Immaterial: Ghost Stories (2002)

Author Robert Hood
Publisher MirrorDanse Books
Length 190 pages
Genre Short Story Collection
Blurb Ghost stories by Robert Hood

Talk us through it

In preparation for a new site, details to follow when ever we can get things happening, thought I should dive into some Australian horror/supernatural fiction to see just what might be available. To be brutally honest Aussie horror novels aren't exactly a major sales item down your local Borders so I set out to discover what might be simmering under the surface. Besides G. M. Hague, the antipodian Stephen King apparently, who has six titles to his name I could only discover a few Authors who had actually published a horror novel of any description. Slightly off topic, if anyone has a line on a novel called Carnies then send me a message. What I did discover however is that the short story form is alive and well Down Under with a rich variety of Authors sending nightmare visions our way from all parts of the Commonwealth. Leading the pack is contemporary, whatever that means, Australian Author Robert Hood who has a whole bunch of books published. While Robert dives into Crime and Science Fiction as well, I was only interested in his tales of the macabre so immediately sent out a message to Australian Books Online that I wanted a copy of Immaterial: Ghost Stories as soon as possible. The book duly arrived, a 192 odd page paperback, and I sat back to get my horror groove on with the first story ]Nasty Little Habits. That enough of an introduction for you? - good lets get to the bone marrow here.

[Editor's Note: Since this review was published at another site a few things have changed. The new site mentioned is ScaryMinds, we have found a treasure trove of Australian horror writing, (still no word from across the ditch), and a copy of Carnies was dispatched to the reviewer.


"When Kings Fantasize, do they dream of peasants?"

Immaterial contains fifteen short stories that, as the name would suggest, are primarily focused on ghostly visitations of one sort or another. Don't expect your typical "things that go bump" in the night outings here however, as the Author ranges across other horror staples with a unique take on what the horror story can achieve and how it can work outside the normal dark genre structures. As stated elsewhere horror can be as prim and proper as a Mills and Boons romance novel when it comes to how things should happen in the narrative. The very best in the genre comes from those Writers prepared to mix it up a bit, stir in some extra ingredients, and see what might be cooked up. Robert Hood touches base with tales of madness, an almost Sci-Fi entry, and even god bless him a zombie story with one hell of a novel, no pun intended, twist coming at you. Each entry in Immaterial while nominally having a central idea of ghostly happenings does venture into territory not normally associated with the chain rattlers of say the British tradition. In short Robert Hood has taken a sub genre, given it one hell of a shake up, and pretty much put his own stamp on it. No one tells a ghost yarn quite like Mr Hood, and with Immaterial you never know quite what to expect from each story.

I was actually going to paraphrase Forrest Gump here and make the statement that Immaterial is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get. Then I remembered that in a box of Cadbury's finest there's always that strawberry flavoured delight one that no one wants to eat and which eventually finds itself in the bin. Immaterial doesn't present us with any strawberry flavoured "delights" to skip over.

I always hate this part of a review, where you have to nominate the two or three standout stories that really knocked your socks off. First off I enjoyed every one of the fifteen stories on hand in Immaterial and secondly each and every reader of Robert Hood's fine collection will no doubt have his or her favourites. But needs must as needs does, so here we go now. Nasty Little Habits was wonderfully selected as the first story in the collection as it doesn't go quite to the plan I had in the back of my mind after the first page. The story is engrossing and having lost a closed relative to an unfortunate accident I could understand the reactions of both major characters. There's a real twist coming at you within the story, and Nasty Little Habits certainly lays the foundations for the rest of the collection. The Author drops into a little "Tales From the Crypt" style material with Housewarming, a collaboration with Paul Collins, and I certainly got a chuckle from the pun inherent in the story title. Sins of the past, I'm always up for that sort of thing, and Robert Hood has the ability to deal out the background details a piece at a time. The story advances while we learn just what happened in the past. And finally I would underline Malculate Conception as a study in how to get the best out of ordinary situations. Just a jump to the left and you're in the twilight zone, to mix and match some references. Just as a side note 13th Gantry Row appears to have picked one central idea out of this story to reproduce. Each of the three stories mentioned could all be candidates for Masters of Horror episodes, someone really should do a Down Under take on that concept.

I'm actually left wondering if Robert Hood doesn't love a tale of ordinary madness a tad too much!

As stated I hate singling out a few stories from a collection, especially if I enjoyed every story in that collection. On any other day I might have mentioned Peripheral Movement in the Leaves Under an Orange Tree which besides having a nifty Pink Floyd style title is a story with a nasty twist, The Calling that sort of reminded me of The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce in terms of economy of monster, or Grandma and the Girls a story that brings new sinister meaning to the term "matriarchy". Ask me next week and I will no doubt have three entirely different stories from Immaterial to try and highlight the collection with.

Okay so everyone is getting the idea that this book comes highly recommended right? And hey I'm not even getting a kick back here. But before everyone rushes off to score their copy I should also mention that not only do you get fifteen excellent stories of the macabre but you also get an interview with the Author that will allow you to determine what sort of sick and depraved mind comes up with this sort of stuff. Unfortunately Robert Hood comes off as urbane and, well, a nice guy I guess. And there I was hoping we had a Dexter Morgan in our midst. The interview is well worth a read for those of us interested in hearing what Author's have to say about their work.

I took a number of days to get through Immaterial, as the stories contain more ideas than meet the eye initially and a re-read is essential to getting full value out of them. Robert Hood's writing style is easy to read and you will find yourself falling into the stories as each tale weaves it's magic. The only disappointment for me was that the book ended and I was left wanting more, thankfully Robert has recently published a new collection Creeping in Reptile Flesh so a quick letter to the book fairy is my next order of business.

[Editor's Note: We'll source a copy for you and pop it under your glass as the Cabana Lounge asap]

For those wondering how to secure a copy of Immaterial: Ghost Stories by Robert Hood try the Australian Books Online website at www. I believe they ship Internationally and with the Australian dollar currently down now would be a good chance to add to your library. Come on you deserve to give yourself a treat, and the added bonus is that Australian horror has a completely different flavour to that from other parts of the world. If you love ghost stories then you are going to simply devour Robert Hood's Immaterial collection and be left baying at the moon for more. Scare yourself up some festive cheer this year.

Enzino 19/12/2008

[Editor's Note: If wanting a copy of the reviewed book then don't muck around, there's a limited number left in the current print run and they are selling fast. If unable to get a copy then hit the contact form and I'll see if MirrorDanse Books don't have a few spare copies floating around, or find out when the next print run is happening].

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

  To hell with it every single person reading this review should go grab a copy, one of the best ghost story collections you could ever hope to get your hands on.