X’s for Eyes
By: Laird Barron
Published: December 11, 2015
Page Count: 98, paperback
The Rundown: “Brothers Macbeth and Drederick Tooms should have it made as fair-haired scions of an impossibly rich and powerful family of industrialists. Alas, life is complicated in mid-1950s USA when you’re child heirs to the throne of Sword Enterprises, a corporation that has enshrined Machiavelli’s The Prince as its operating manual and whose patriarch believes, ‘Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,’ would be a swell company logo. Consider also those long, cruel winters at the Mount Leopard boarding school for assassins in the Himalayas, or that Dad may be a supervillain, while an uncle occasionally slaughters his nephews and nieces for sport; and the space flight research division of Sword Enterprises ‘accidentally’ sent a probe through a wormhole into outer darkness and contacted an alien god. Now a bloodthirsty cult and an equally vicious rival firm suspect the Tooms boys know something and will spare no expense, nor innocent life, to get their claws on them. Between the machinations of the disciples of black gods and good old corporate skullduggery, it’s winding up to be a hell of a summer vacation for the lads.”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: This cover has a faded, retro-pulp feel, which is fitting, as X’s for Eyes is a mashup of old-school pulp and boy’s adventure novels. The title itself is a reference to cartoons, in which X’s for eyes indicated death. Death stalks the boys throughout the novel: many of their acquaintances and friends wind up dying in horrific situations. The boys themselves manage to dispatch several of their enemies on their own. Of course, the big question is, can the brothers survive their boy’s adventure? The red X’s over their faces on the cover indicates that this outcome is unlikely.
What a Wonderful World: The world of X’s for Eyes is delightfully insane. Rival corporations act like they are opposing ninja clans, engaging in pitched battles aboard ships. Business men hunt, kill, and eat their nephews, then violate said nephews’ corpses. Alien gods send banish their henchmen to Earth, allowing them to wreak havoc. Characters aren’t necessarily okay with these developments, but tend not to question them too deeply.
The Good Guys: The protagonists are Macbeth and Drederick Tooms, heirs of the powerful Sword Enterprises. They’re basically Hank and Dean from The Venture Bros, if Hank and Dean drank whiskey, fired shotguns at people, and slept with prostitutes (Mac and Dred are 14 and 12, by the way). Neither of them has much of a personality, but that’s likely an intentional part of the “boy’s adventure” aesthetic the novella is going for.
The Bad Guys: The main antagonist is the alien god at the other side of the space wormhole, whom Mac and Dred are trying to prevent their family from contacting. The god is familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and calls itself Azathoth. What horrors does it intend to unleash upon humanity?
A+: The casual violence. For example, near the beginning of the novel, the boys are resting after a night of boozing and whoring. They go outside, have a nice breakfast, then go outside to find their friend in the middle of a murderous rampage. Tom Mandibole, the extradimensional creature, also gets some good moments of casually devouring people. He’s fun enough that you wish he’d show up more often.
F-: The characters are difficult to empathize with. I get that you’re not really supposed to care about them, but they come off as black obelisks with no distinguishing personality traits. You need something to latch on to, else it’s difficult to care. And the boys’ adventures aren’t quite interesting enough to make up for their lack of personality, at least in the first half of the novella.
Does it Represent…
People of Color: No, but there’s a “reformed” Nazi. Nazi-sploitation ahoy!
LGBT People: Afraid not.
The Disabled: Nah.
Memorable Quote: “The universe and its design is often one of arbitrary horror.”
Recommended for: Fans of bizarro fiction. If you want to be shuttled from one strange occurrence to another, with little grounding to reality but a lot of humor, you’ll like this novella. If you want a more structured story, or one that’s character driven, give it a pass.
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars