Set in an alternate pulp-50s that never was, Brothers Macbeth (Mac) and Drederick (Dred) Tooms are heirs to the throne of Sword Enterprises, a family of techno-industrial futurists who are beyond wealthy (and may indeed be supervillains). Back home from their stint at the Mountain Leopard boarding school for assassins in the Himalayas, they’ve stumbled upon one of Sword Enterprises’ best-kept secrets: a satellite probe that may have gone through a wormhole. Hot on the boys’ heels in search of this knowledge are bloodthirsty cultists worshiping dread alien gods, and a rival firm that’s nearly as powerful and just as vicious. Hopefully the boys can stay alive long enough to figure out what’s going on before their father finds out what they’ve been up to. Just another fun summer adventure for the Tooms boys…
Horror maestro Laird Barron has delivered us a strange but enthralling treat with this novella, a homage to pulp-adventure with a Lovecraftian bent. If the title’s confused you up to this point, think back to older comics and cartoons where character death is indicated with x’s for eyes. It’s a good indicator of the book’s style, which is a blend of Tom Swift/Johnny Quest and Doc Savage, comic-pulp craziness turned into fiction. Come to think of it, the novella is more like The Venture Bros., sharing the same retro-throwback aesthetic and penchant for adult content (the boys’ forays with hookers, booze, drugs, and brutal violence, for example). The Lovecraftian horror elements are nefarious, lurking terrors that explode into scenes of chaos and bloodshed, and most of the secondary characters meet gruesome and unfortunate ends. X’s for Eyes is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, but you should already know that when it’s Barron doing pulp Lovecraftian weirdness.
I’m still not 100% sold on bizarro as a genre; it’s certainly experimental, pushing boundaries and reworking the traditional style and format of a story into something manic, swift, and unpredictable. But the weirdness for weirdness’ sake just doesn’t grab me, for whatever reason. So I’m hesitant on X’s for Eyes. It’s a fun novella if you want Lovecraftian adventure-pulp weirdness rich in black humor. It’s one of the better bizarro works I’ve read, probably because I’m so familiar with the material it’s a homage to. It’s an intense thrill ride, just as dark and disturbing as other Barron tales I’ve read but with a playful exuberance that buoys its adventure-pulp aesthetic. I enjoyed it, and think readers with similar interests in Lovecraftian horror and adventure/pulp fic will enjoy it, though it’s not a must-read in the way some of Barron’s short stories are—it’s a fun novella but not essential reading, and I’m not sure it’s the best introduction to Barron, so do with that as you will.
Title: X’s for Eyes
Author: Laird Barron
First Published: 2015
What I Read: Bizzaro Pulp Press ebook, 2015
Price I Paid: $2.99 MSRP
MSRP: $9.95 / $2.99 ebook
ISBN/ASIN: 1942712820 / B01860LZKY