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Introduction by Michael Shea


Laird Barron’s carnivorous cosmos…  Or perhaps it’s more a conspiracy his cosmos draws you into than a digesting maw.

And rather than being absorbed as a nutrient, you may be absorbed into an older and more potent Form—your limbs and neck may grow rubbery and rather more elongate, and your new tree-toad fingers might enable you to crawl across ceilings, thence to peer down on old, still-mortal friends and acquaintances, studying them from many angles with your new stalked eyes.

Barron’s cosmos is an omni-morph that can dragoon you whenever/wherever it wants into its swarming, pullulating fabric. This, of course, is a simple Axiom of the reality we all share, every second of our lives, with our Universe: in that great Starry Engine, we all end as mulch, and then, as Other Things….

But, wonderfully, this radiant, hair-raising Truth is the very engine of Barron’s imagination.

As often with craftsmen who are blazing the path of a new form, his imagery flows like music. (Like Jack Vance’s, his prose too is a pumpin’ Baroque, though of a more democratic shade.) And what a pleasure it is, the easily unspooling sensory mosaic of Barron’s prose! It limns and kindles equally his characters’ thoughts in their stream, and the stream of their actions evoked to our eyes. He moves ghostly from the innards of his characters out into their cosmoi, with a largesse of language where there’s yet not a single wasted syllable.

Here’s Partridge, automotive passenger in the opening scene of “The Forest.” To his dreaming mind’s eye, a phantasmic woman, who was just now offering Partridge a large tarantula,

“…offered him a black phone. The woman said ‘Come say goodbye and good luck! Come quick!’  Except the woman did not speak. Toshi’s breathless voice bled through the receiver. The woman in the cold white mask brightened then dimmed like a dying coal or a piece of metal coiling into itself.

Partridge opened his eyes and rested his brow against window glass. He was alone with the driver. The bus trawled through a night forest. Black trees dripped with fog. The narrow black road crumbled from decades of neglect. Sometimes poor houses and fences stood among the weeds and the ferns and mutely suggested many more were lost in the dark….”

Beautiful! What a sure touch! And we may seize entirely at random amidst Barron’s pages, and display this faceted fullness in every paragraph.

Barron’s verbal surfaces are like anaconda-skins. Jeweled they are, with bright crystals of sense and sensation, and his sinuous narrative line slides a smooth constrictor’s grip around the rapt reader’s sensibilities. 

Meanwhile, on the macro level of his stories’ structures, Barron weaves his fabric by means of a kind of assonance or resonance, a powerfully reverberant imagery. 

For instance, we enter “The Lagerstätte through the mind of a suicidal woman newly widowed and orphaned of her child. Her errant dreams, cancered with loss, lead her into a kind of Necro-Mundus that is haunted, even paved with the self-slain. We move with her through death after death of her own, and also—via her empathic heart—through the death- after-death of her suicidal encounter-group friends—all dying and dying with a dying fall. It’s a metaphysical assonance, if you will, the echo of an archetypal human fate, image after image of self-slaughter in surreal reverberation. The Jackpot of Barron’s work—and every single story of his I’ve read is a jackpot—is the durably architected visions he constructs. In this tale he has built before our eyes a Lagerstätte. A kind of Burgess Shale wherein self-killed women agelessly sink or hurtle to their deaths, stratum on eon-sunk stratum of their dying falls….

This reverberatory technique is wonderfully various: the approaching horror strikes a note now here, now there—a face, an utterance, a slant of light, a half-glimpsed shape evoking a half-obliterated memory…. Barron’s polyhedral style is perfect for haunting places. The narrative eye, as jeweled as a bug’s, draws utterance from everything, both above and below. In “The Broadsword,” our Protag’s very Past becomes transformed. Oviposited in his youth by the Other-Worldly, his Age is gravid with those Aliens’ growth. Half of his Past is revised before his staring eyes and quaking heart, half his years respooled onto a transcosmic spindle of alien consciousness. 

This is a marvelous Haunted House story without any build-up or ground-laying. We sip Barron’s sentences, and the apparitions come prickling up right through our scalps. The Protag’s Alien-infested Past twines its luridly beautiful branchings through the big old hulk of the Hotel Broadsword, and Other Worlds hiss and mutter at the tenants from its closets and corners and ceilings, and finally….

That big old hotel is a kind of epitome of what every one of these stories, in its essence, does. Our earthly architecture is full of coigns and corners, crevices and crevasses, where the Cosmos peeks through. Consider our title story, “Occultation.” Our Protags, back in their desert motel after partying in a roadside bar, have done some fucking, and now lie smoking cigarettes. And up in one corner of the ceiling, notice…is it a stain, or a shadow, or a shape…?  Hypotheses lead to divagations… lead to more haunting hypotheses… lead to fear, and at length, to an actual attempt to turn on the light… which doesn’t work. Though a desert tortoise the size of an automobile appears outside soon after, it is not that which brings… death?

Or consider “Strappado,” where a small swarm of sophisticated Internationals—on  plump expense accounts of various provenance—get whispered word of a creative presence in the neighborhood (a slummish exurb not far downcoast from Mumbai)—a Name for creative anarchy, a Dark Genius, avant de l’avant-garde. The rumor of his doings carries a cachet of thrilling scandal, and now these chance-met lucky few can be in his next film…. Barrels of bones figure in our denouement and, for the living, nightmare metamorphoses of their former selves.

Simply put, the Universe aggressively surrounds Barron’s characters. They may be touring or picnicking or camping or fucking or just fucking around…whatever their fears and their lusts and their searching, all their energies are like little wriggling lures to the Benthic, the Hadal giants hanging near them on every side. 

   But understand. This Occultation, this ground-breaking book, is not a feast of mere annihilations. These fates are—every one of them—Transformations. And to be transformed, to be Remade, is not a passive exercise. It is an excruciating eclosion, a branching, fracturing emergence into a much bigger, hungrier universe. I think only Laird Barron could convincingly create a scene in which his Protag porks Satan Himself, grows gravid with, and then delivers to our staring eyes the seething offspring of that unholy coitus.

 I won’t even glance at the other wonders collected in Occultation. If you haven’t heard me yet, you won’t. The best way to sum up this fresh, abounding talent is to note that Barron has that key spark of the greatest horrific writers—a truly metaphysical heart. He has knelt in the Chapel where we all worship, or fail to—has knelt in the Chapel, and truly heard the echoes of its vastness….  

—Michael Shea, author of 

The Autopsy & Other Tales, September 2009

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