2007 Snapshot Interview: Robert Hood

Interviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Robert Hood is the co-editor (with Robin Pen) of Daikaiju (2005), Daikaiju 2 (2007) and the soon-to-be-released Daikaiju 3. Rob is also a spec fic writer, and he was previously featured in the 2005 Snapshot.

Q1 - This has been the Year of Daikaiju (not sure of the plural, Daikaijux?) for you, with Volume 2 launched in June, and Volume 3 about to attack during Conflux. What was it about Daikaiju that cried out to you 'multiple theme anthologies' rather than keeping it as a one-off? Are you pleased with the results of/response to the 2007 Daikaiju books? And will there be a Daikaiju 4?

Rob - What it was that cried out for sequels was the enthusiasm of the contributors and the fact that I had ended up with a lot of shortlisted stories that couldn't fit in the first one – many of which were well worthy of publication but probably wouldn't find a place in non-daikaiju anthologies (daikaiju-themed anthologies being somewhat rare). Some would definitely have been in the first volume if I could have fit them in, but it went oversize as it was. So I determined at an early stage to publish some of the “remainders” in an e-volume, to be available on-line, if the authors were willing. Agog! Press couldn't afford to do a “hard-copy” sequel, but an e-book wouldn't cost anything, at least in terms of printing. But then circumstances changed, with the availability of a relationship with Prime Books in the US. POD technology and Prime's willingness to get Agog! Books onto Amazon.com meant that Agog! could produce the books at minimal cost, avoiding the rather crippling expense of selling in the US and the need to deal with postage (the fact that the first book had been a tad too heavy - being “oversized” - and therefore costly to mail out had been a significant financial mistake first time around). But then I discovered that the stories I'd kept for the e-anthology added up to far too many words for Prime's print-version requirements, so rather than disappoint authors whose stories had been with me for about 18 months by then, I just divided it in two. This even gave me some extra space, so I solicited a few “extras” here and there, and the whole thing expanded further. So as you can see, the fact that there are to be three Daikaiju books has more to do with a lack of business sense, naivety and an overwhelming enthusiasm than anything else – although after the first volume there was considerable excitement among readers at the prospect of more giant monsters. Giant monsters enthusiasts are insatiable!

As for response to the 2007 volume, well, there hasn't been much yet. The small-run Australian edition that we produced mostly in order to provide contributors' copies sold quite well at the Natcon, but I haven't seen any reviews or had much feedback. Personally I think Daikaiju! 2 has many virtues, with several stories as good as anything in the first one, even though the first is probably more impressive as a whole in terms of its variety and uniqueness. Though there are one or two stories that will satisfy the non-fan, I suspect the sequel is more directed at those that like their giant monsters to be really big and to rampage freely! Number 3 will be seen as different again, I think, with a slew of quite unusual pieces.

And, no, there probably won't be a Daikaiju! 4 – not in the near future anyway. I'm a little over editing at the moment…

Q2 - Now on to Robert Hood the writer. You have a collection of short stories, Creeping in Reptile Flesh, soon to be published by Altair Australia. What was the process for selecting the stories? Is the collection 'monster-themed' as the title suggests, or is that just reflective of your general love of monsters in fiction?

Rob - The contents list for Creeping in Reptile Flesh hasn't been finalised yet. I'm still playing with the volume, conceptually. Much depends on the title story, which will be a long one – 14,500 words so far. But initially the idea was to produce a follow-up to my ghost-story collection Immaterial - not in the sense of more ghost stories but a new collection of my best non-ghost horror work. However, my current thought on the matter is veering toward a generalised thematic approach that makes the collection more of a unity. It isn't “monster-themed” as such. The title is taken from mystic poet and artist William Blake, whose poetic “Prophecies” and their monstrous imagery were the subject of my postgraduate thesis way back in the depths of time. For me, the phrase is all about that which is hidden in corporeal form, and carries a sense of entrapment in a material world - perhaps with sinister intent. The title story doesn't actually have any reptiles in it. It's meant to be taken symbolically - harking back to the reptile backbrain. The narrative concerns ferality, specifically in a political setting, and the weirdness that lurks just behind apparent normality. There is a monster, but it's not a giant one and it's closer to being human - a feral species in human form. The living dead do get a look in, however. And the result is rather surreal and nightmarish. At the moment I'm thinking that other stories included in the collection will be thematically connected to concepts of ferality and feral invasion - non-human threat in human form. You know, how do we accommodate the Beast?

Q3 - You recently had a Doctor Who story published in one of the Short Trips anthologies. This is hugely exciting! Which Doctor/companion pairing did you write? Was it intimidating to be writing “official” Who? If the BBC came to you tomorrow and asked you to pitch them an episode of the new series, assuming an unlimited budget (of course), what kind of story would you want to tell?

Rob - It was very exciting! A bunch of Aussies ended up in the volume, which is called “Destination Prague”: Sean Williams, Stephen Dedman, Lee Battersby and others. It brought the Who nerd out in us all. I wrote a story featuring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (the American companion). Colin Baker was perhaps the least popular Doctor, but I always liked his intense nature and tenuous grasp on sanity. He was idealistic but unstable, and he and Peri spent most of the time arguing. The storylines during their season on the TV show weren't very strong, but the characters have had an effective post-TV life in novels and audioplays. Anyway, I had a great time with them and thoroughly enjoyed getting into the Time Lord's head.

Initially I felt as though I should be somewhat intimidated at working in a franchise that I literally grew up with, but it came relatively easily – as easily as writing ever comes at any rate. Harder was the setting, which had to be Prague. I've never been to Prague. But I have been to the Who-universe, often.

I would love to do a new Who with Gothic overtones, along the lines of great retro-feel episodes from Tom Baker's days, such as “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, “The Horror of Fang Rock” and “The Pyramids of Mars”. Or maybe a Who giant monster episode. Yeah, that would be cool! They've done some recent episodes with big creatures in them (eg. “Gridlock”), but a daikaiju-esque narrative with a Gorgo-like beast trashing London … excellent! A zombie story wouldn't go amiss either.

Q4 - Do you read much in the Aus spec fic scene? What's the best thing you've read this year?

Rob – No, I am by no means thorough in my reading, local or OS. Time seems to get less and less available; I'm still catching up with earlier stuff. Local novels I've enjoyed are The Pilo Family Circus (obviously, as I was judge on the Australian Shadows Horror Award and gave the prize to Will Elliott's darkly comic novel), and Sean Williams' Geodesica books (co-written with Shane Dix). I love post-human SF and space opera, and Sean does both with mindblowing conviction. I'm looking forward to reading his new Astropolis: Saturn Returns, which promises to be even more out there. A favourite of the short stories I've read this year is Simon Brown’s “Along Came A Spider” from Agog! Ripping Reads – a typically emotive, and well-crafted, tale and one of the best from a strong collection. But I really can't be relied upon to designate a “Best of the Year” – I simply haven't read much of this year's batch. At this point I could be rather disingenuous and say that one of the best things I have read this year is a story of my own, “Redlight Dead”, written for a US anthology called Monster Noir (edited by Steven Savile). I'm forced to read my own stories many times over, you see, and I love this one; it features zombie prostitutes, ghosts, a noir-type newspaper reporter, a giant ape and much else besides. The anthology may or may not appear this year. But mentioning it would be far too self-promotional, so I won't.

Something that is way up there in terms of the more compelling things I've read this year is a novel I'm in the middle of at the moment: Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – though, of course, it is neither recent nor Australian, and the English version is reportedly cut down from the Japanese original, making some of the intentional confusion even more confusing. Still, I find the surreal simplicity of Murakami's vision absolutely riveting. The relationship between dreams and the “real” world fascinates me, and this book is like a dream externalised.

Q5 - and finally, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be?

Rob - I'll jump genres and say Motoko Kusanagi from the anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”. She's intelligent, sexy and tough – though also a cyborg and visually two-dimensional. Still, nobody's perfect. But naming an anime character is a bit like coming out of the closet as an otaku obsessed with Anigao Girls – meaning “nerd fixated on girls with anime face”. (If you haven't heard of that particular fetish, look it up. It's very creepy.) Or I could go with Cassandra Kresnov from Joel Shepherd's Crossover (and other books in that series). But she's a cyborg as well. A bit too psychologically revealing? Maybe I'll stick with Scully from “The X-Files”. God, now I really feel like a nerd!


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