Laird Barron's Swift to Chase was published by JournalStone in October 2016.
Information about Laird Barron:
Born in Alaska, Barron raised huskies and worked in the construction and fishing industries for much of his youth. He moved to the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1990s and dedicated himself to writing. His debut collection, The Imago Sequence, was published in 2007, followed by two more collections and a pair of novels. A multiple Locus, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker award nominee, he is also a three-time winner of the Shirley Jackson award.
Barron’s stories often contain elements of literary crime, horror, and noir. Cormac McCarthy, Robert B. Parker, Angela Carter, and Martin Cruz Smith are among his favorite authors and significant literary influences.
Currently, Barron lives in the Hudson Valley and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.
Click here to visit his official website.
Information about Swift to Chase:
Laird Barron’s fourth collection gathers a dozen stories set against the backdrops of the Alaskan wilderness, far-future dystopias, and Giallo-fueled nightmare vistas.
All hell breaks loose in a massive apartment complex when a modern day Jack the Ripper strikes under cover of a blizzard; a woman, famous for surviving a massacre, hits the road to flee the limelight and finds her misadventures have only begun; while tracking a missing B-movie actor, a team of man hunters crashes in the Yukon Delta and soon realize the Arctic is another name for hell; an atomic-powered cyborg war dog loyally assists his master in the overthrow of a far-future dystopian empire; following an occult initiation ritual, a man is stalked by a psychopathic sorority girl and her team of horrifically disfigured henchmen; a rich lunatic invites several high school classmates to his mansion for a night of sex, drugs, and CIA-funded black ops experiments; and other glimpses into occulted realities a razor’s slice beyond our own.
Combining hardboiled noir, psychological horror, and the occult, Swift to Chase continues three-time Shirley Jackson Award winner Barron’s harrowing inquiry into the darkness of the human heart.
A REVIEW OF LAIRD BARRON'S SWIFT TO CHASE
Laird Barron's Swift to Chase is the author's fourth collection. It is a prime example of what modern horror fiction and literary dark fiction can offer to readers, because it contains beautifully written, disturbing, experimental and memorable stories that boldly break new ground.
I can honestly say that Swift to Chase is one of the most impressive collections I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and I consider it to be Laird Barron's best and most exciting collection to date. When you've read horror fiction and weird fiction extensively, you'll easily notice that many stories are similar to each other and lack freshness, because finding originality has become difficult. That's why it's great that the author writes original fiction and delivers fresh material to his readers.
Laird Barron is an author who - along with a few other authors (Livia Llewellyn, Richard Gavin, Michael Wehunt, Stephen Graham Jones, Clint Smith, Philip Fracassi etc) - has rejuvenated modern horror fiction and has dared to offer new and terrifying vistas to readers who delight in reading strange and thought-provoking stories. He fluently blends hardboiled noir fiction, psychological horror, the occult, literary horror fiction and weird fiction, and he creates stories that have plenty of style and substance.
I think that most readers, who have read horror fiction, are familiar with Laird Barron or have at least heard of him, so I won't say much about him. I'll only mention that he is the author of four collections, one novel and several stories. His fiction has been published in many anthologies. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading any of his stories yet, this collection is an excellent entry point to his fiction.
Because I enjoyed reading Laird Barron's previous collections (The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, Occultation and Other Stories, and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All), The Croning and The Light is the Darkness, I was excited about this collection and couldn't wait to get my hands on it. When I began to read it, I was instantly impressed by the author's prose, writing style and dark imagination, because each of the stories was well written and worth reading.
Swift to Chase has been divided into three different sections and contains the following stories:
I: Golden Age of Slashing
- Screaming Elk, MT
- Termination Dust
- Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees
II: Swift to Chase
- the worms crawl in,
- (Little Miss) Queen of Darkness
- Ears Prick Up
- Black Dog
- Slave Arm
- Frontier Death Song
- Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle
I'm tempted to say that some of these stories represent a unique marriage of modern pulp fiction and literary dark fiction, because it's the best way to describe them. Careful readers will notice that these inter-connecting stories are - in varying degrees - connected to the author's ever-growing mythos which can be considered to be one of the cornerstones of modern horror fiction, because many of the author's stories have influenced other authors.
One of the things why I love these stories is that there's an experimental edge to some of them (I've often found experimental and literary dark fiction to be interesting, because it's imaginative fiction that requires a bit of thinking on the reader's part). The author's approach to experimental fiction works well, because he seamlessly blends various elements and is not afraid of experimenting with structure. In certain ways he is horror fiction's equivalent to Brendan Connell.
Another thing why I enjoy these stories is that the author has a keen eye for psychological horror and dares to explore the darkest and deepest reaches of the human psyche. Based on this collection, I can say that he's one of the best writers of psychologically effective horror fiction, because his stories create genuine feelings of discomfort, unease and terror in the reader. There's something cerebral and visceral about them that will haunt you after you've finished reading them.
There's intriguing cosmic horror in these stories, because Laird Barron approaches cosmic horror from a new direction. I admire him for steering his fiction away from the well-known Lovecraftian cosmic horror and producing his own kind of vision of cosmic horror. In my opinion, this collection proves that if you have talent, you can write modern and original cosmic horror that is modern and different, but just as disturbing and intriguing as the stories that were written by old masters of weird fiction.
The characterisation is excellent and delightfully vivid in these stories. I like the way the author writes about the characters and their lives, because he makes them real people who face difficulties, obstacles and strange situations and try to cope with them. Readers are mercilessly subjected to emotionally challenging material, for the author doesn't shy away from difficult themes and issues when writing about the characters.
Here are a few words and my thoughts about some of the stories:
"Termination Dust" is a brilliant story about Jessica Mace who is introduced in the previous stories, "Screaming Elk, MT" and "LD50" (this story originally appeared in Tales of Jack the Ripper, which was edited by Ross E. Lockhart). This stunningly written story pulses with raw power and dark energy that beckons readers to read it as fast as possible. It's great that the author gives his pulpy protagonist a strong voice.
"Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees" was originally published in the anthology Autumn Cthulhu (edited by Mike Davis). It's a satisfyingly weird and mesmerising high school story that takes place in 1998.
"Ardor" (originally published in Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker's Dracula, edited by Steve Berman) is perhaps the most striking and most memorable story in this collection. It is one of my favourite stories, because it's a unique, bleak and disturbing story with cosmic and surreal elements. The happenings take place in the Alaskan wilderness where a man is hunting for someone. I'm sure that this story will impress and unsettle many readers.
The novelette, "the worms crawl in," was originally published in Fearful Symmetries (edited by Ellen Datlow). It's a brilliant and memorable glimpse into a twisted mind.
"Ears Prick Up" (originally published in SQ Mag) is an excellent and strikingly written dystopian science fiction story which features a cyborg war dog called Rex and a Rome-like civilisation (the distinct feel of Roman Empire intrigued me). The author wrote so fluently about Rex, his master and their deeds that I found myself wholly enthralled by the happenings. It's been a while since I've read anything like this.
"Black Dog" (originally published in Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre, edited by Paula Guran) is a satisfyingly strange story about a blind date that ends in a weird way. This story features excellent dialogue. It was enjoyable to read how the characters interacted with each other.
"Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle" (this story is original to this collection) is a strong and well written final story. I won't go into details about its contents in order to avoid writing spoilers, but I can briefly mention that it is a thought-provoking and unsettling account of certain events.
I liked the author's way of writing evocatively about Alaska and Alaskan wilderness. He evokes a distinct sense of bleakness and untamed beauty that is ever present in the wilderness. The harsh, untamed and unyielding wilderness offers good contrast to the settings that can be found in other authors' works.
I also want to mention that I like the author's approach to sex and violence, because certain descriptions are satisfyingly graphic and realistic. He writes well about these issues and easily integrates them into his stories.
Laird Barron explores various themes and issues in Swift to Chase, covering a lot of ground between the real and the surreal. This collection marks partly a new direction for Laird Barron, because he has never before written as intriguingly and widely about various things as he does in this collection. This is a welcome direction for him, because he masters it perfectly and doesn't stumble when writing about strange things.
The introduction by Paul Tremblay is excellent and deserves to be read. It provides readers a bit of information about the author and his stories.
As you may have already guessed, I was deeply impressed by this collection (this kind of fiction has always been to my liking, because I enjoy reading dark, entertaining and thought-provoking stories that feature good prose). I wholeheartedly recommend it to horror and dark fiction readers.
I end this review by saying that Laird Barron's Swift to Chase is a dark, enthralling and sinister collection that should be on every horror fan's reading list. If you've ever - even remotely - enjoyed reading horror stories, you need to take a look at this collection, because it's a rewarding, challenging and unsettling reading experience. The disturbing nature of these stories will deeply impress you.