Authors: Laird Barron
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Dark Fantasy, #Horror
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel,
, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron's stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year's best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards.
Barron returns with his third collection,
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror,
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.
"Blackwood's Baby," first published in G
hosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense
, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, Harper Voyager, 2011.
"The Redfield Girls," first published in
, edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas, Tor, 2010.
"Hand of Glory," first published in
The Book of Cthulhu II
, edited by Ross E. Lockhart, Night Shade Books, 2012.
"The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven," first published in
, edited by Ellen Datlow, Dark Horse Books, 2011.
"The Siphon," first published in
Blood and Other Cravings,
edited by Ellen Datlow, Tor, 2011.
"Jaws of Saturn" is original to this volume.
"Vastation," first published in
, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, DAW Books, 2010.
"The Men from Porlock," first published in
The Book of Cthulhu
, edited by Ross E. Lockhart, Night Shade Books, 2011.
"More Dark," first published in
, edited by Matthew Cheney and Eric Schaller, 2012.
by Norman Partridge
If you've an imaginative turn of mind, the name itself conjures images. A man alone. In a castle… or perhaps a manor house. A solitary gent with a few years on him; a man who's carved his place in the world.
Of course, we're talking Scotland. Yes. The man lives in a stone manor on the moors. There he sits, staring at a crackling fire in a huge fireplace. His hunting dogs wait at heel, ready for the bones the master has stripped bare during a long evening meal. The animals are wise enough to hold their place until the word is given. Of course it will be (and soon), for the man loves his dogs as he loves little else.
But something more than love fires this man's engine. Just look above the carved mantle, at the claymore mounted on a pair of hooks that might just as easily be found in an abattoir. There's a spatter of tarnish on the weapon's hilt, but none at all on the blade. And so the claymore speaks of stories that will not cross the man's lips this night… or any night.
It's a name that conjures images, if you've an imaginative turn of mind.
That's no surprise-if you know the words of the man who owns it.
If you know the work he has set down on the page.
I first read Laird's work in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
. Cruising the Internet at dialup speed, I'd found that folks were talking about his stories on several message boards. The word around the campfire was that Laird was pretty damned good. In fact, several people in the business were pointing to him as The Next Big Thing.
Often, that kind of attention turns out to be a curse. Sure, it garners a bucketful of buzz, but it definitely sets the bar high when it comes to expectations. So while a young writer's opportunities may increase exponentially with spotlight attention, there's a price to pay if he doesn't live up to the hype. In a way, it's kind of like being the poor sap who caught the brass ring in the Aztec empire. You know, the one who gets everything he wants, only to be trotted to the top of a pyramid a year later, where his heart is carved bloody and beating from the rat-trap bones of his chest.
Of course, that didn't happen with Laird.
He was nobody's one-hit wonder.
He proved that with each new story he published.
But an image like the one I just boiled up? It's a little hard to let go. So let's play
picture if you will
for just a minute. Say Laird slipped through an eldritch wormhole in space and time, and found himself being dragged by several Aztec warriors to the top of a pyramid for a dose of
sacrificial dagger and heart excision
Let me size up that situation.
Let me put it simply.
I just can't picture Laird Barron going gently into that good night.
I'd pay green money to see those Aztecs try to do their stuff, though. Especially if that wormhole and pyramid came complete with a requisite number of slithering things.
Now, that'd be something to see.
Or read about-in a Laird Barron story.
When I think of Laird's work, I always circle back to the first piece that caught my attention. Originally published in
, "Old Virginia" was a knockout, pure and simple. A piece of situational suspense set in a contained environment-not unlike
, really, when you looked at the story in those terms-but Barron brought so much more to this particular tale that it was scary. It's a concise marvel, complete with sharp characterization, enough dread and darkness to fill up a novel, and just enough sense of the coming reveal to convince the reader he's forever playing catch-up.
Anyway, I finished the story and immediately read it again, intent on discovering just how Laird managed all that in a scant eighteen pages. I still don't think I've figured out the answer to that one, though I've read the story several times since.
But one thing I have figured out: "Old Virginia" always ends up near the top of the list when I think about the best stories I've read in the last ten years.
It's that good.
And so is Mr. Barron.
Of course, Laird has come a long way since then. His Night Shade collections,
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories
Occultation and Other Stories
, earned him a pair of Shirley Jackson awards. His recent novel,
, has earned rave reviews. It's my bet that next year you're going to see the latter on several Best Novel award ballots in the field of the fantastic.
Turns out there's another Laird Barron novel,
The Light is the Darkness
, that I've somehow missed. But finding out that I've got an unread Barron book in my future is kind of like coming up against a king-sized Yuggothian fungi and discovering that you've got one more very serious bullet in your clip.
One more thing: On my bookshelf, you can find Laird between Neal Barrett, Jr. and Ambrose Bierce.
That's a pretty fine place to be.
The man himself?
I know what I've read online and in interviews. Laird's a native Alaskan. He came up tough and has often said that he survived his youth. He's worked in construction and as a commercial fisherman. He raced sled dogs in three Iditarods. If you read Laird's blog, you'll find he occasional recounts these experiences with an honesty that's both self-aware and (in today's world) astonishingly rare. His truths are often unvarnished. Or, as my old man used to say: "He doesn't gild the lily."
Like most writers, Laird is a creature of his experiences and influences. In the larger scheme of things (and in the territory of Alaska) his experiences may not be unique, but when it comes to writers of the fantastic they're pretty close to it. To stretch the point enough to put it in Lovecraft
: "The grist for Mr. Barron's mill is of a singular variety." But like the best writers, Laird has discovered ways to twist his influences and reinvent them, and (ultimately) make them his own.
I'll go out on a limb and say that Laird has an appreciation for the sardonic, too. You'll see that when you read his story "Vastation." You may also discover it in distant corners of the Internet, where Laird sometimes shows up as The Man with the Lee Van Cleef Icon. And you'll find it, too, in a series of posts done last year by Laird's friends: "The Secret Life of Laird Barron."
You'll find out that you can have a pretty good time, laughing in the dark.
But let's stick with Laird's influences for a moment… and the fuel that drives his creative engine. Here's a taste of an interview I conducted with Mr. Barron for my blog:
The first time I read Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," I was on a backpacking trip in Northern California with nothing around but redwoods. It was an unsettling experience, to say the least. You're from Alaska, and you certainly dipped deep into the dark fiction well while living in a remote environment. Do you think that gave you a different view as a reader, and how did it mold you as a writer?
I was born and raised in Alaska, a number of those years spent in wilderness camp as my family migrated with the snow. We raised huskies for travel and freighting purposes, as well as racing in mid-distance competitions and the Iditarod. Money was tight, but books we had and I read voraciously, often by kerosene lamplight. The Arctic isolation, the vast, brooding environment, contributes to a dark psychology that might dilute with time and distance, but never truly dissipates from the spirit. I've siphoned and filtered that energy, channeled it into the atmospherics of the stories I write.
As you're about to see, those atmospherics come through loud and clear in Laird's fiction. Sometimes. At other times, they're transmitted as little more than a whisper… the kind of whisper that can cold-cock you as surely as a slaughterhouse hammer.
Again, you'll find several examples in the stories ahead. It's not my intention to steal thunder from these tales. But here's one example that's a favorite of mine, cribbed from my aforementioned blog interview with Laird:
Touching again on the geographical influence of Alaska, I'll give you a less abstract example of how the primordial energy of that area affects people from varied backgrounds. In the winter of 1993 I was racing a team of huskies across the imposing hills between the ghost town of Iditarod and the village of Shageluk. It was near sunset, thirty or forty below Fahrenheit, lonely wilderness in all directions, and the team trudged along due to poor trail conditions. I was tired, all attention focused upon directing the dogs and keeping the sled from crashing as we negotiated the treacherous grades.
Periodically, I noted old, old pylons made of sawn logs erected off the beaten path. Markers. Initially, I didn't have much reaction, but as darkness drew down around us, the dogs' ears pricked up and a general sensation of nervousness radiated from the team. Within a few minutes I was very much overcome by a sense of dread, a profound and palpable impression of being watched by an inimical presence. Later, I queried several of the villagers about the markers (which indicated trails to hunting and burial areas) and they told me that the region was absolutely unsafe to travel after dark due to aggressive spirits. In the years since, former racers, some of them hard-bitten ex-military men, trappers and hunters, have expressed identical experiences of the approach to Shageluk.
As I learned, it's simply something almost every racer goes through if they find themselves in that stretch around dusk. Not a damned thing happened, but I haven't shaken the creepiness of those vibes in the seventeen years and it inspires me whenever I contemplate the antagonism between man and wild, the modern and the ancient, or what is known versus what is hidden.