Robert Hood's collection Creeping in Reptile Flesh contains three new stories, in addition to a number of reprints. The title story is a novella, a sinister tale of black magic, the walking dead, and party politics. The story works on two levels. On the surface, it's a suspenseful piece of writing, drawing the central character and reader through a number of levels of lies and betrayal, as he seeks to unravel the mystery of John Cowling and George Clarbridge, and a series of dark visions that plague him. The mystery eventually takes him outside Canberra to a place where illusion and reality meet. It's a tense, intriguing story, and it also work as a powerful metaphor for the power struggles in contemporary politics, as well as the mass media's power and culpability. Highly recommended.
From the same collection, I also enjoyed the shorter story, Unraveling, a story about the potential for violence within the human form, the universe of quantum possibilities, and the tiny things that can tip an internal mental struggle over the edge. At heart, it's another story about power, and the danger of human frailties magnified onto larger and larger scales.
Dirk Flinthart's novella Angel Rising opens the Twelfth Planet novella series, with a story based on TP's New Ceres world, from the webzine of that name. Flinthart's story is the story of a protector of New Ceres, sent to investigate a mysterious alien craft, and takes a rollicking ride through ninja swordfights and interworld conspiracies. It's also a novella with a warm heart, in the end, and I found the central character's journey quite moving.
From the charity project Scary Food, my favourite story was Lee Battersby's , Rabbit, Run, a nicely paced and ultimately compassionate horror story about a man down on his luck. Battersby's writing continues to improve, and just about everything he's produced this year has been a winner. Here he demonstrates what he can do with just a few pages.
Geoffrey Maloney has long been one of Australia's finest writers. In the last couple of years he's begun experimenting with more offbeat stories, and his latest collection Six Silly Stories, from Elastic Press, is indicative of his new direction. My personal feeling, for what it's worth, is that the author is still finding his feet a little with his new focus, and the stories in the collection occasionally feel derivative in voice. But there are moments of wonderful imagination, too, and I look forward to seeing where the journey takes us. It's great to see authors taking risks. My favourite piece in the collection was The Doctor and My Little Red Imp, which explores some of the notions of masculinity that have also been a feature of the author's recent work, under the guise of a routine checkup which descends into oddness.
And speaking of offbeat, I enjoyed Jayme Lynn Blaschke's A Plague of Banjos, from Electric Velocipede #15. It's a story about exactly what the title promises, and it's just as ridiculous as you might think. Marvellous!
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