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Creeping in Reptile Flesh Paperback – August 22, 2011
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About the Author
Robert Hood’s many stories, which have appeared in major Australian and international genre magazines and anthologies, range from crime to science fiction to dark fantasy, often mixed. Some of these are in his three collections to date: 'Day-Dreaming on Company Time' (Five Islands Press, 1988), 'Immaterial: Ghost Stories' (MirrorDanse Books, 2002) and 'Creeping in Reptile Flesh'. His novel, 'Backstreets', was published by Hodder Headline in 1999. The Shades series -- four connected YA supernatural thrillers -- appeared in 2001, also from Hodder Headline. He has co-edited five anthologies, including the award-winning 'Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales' and its two sequels (Agog! Press, 2006-2007), and has published many short children’s books and stories. Frequently nominated for Aurealis and Ditmar Awards, (most recently for ‘Wasting Matilda’ from Zombie Apocalypse! from Robinson Press/Running Press and for Creeping in Reptile Flesh itself -- both as collection and a novella), he has won the Australian Golden Dagger Award for short crime fiction and two William Atheling Awards for genre commentary and review. Coming up, he has stories in 'Anywhere But Earth' (edited by Keith Stevenson for Coeur De Lion), 'In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh' (edited Karen Newman and Pete Kempshall for Gilgamesh Press) and 'Exotic Gothic 4' (edited by Danel Olson for PS Publishing). Hood lives in NSW, Australia, with his partner, writer, artist and editor Cat Sparks. His website is: www.roberthood.net. He also has an award-winning blog, Undead Backbrain (www.roberthood.net/blog/).
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This new collection presents fourteen tales - loosely unified by themes of ferality, bodily invasion or transference, and fertility - eleven of which are reprints from little-seen sources, and three of which, including the long title novella, are first published here. "Creeping in Reptile Flesh" (whose title derives from a phrase in William Blake's prophetic poem "Milton") is a very strange story mixing dead people, maverick Australian politicians, an odd township called Mytabin and a predatory alien species - a combination which Hood pulls off adeptly, interweaving several different storylines. It is reminiscent in places of some of Ramsey Campbell's uneasiest moments, mixed with a delight in grue perhaps arising from Hood's interest in the zombie flick.
Dipping into the rest of this collection, with its unapologetically Australian settings and vernacular, is akin to stepping into the mysterious fathomless lake of the second story, "The Black Lake's Fatal Blood", wherein an old `dero' named Rambler and his dog Sheepdip save the world from the tentacled monsters of an interdimensional causeway which sweeps them up after they witness a double murder in an old house they are `squatting' in. Derelicts feature again in "Dreams of Death", in which female investigator Andy Wolfe is hired to investigate a number of murders dreamed - or committed? -- by a man called `Archibald Fountain'. Hood in Chandleresque mode (with a touch of Borges' "Death and the Compass") here produces what could be termed a metaphysical detective story. Things are skewed and rapidly spiral out of control in many of Hood's stories. In "Rotting Eggplant on the Bottom Shelf of a Fridge", cues from Hawkwind songs relate curiously to an epidemic of crumbling buildings across Sydney, and the horror is mingled in equal portions with Hood's quirky, twisted humour.
In "Unravelling," a tale recalling disparate elements of Fritz Lieber and Harlan Ellison's "Shatterday", yet with Hood's own tight plotting, irrevocable fate takes a hand. "Lo Que No Asusta" is about fear, pure and simple , that which scares us, and for both its central concept - the `fear-trap'-- and its brilliantly accomplished twist ending, deserves to be a minor classic. Decay, both physical and moral, infests the heart of "Rotten Times," which starts with a date gone wrong and ends with post-millennial destruction by way of a cursed farmhouse and its unnaturally aged denizen.
Hood's powerful feeling for the Australian landscape forms the backbone of the futuristic murder story "Groundswell," in which police sent to investigate a series of disappearances cooperatively further the solution to the apocalyptic environmental problem of `the Wasting.' "Heartless" manages to squeeze bodily transfer, alien invasion and gruesome evisceration into one brief tale, and again it's one in which if the horror didn't work so well we may at times be tempted to giggle, if only blackly. .The name of the titular demonic succubus is not the only nod to Poe in the tartly-told "Separating Lenore," which once again effectively mingles black humour and horror. In "Getting Rid of Mother", the vengeful spirit of an old lady evicted from her home takes revenge in unexpected ways. Both poignant and funny, "The Slimelight and How to Step Into It" is the tale of a blob of green slime that wants to become a Shakespearean actor --more bodily invasion here. "Casual Visitors" is one of the lesser tales in the book, its kookified narrative centring on a man called George who obsessively builds a flying saucer in his backyard. The volume ends on a strong note with "You're a Sick Man, Mr Antwhistle, a short but disturbing tale about mind-control.
Hood's take on everyday events is at slight angles to reality, so that the quotidian is easily undermined; and if he chooses to use humour as often as horror to highlight this undercut reality, so much the more entertaining.
The design of the book is attractive, with marvellous cover artwork by Cat Sparks. While the text is marred in several places by unfortunate typos, the quality of the stories in this collection makes it a wickedly enjoyable volume to savour, and to re-read.