The Imago Sequence, by Laird Barron Rothdas book review RSS
3.2 Stars

God never closes a door without opening a hole.

If Robert Aickman is a bit too oblique in his strange tales, Laird Barron is perhaps not quite oblique enough in his working-class tales of Mythos-horror. Lovecraft and many of his successors turn away at the cusp of the un-nameable and indescribable, but Barron just keeps on trucking. This is a strength and a weakness in his stories. When it works, you get some genuinely disgusting/clever/memorable scenes of cascading terror. When it doesn't, the scenes come away as formulaic and repetitive and silly, and lose by the extended explication of something that should be alien and beyond us. It is even worse than the usual case where a villain explains their plot, Lovecraft readers are so finely attuned to working off of hints and suggestions rather than detailed plans. There is one point at the end of the first short story, when you think that the hints that have been given by the monster are all you are going to have to work off of. Nope! There are two more pages of explanation after that. And it is like, "Oh, ok, I guess I wasn't expecting a full diagram of what is going on, but sure, go for it."

Anyway! These are horror stories, and involve large amounts of blood, guts, mud, slime, body horror, terrible mutilation, and death. The main characters are thugs, soldiers, detectives, and good-old boy business men. On the one hand I do kind of like this different take on the Lovecraft protagonist; no limp-wristed philologists here! Instead, we have hard men with small minds medicating themselves to death. Seriously, there is a lot of drinking. Most the characters go through the stories in a haze of alcohol and pills; it is a bit like reading _Good Morning Midnight_ all over again. Zing! As an experiment, I went back to the penultimate story in the series, The Imago Sequence. Here are the number of times that a character takes a drink/drug, or talks about doing so:

Page 1: 1
Page 2: 4
Page 3: 8
Page 4: 1
Page 5: 2
Page 6: 1
Page 7: 6
Page 8: 4
Page 9: 8
Page 10: 4
Page 11: 1
Page 12: 0
Page 13: 1
Page 14: 0
Page 15: 2
Page 16: 0
Page 17: 4
Page 18: 4

This short-story is a bit drunker than average, but not by much. (Now we finally reach the other hand...) It gets annoying when your protagonist is completely soused through story after story, and just evaporates when moving from scene to scene.

One thing I did appreciate was that the stories are more interconnected than you usually get from the genre. The main connections are in Bulldozer, Hallucigenia, and Imago Sequence; they are also the best stories and I would read those first if you are wondering if you will like Laird Barron. The worst stories were Black Sloth and Proboscis, both of which left me feeling like I wasted my time. Honorable mentions go to Parallax, which is more melancholy than horror, and Hour of the Cyclops, where Barron takes the piss out of the other stories in the collection. Overall these were bloody and well written horror stories with a Lovecraftian tint; I'm just not sure I actually like such heavy and direct horror stories.