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The Imago Sequence

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Jeff Stehman
Posted on Saturday, July 21, 2007 - 06:39 pm:   

Browsing Night Shade Books' catalog (they're having a sale), I see Laird Barron has a collection of stories named for the novella "The Imago Sequence." This story made it on a few ballots, and I believe GVG said it was one of the most highly praised stories of 2005.

Except for the last few paragraphs, I hated it. The characters meant nothing to me, and while I can appreciate where he was going, it wasn't worth getting there. For comparison, I enjoyed "Hallucigenia" (also in the collection).

All this leaves me wondering if I missed something profound in the story. Can any of you who loved it articulate why you think it's great?
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Laird Barron
Posted on Saturday, July 21, 2007 - 09:00 pm:   

Hi, Jeff:

Sincere thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you found "Hallucigenia" enjoyable, and I appreciate your taking time to mention that. While I wish I could hit a home run with every reader, I'm grateful the piece stuck in your head as a conversation starter, if nothing else.

Incidentally, I've observed "Imago" falling pretty evenly into the loved-it/hated-it camp, which is pretty common with my work. Some of the readers who disliked it echo your dissatisfaction with the protagonist and supporting cast --although most people who hate the story despise the ending, perhaps most of all.

Here's a favorable review from JJ Rohmaller (scroll down to June 12 2007) that might be pertinent to your query as it reflects some of the positive comments I've received re: Imago:

http://www.thingswithtentacles.blogspot.com/

In any event, thanks again for your interest. I hope a few others see this and respond to your query....

Best regards,

Laird
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Jeff Stehman
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 - 08:52 am:   

"Although most people who hate the story despise the ending, perhaps most of all."

That figures. I can't even agree with most of the people who agree with me.
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Kelly Christopher Shaw
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 - 10:00 am:   

Jeff,

When it comes to this story, I fall into the "love" camp.

I've always loved stories like "The Imago Sequence," about characters who are obesessed with discovering arcane knowledge, even though that knowledge will lead to their eventual damnation/doom/demise/etc. Many great horror stories, including some of Lovecraft's key texts, Barker's "The Hellbound Heart," FLICKER by Theodore Roszak, and innumerable others, are written in this vein. I'm drawn to these texts, I believe, because there's a corollary between these main characters' obsessions and readers of horror fiction.

I suppose a lot more could be said about this subject but it's time for my lunch.
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John Langan
Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2007 - 08:20 am:   

Jeff,

Sorry not to have responded sooner, but I wanted to take another look at the story so I'd be able to tell you why I like it as much as I do. I'd agree with the more general comments everyone here has made, and add a couple of more particular remarks.

There's the matter of style: Laird's use of language is just terrific, his descriptions of people and places crisp and sharp, his narrator's voice the right combination of irreverent and lyric.

Then there's the pacing, the steadily-rising sense of something very bad headed the narrator's way that he's unable to avoid running smack-dab into. The italicized accounts of his fragmented dreams punctuate this.

Then there's the way the story slides from noir to cosmic horror. You begin with a story that's almost pure hardboiled crime fiction: the tough guy narrator whose relationship to the law is, at best, dicey; the mysterious disappearance of his former acquaintance; the portraits of various members of the upper crust that reveal them to be little more than freaks whose surplus of cash has allowed them to indulge their freakishness in ways you and I can only dream of. From the way Laird deploys these elements, it's obvious he knows this kind of fiction inside and out. And then, gradually, what seems to be the pursuit of one kind of mystery turns out to be the pursuit of another kind of mystery, one with a capital "M." As in both noir and cosmic horror fiction, the piece is governed by an irony so extreme as to be crushing. From the moment the narrator sees the first part of the Imago triptych at the story's beginning, his fate is sealed--you might say that the entire story is him catching up to this revelation. What's more, the story peals back the layers to show us that the corruption we've witnessed at its beginning, in the form of the various rich eccentrics, is nothing compared to the true corruption that awaits at its end. I love the fact that the monstrous character at its end is about two things: eating and rutting; it's a nice inversion of the usual, "I have a sinister plan to take over the world," monsters you encounter in such stories.

What all of this goes to, maybe, is that what Laird has given us is really a novel-in-brief, one whose density holds up to and rewards repeated re-readings.

All of this said, you're right that the characters are a pretty bitter bunch. I wouldn't worry if the piece doesn't work for you; "Hallucigenia"'s a fine story, too.


John
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Kelly Christopher Shaw
Posted on Friday, July 27, 2007 - 07:51 am:   

Damn, John, that's a spot-on appreciation that makes me want to stop life and re-read the story...now!
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J.J. Rohmaller
Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 - 12:58 am:   

Hi there! J.J. Rohmaller here - it was my favorable post about "The Imago Sequence" on my personal blog that Laird mentioned in his post here. Since I found this thread, I've expanded my original post about how much I enjoyed the story to include more details as to why I think it's such an excellent tale. Please feel free to check it out if you like..I agree with everything Mr. Langan so eloquently said here, too. I find it an exquisitely eerie story and it's one of my all-time favorites.

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