Release Date: 06 April 2015
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-925148-65-7
E-book ISBN: 978-1-925148-68-8
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Sometimes, books are more than the words they contain. Sometimes they are art, they are artefacts. Before we’ve read a single word, just the look or the weight can act as a promise and begin the process of drawing us in. Such is the way with Robert Hood’s Peripheral Visions: Collected Ghost Stories, the first collection from IFWG Australia‘s new dark-fantasy and horror imprint Dark Phases.
I have the single-volume hardcover edition. It is 44 stories, 800 pages, 22,000 words, and as big and heavy as a housebrick. It is a beautiful thing to hold and to behold. The cover and internal illustrations — an eerie combination of photography and digital manipulation — by renowned artist Nick Stathopoulos, only add weight to the care and professionalism afforded this volume by IFGW Australia and Cohesion Press (who did the design and layout).
Why so much trouble for a single-author collection? Well, a short biography on Robert Hood might help answer that question… Robert Hood’s writing has been pushing the bounds of science fiction, fantasy and crime for the past 40 years. He has published five YA novels, an adult epic-fantasy novel, fifteen children’s books, four collections of short fiction, he has written plays, academic articles, poetry and co-edited anthologies of horror and crime. He has won seven Ditmar Awards and a Golden Dagger Award, and published over 120 short stories in anthologies and magazines all around the world.
That’s a resumé worthy of respect, and this collection shows it.
What then of the stories?
Peripheral Visions, as the full title suggests, collects all of Hood’s ghost stories published during the period 1986-2015. That includes 41 previously published stories and three written specifically for the collection. The quality varies from good to brilliant, some being more to my taste than others, but not once was I disappointed by a story or its outcome.
Not all tales are ‘Ghost Stories’ in the M.R.Jamesian sense, though the style is well represented, and not all are as obvious as others. Indeed some I would hesitate to call ghost stories at all, but definitely agree with the repeated use of the term ‘Haunted’ in each of the six sections that divide the book — HAUNTED PLACES, HAUNTED FAMILIES, HAUNTED MINDS, HAUNTED YOUTH, HAUNTED VENGEANCE, HAUNTED REALITIES — because many of the characters are haunted not by ghosts, but their pasts and by places and in some cases haunted even by themselves. But all the characters are indeed haunted in various ways and I found this link between the stories much stronger than any offered by the presence of mere spirits from beyond the grave.
Favourites? Surprisingly, I found some of the oldest stories to be amongst those that most impressed me. “Necropolis”, published in 1986, is a tale strong with the nuclear fear of the late Cold War, and “Grandma and the Girls” (1989) comes across as a strange but pleasing blend of Robert Aickman and Flannery O’Connor. The highlight of the book for me was the 2008 novelette “Kulpunya”, where the beauty and horror of Australia’s outback are rendered in exquisite prose more than worthy of the ancient spirits Hood evokes. Indeed, with many of the stories, it is the strong Australian ‘sense of place’ that makes them most satisfying.
There is, predictably in a collection of this size, some repetition in the themes and even the characters we encounter. But overall, there is enough variety to keep the mind enthralled without getting bored or feeling like you’ve read it all before.
Available in a variety of formats — single-volume deluxe hardcover, 2 volume trade paperback, and a digital version — I’d certainly recommend shelling out for the complete hardcover package. The stories are well worth it, and the expert presentation along with Nick Stathopolous’s stunning illustrations, make it something you’ll want to pull from the shelf time and time again.