exploring and that he kept coming back to them in this period of his career. From what I see on his website, though, he’s got a crime novel now, which intrigues me.
I hope he doesn’t take offense, because from his bio (born in Alaska, where he raised and trained huskies for years) and his picture,
he could undoubtedly kick my ass, and given that he lives east of me in the same state, he’s within a day’s driving distance, so he could come kick my ass and be home in time for supper. All after having revealed unknowable horror to me and making me regret my worm-like reviewer existence.
Ok, I doubt he actually would do that, but if you don’t hear from me for awhile, just assume that Laird Barron kicked my ass. (“Let this be my epitaph!”)