Sunday, February 10, 2008

Laird Barron

Laird Barron's work has appeared in places such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, SCIFICTION, Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, and The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It has also been reprinted in numerous year's best anthologies. His debut collection, The Imago Sequence & Other Stories, was recently published by Night Shade and was named an outstanding horror title of the year by the American Library Association. Mr. Barron is an expatriate Alaskan currently at large in Washington State.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I recently finished writing the introduction to Michael Shea's The Autopsy & Other Tales. It's a massive book collecting most of Shea's significant work dating back to the late 1970s. Shea's debut collection, 1987's landmark Polyphemus, all of which will reappear in the upcoming omnibus, remains a classic in the dark fantasy/science fiction/horror genres. Shea has paid homage to the likes of Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and H.P. Lovecraft, but he's made these influences his own, translated them into a powerful, fearsome vision fans of the dark fantastic should not miss. The Autopsy & Other Tales will be published by Centipede Press, release date unknown as of this moment. Keep an eye out.

Another great collection tinged by the horrific and the weird is Paul Tremblay's Compositions for the Young and Old. Published by Prime, the trade paperback is introduced by Stewart O'Nan. Haunting and surreal, these stories follow a chronological progression from childhood through the twilight of agedness, and into the darkness beyond. Tremblay's a gorgeous stylist who skillfully employs science fiction and dark fantasy tropes to illuminate the human condition. As with fine wine, these are stories to be savored over extended readings.

One of the best thrillers I've encountered in recent years is Sarah Langan's second novel, The Missing. This is a horror novel in the macabre tradition of early Stephen King, except, I daresay, more disturbing than King's early work. To borrow from comments I made for a library recommendations project: "In The Missing, a boy sneaks away from a class field trip and stumbles across a bizarre clearing in the woods -- a clearing where the earth has gone black with blood and animal bones are piled in sacrificial biers. The boy's intrusion stirs a great evil that soon begins to consume the Maine town of Corpus Christi, transforming its unwitting citizenry into something atavistic, and, ultimately, quite inhuman. Langan wrenches the hoary tropes of sleepy towns and festering curses into the Twenty-first Century. Her depiction of small town life and the dark side of human nature would be no less compelling were it utterly stripped of its supernatural elements." A superior thriller, The Missing made the American Library Association's Reading List as an outstanding title in the horror genre.

Finally, I must also mention T.E.D. Klein's Dark Gods. I've read this collection of four superlative dark fantasy novellas many times over the years. It's one of those books that ends up on my rolltop desk alongside my thesauruses, dictionaries, and grammar guides --a kind of style handbook of the macabre. Klein, one time editor of Twilight Zone Magazine, is a master of quiet, creeping, cerebral horror. A consummate stylist, he effectively and relentlessly builds an atmosphere of dread before springing the shocks on his hapless, albeit impeccably drawn, characters. Read Dark Gods at night by the mellow glow of a cozy old lamp with some blankets and a snifter of brandy. I don't think any modern author surpasses Klein when it comes to the art of the spooky tale.
Visit Laird Barron's website and LiveJournal.

--Marshal Zeringue