Liminal States is the debut novel from SomethingAwful editor Zack Parsons, and it's extraordinary. It begins as a grim, relentless western novel that describes a doomed love triangle between a simple lawman, the twisted scion of an land-baron, and a woman who has married one but thinks she might belong with the other. After a botched train robbery and an epic battle, Gideon (the rich man's son) finds himself gutshot in the desert, led by a mysterious spirit animal to a mystical pool that dissolves him and then reincarnates him, young and whole and vital and immortal. Gideon goes back for the woman he loves, only to discover that she has died in childbirth, and, enraged, he kidnaps the lawman who was her husband and throws him into the pool, too. And now they are both immortal. Every time they die, they are reborn in the pool, over and over, locked in orbit around each other like twin suns being drawn into a destructive nova. This first third of the novel is dark and bloody and remorseless, a story of revenge and tragedy that doesn't let up, until...
The second act begins. It is now nearly a century later, and the two men have found uneasy truce among them. They are living in the early 1950s, and they have started to replicate. It seems that their kind doesn't need to die to come back from the pool -- sometimes, the pool emits a doppelganger of its own devising, a fresh copy with all the memories of the branch it has copied. Now numbering in their thousands, the men comprise a secret army and conspiracy that is spreading across the world. Discipline is enforced by one of the lawman's progeny, who has been nominated Judge, and who murders any doppelganger who violates the code of secrecy.
So begins this second book, which is a pitch-perfect noir detective thriller, and it, too, is witheringly bleak, and vivid, and relentless, masterfully plotted and very hard. This gives way to the third book, and this one is a science fiction pandemic thriller, shot through with the brooding, Lovecraftian mysticism that the runs the length of the book.
Parsons's debut is a tour-de-force, a justifiably showy demonstration of the author's chameleon-like ability to write in several genres all at once, and it emerges as one of the scariest and bleakest tales I can remember.
Parsons has created a site for the book with sample chapters, a prologue, and additional material intended for an accompanying alternate reality game.
The author was kind enough to supply us with an online version of the prologue and chapter one of Liminal States.