The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

Knivesout no more
Nov 11, 2003
Bangalore, India
Bliss is ephemeral; true for anyone or anything. The oceans have been decimated several times in the last billion years. Sterile waters in a clay bowl. Life returned unbidden on each occasion. The world slumbers, twitches and transforms. From the jelly, lizards crawled around the fetid swamps eating one another and dying, and being replaced by something else. Again, again, again, until you reach the inevitable conclusion of sky-rises, nuclear submarines, orbiting sattelites, and Homo Sapiens fornicating the earth. God swipes His Hand across Creation, it changes shape and thrives. A cycle, indeed a cycle, and not a pleasant one if you are cursed with a brain and the wonder of what the cosmic gloaming shall hold for you.
- Shiva, Open Your Eye

Barron gazes long into the cosmic gloaming in the course of the short stories assembled in The Imago Sequence, his first short story collection. What he sees is a doomed, oblivious race, scuttling about in chaotic orbits, attending parties, chasing thrills, living lives, unaware that something larger lurks behind the scenes, waiting to devour everything.

Shiva, Open Your Eye is the oldest story here, and in some ways the most rudimentary. After a short scene-setting introduction we are plunged into an extended monologue from an ancient consciousness that exists merely to destroy and devour. This is at once the most bare and the most telling story in the collection; it sets the stage, I think, lets us know what kind of a ride we are in for.

Elsewhere, Barron indulges an obsessive eye for surface detail, piling nuance after nuance up in a sort of phantasmagoria that embraces the quotidian with the same brio with which it trots out the horrific. The story The Royal Zoo Is Closed is nearly all detail - a kaleidoscopic view of the apocalypse that resolves into a Beckettian stalemate for its impotent protagonist.

In between these two extremes, Barron tells us a variety of tales that partake of the surface conventions of noir, with their tough-guy protagonist, investigative thrust, settings that are either seedy, glamorous or a mix of both, and a certain dry, wry tone of voice. There's a Pinkerton detective chasing a circus freak who has stolen a tome of ancient terrors across the old West; a failed wrestler and strongarm man who is sent to track down a missing millionaire and the last photo in a sequence that purports to show the face of pure, primal evil (or is it ultimate, bind Godhead?); a corporate spy who tracks shady dealings in Asia and winds up in a very nasty Buddhist hell and so on.

These are men of the world, not Lovecraft's wimpy scholars. They're tough customers who can swing a punch and take one too. They live in worlds where crazy stuff of the more mundane, violent variety is common. And then, the other sort of crazy stuff - the bad, supernatural sort - filters through.

Barron conjures up a baroque filigree of disjointed yet telling horrific detail overlaid on the very real world his protagonists inhabit. There are vast entities, primal, blind predators lurking behind the surfaces he so lovingly describes, and the surfaces crumble away to reveal the horrors within in story after story.

Most of his stories are loosely linked by characters, phrases or concepts. These tales are largely set in the USA and can be read as an interlinked series if you want to. Procession Of The Black Sloth stands apart from these with its Asian setting and retributive rather than merely all-consuming terrors; it may represent a new departure for Barron. Either way, I'm, convinced that here is a very original stylist, a sort of richly patterned, sensory-overloading complement to Ligotti's more austere, tenebrous fiction. A writer who evokes a truly cosmic sense of unease.

One final kernel of wisdom gained through the abomination of time and service. A pearl to leave gleaming on this empty shore; safely assured that no one shall come by to retrieve it and puzzle over the contradiction. Men are afraid of the devil, but there is no devil, just me and I do as I am bid. It is God that should turn their bowels to soup. Whatever God is, He, or It, created us for amusement. It's too obvious. Just as He created the prehistoric sharks, the dinosaurs and the humble mechanism that is a crocodile. And Venus fly traps, and black widow spiders, and human beings. Just as He created a world where every organism survives by rending a weaker organism. Where procreation is an imperative, a leech's anesthetic against agony and death and disease that accompany the sticky congress of mating. A sticky world, because God dwells in a dark and humid place. A world of appetite, for God is ever hungry.
- Shiva, Open Your Eye
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Yes, I've never heard of this author before, notwithstanding the fact this is their debut collection.

Like F.E. says a nicely worded review.
Every time I read a new Laird Barron tale my little brains tells me, "Look, just give up pretending that you're doing anything original or worthwhile. Look at what this man has accomplished! He is one of the sweetest mortals I have ever met. To be in his company has a special appeal, rather like being around S. T. Joshi, where you know that you are in the presence of greatness, humble or (in S. T.'s case) not so humble as may be. To be with them is to taste electricity in the aether.
The book sounds fascinating. I've never read anything by this author, but going by the passages you've quoted, he seems to have a unique voice to go with that original style.

The review is something of a masterpiece, too.

(But shouldn't you have started this thread in Reviews?)
I really need to catch up with this book as I keep hearing so many darn good things about it!

Perhaps some kindly soul will teleport a copy of this item to me....:rolleyes:
I just finished this collection (thanks Nesa ;) ) and some of the stories were very good indeed, evoking a real sense of horror. Very disturbing...
I'm convinced that when all the dust settles Barron will go down as one of the most important horror writers of the early 21st century. His stuff has that rare genius and power to terrify that marks only the very best writers' works. One can only hope that his best work still lies ahead...
Ordering this next week as part of an online haul. Just about everyone I correspond with here seems to have a copy of this work.