Creeping Crawlers (edited by Allen Ashley) will be published by Shadow Publishing in October 2015.

Information about the editor:

Allen is the editor of The Elastic Book of Numbers, Subtle Edens: The Elastic Book of Slipstream Fiction, Catastrophia, Where Are We Going and Astrologia: Stories of the Zodiac. Some of his numerous short stories are collected in Somnambulists, Urban Fantastic and Once and Future Cities. He runs creative writing workshops in the London area and is the judge for the British Fantasy Society's short story competition.

Click here to visit the editor's official website.

Information about Creeping Crawlers:

What is this lingering fear of insects, arachnids, arthropods, crustaceans and those that slither... is it a hangover from the survival battles in the savannah or does it go deeper and further back than that in our evolutionary heritage?

Unchallenged, the locusts, the maggots, the worms, the flies, the aphids and the termites may consume and destroy all that we have and hold dear.

Creeping, slithering, crawling horror, science fiction and fantasy stories by nineteen of today's top authors.

David Birch, Gary Budgen, Adrian Cole, Storm Constantine, Andrew Darlington, Pauline E. Dungate, Dennis Etchison, Edmund Glasby, John Grant, Terry Grimwood, Andrew Hook, Mark Howard Jones, Alan Knott, Robin Lupton, Ralph Robert Moore, Richard Mosses, Marion Pitman, David Rix, David Turnbull.

A REVIEW OF CREEPING CRAWLERS (EDITED BY ALLEN ASHLEY)

Allen Ashley's Creeping Crawlers is an excellent anthology of science fiction, horror and weird fiction stories about insects, arachnids, arthropods and crustaceans. It's a unique anthology, because nineteen authors explore our fear of crawlers and our relationship with them. The authors do their utmost best to fascinate and terrify readers by writing about crawling and slithering creatures in different ways.

Before I write more about the contents of this anthology I'll clarify that, in this review, I use the word "crawler" to refer to all the possible tiny insects, arachnids, arthropods and crustaceans etc. I decided to use this word, because it encompasses all the possible tiny creatures and leaves no room for misunderstandings.

As we all know, our conscious and unconscious fear of crawlers has always been with us. We've been afraid of them for thousands of years and have never been able to get rid of the fear. No matter how much we and our society have evolved during the centuries, we're still afraid of them. Crawlers may cause intense phobia in many of us, because some of us whimper and panic when they see spiders or other similar kind of crawling creatures.

Tiny slithering insects and odd looking crustaceans evoke quite a lot of dread and terror in many of us while some of us may not be bothered at all by their presence, because we're either fascinated or terrified by them. We have a kind of love and hate relationship with them, because we admire them for their perseverance, but abhor the destruction they can be bring to our houses and plants (for example, termites can eat houses and aphids can make plants wither and die).

Crawlers are interesting creatures, because they're surprisingly resilient and can survive in many different kinds of conditions. Compared to humans, crawlers are amazing survivors, because they've adapted to life all over the world. They can be found in cold and warm climates, above ground and underneath it. They can eat almost anything, they breed prodigiously and they can become extremely invasive given the right circumstances. They can be surprisingly dangerous to our existence.

When you read this anthology, you'll notice that you'll be thinking of all of the things that I wrote about in the three previous paragraphs. All of the stories in this anthology will make you think about these things, because they contain entertaining and thought-provoking elements.

This anthology gives readers a chance to read about crawlers in an interesting and exciting way, because the authors write about many things that are associated with them. I can guarantee that you've never read about crawlers in this way before.

I think that a word of warning may be in order to those who suffer from severe crawler phobia, because reading this anthology may cause a few nightmares to readers who dislike and fear crawlers.

This anthology contains the following nineteen stories:

- Us! By Andrew Hook
- In the Earth by Storm Constantine
- Running with the Tide by Adrian Cole
- Survivors by Terry Grimwood
- A Taste for Canal Burgers by David Rix
- Mariposas del Noche by Pauline E. Dungate
- Wet Season by Dennis Etchison
- Scarab by Gary Budgen
- For the Love of Insects by Mark Howard Jones
- Woodworm by Marion Pitman
- Foreign Bodies by Edmund Glasby
- Dissolute Evolution by Alan Knott
- Little Helpers by John Grant
- The Tarantata by Richard Mosses
- You Dry Your Tears If They Don't Work by Ralph Robert Moore
- Guano Dong Baby by Robin Lupton
- Spinnentier by David Birch
- The Sweet Meat and the Beet by David Turnbull
- Chemical Glide by Andrew Darlington

It's slightly difficult to categorise some of these stories, because they range from one end of the speculative fiction spectrum to the other. In my opinion, the best way to categorise them is to label them as science fiction, horror and weird fiction, because they contain elements of these genres.

There's amazing diversity among these stories, because the authors write about everyday life, the threat of insects, mutations, evolution and the future of mankind. Although there are different themes in these stories, all of them are stylish, fascinating and well written stories with plenty of weirdness and unsettling elements.

Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them. I'll try to avoid spoilers in these short synopses.

Us! By Andrew Hook:
- A story about a species that has existed for many years and has become a dominant species.
- An excellent story about what atomic age can do to insects.
- Readers who are have seen the old science fiction horror film "Them!" (USA/1954), will probably notice that the quotations attributed to Donald Medford are from the film.

In the Earth by Storm Constantine:
- In this story, Mawde and Jeryl, who are cousins, spend time together. They're different from each other, because Mawde loves nature and its creatures, but Jeryl wants to harm them. The girls are almost like polar opposites of each other, because they have different views about things.
- A beautifully written story.

Running with the Tide by Adrian Cole:
- A story about Rik, a severe drought and an area of retreated sea that feels totally alien. When men go missing, a rescue party, including Rik, goes in search of them.
- An excellent horror story with good and effective atmosphere.

Survivors by Terry Grimwood:
- A story about people who come back to a changed Earth after spending years in space.
- A well written and intriguing post-apocalyptic science fiction story with horror elements.

A Taste for Canal Burgers by David Rix:
- A story about a cyclist who cycles into the canal in the middle of the night because of hitting something on the path.
- A beautifully written weird story (this is one of the best stories I've read this year).

Mariposas del Noche by Pauline E. Dungate:
- A story about Dominic Carter (an entomologist) and Toby Lansdowne (a photographer) whose purpose is to record and photograph the sixlegged inhabitants of the archipelago.
- This is an amazing and fluently written story with a perfect ending.
- After reading this story, I can mention that I'd like to read more stories by this author.

Wet Season by Dennis Etchison:
- A story about Madden and his wife who seems to have something unusual about her.
- A brilliantly told horror story that grows nicely towards the end and ends in a chilling way.

Scarab by Gary Budgen:
- A story about a man who receives a gift, a cardboard tube with a symbol of a stylised scarabaeidae, from her daughter. He uses the contents of the tube and sees things.
- This is a fascinatingly different kind of a story about drug use, its consequences and mythology.
- Careful readers may notice that this story contains quotations from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

For the Love of Insects by Mark Howard Jones:
- In this story, Alex visits the house of a enigmatic painter, Modril, who paints weird paintings.
- An excellent and beautifully written weird fiction story with a satifyingly chilling ending.
- When I finished reading this story, I put the author immediately on my reading list, because I was impressed by his storytelling.

Woodworm by Marion Pitman:
- A story about a man whose childhood tragedy gives him a severe phobia towards the woodworm.
- A brilliantly told story that is something a bit different.

Foreign Bodies by Edmund Glasby:
- A story about an off-sea exploratory drilling platform that seems to have been encased by something strange. When a team of men goes to explore it, they find themselves in great danger.
- A well written and intriguing story with a touch of Lovecraftian strangeness.

Dissolute Evolution by Alan Knott:
- This is an interesting story about weird evolution and what happens when we tamper with genetics and breeding.
- A well written and wonderfully disturbing story that grows into almost grotesque heights of weirdness.

Little Helpers by John Grant:
- A stunning and a bit different kind of a story about bad and corrupt knights who arrive in Karmlawth and experience something strange.
- An excellent and memorable story with a few surprises.

The Tarantata by Richard Mosses:
- In this story, Iain visits Italy and meets a woman called Angelina who is soon bitten by a spider and needs treatment.
- An intriguing story about holiday romance and a spider bite and its treatment.

You Dry Your Tears If They Don't Work by Ralph Robert Moore:
- An intriguing story about priests and an altar boy, Carlos, who has done something wrong and tells a strange story to the priests.
- This story has a good ending.

Guano Dong Baby by Robin Lupton:
- A story about Chinese holistic medicine, cockroaches and a woman who turns to Chinese fertility services to get treatment for infertility.
- I haven't read many stories related to Chinese medicine, so this story was an interesting reading experience.

Spinnentier by David Birch:
- A brilliantly disturbing story about a boy, his family and spiders.
- An excellent and well written story with an effective atmosphere and a good ending.

The Sweet Meat and the Beet by David Turnbull:
- This is a stunningly told story about Danding and Pashina and their work. I won't go into details about this story in order to avoid spoilers, but I'll mention that this story is a memorable story.
- This is one of the best and most original stories I've read this year, so it gets full points from me.

Chemical Glide by Andrew Darlington:
- This is a story about a substance called Chemical Glide, visions and a man called Quinn who finds a body of a man who has committed suicide.
- An amazing and well written story that gradually grows into a powerful story about Glide visions and perception of reality.
- I consider this story to be a masterpiece of modern speculative fiction. This kind of gradually unfolding stories are among the best stories available for intelligent speculative fiction readers, because they offer food for thoughts.

Andrew Hook's "Us!" is a brilliant story about insects who have evolved and become a dominant species. The author writes stunningly about the insects and what has happened to them. The story is told from an insect's point of view as it tells the history of its kind to three future queens. This is one of the best insect stories I've ever read, because it's something different.

Storm Constantine's "In the Earth" is an excellent story, because it has an unsettling and chilling atmosphere. The author writes fluently Mawde and Jeryl who are cousins. Although they're are cousins, they differ quite a lot from each other in terms of behaviour and attitude. It was intriguing for me to read about how the girls felt about insects and how Jeryl seemed to want to harm them. Jeryl's actions and behaviour were fascinatingly disturbing and caused worry in Mawde.

Terry Grimwood's "Survivors" is an exceptionally intriguing post-apocalyptic science fiction story with horror elements about people who have spent years in space and finally return to Earth. When they return to Earth, they find out that Earth has changed while they were away. Even insect behaviour seems to have changed, because survival is important. I was impressed by this story and the author's writing skills.

I was fascinated by David Rix's "A Taste for Canal Burgers" and its subtle atmosphere, because it's a story about a cyclist who experiences something strange. The author writes well about the cyclist and the mysterious woman he meets, because the woman seems to have a slightly different way of life. The cyclist learns that there are many mysterious things in London that only a few people know about.

Mark Howard Jones' "For the Love of Insects" is a brilliant story about a man, Alex, who visits the house of a painter called Modril who has become famous for his terrifying images of humans and enormous insects in curious embraces and puzzling dances. Alex has a fear of insects, but his purpose is to interview the enigmatic artist to secure his doctorate. This story has fascinatingly disturbing elegance to it that I find captivating. It's one of the best horror stories I've read during the recent years, because the paintings described by the author have irresistible weirdness to them and the ending is approriately chilling.

Alan Knott's "Dissolute Evolution" gets full points from me because of its interesting portrayal of what happens when we use genetics to solve things and - despite our best efforts - something goes seriously wrong. The author writes perfectly about the genetic mutations and how our world can change permanently because of them. I'm not sure if other readers or critics will agree with me on this, but I detect a hint of pitch black humour in this story, because the weird happenings are intriguingly surreal yet believable.

On the whole, Creeping Crawlers is a rewarding reading experience, because all of the stories are excellent. Allen Ashley has clearly done his best to gather stories that demonstrate different aspects of the crawlers, our relationship with them and our feelings towards them. Each of the authors explores these things in a unique and compelling way, and each of the stories is of the highest quality (there are no bad stories in this anthology). The different settings and happenings offer quite a lot of entertainment to readers.

When I read these stories, I noticed that there was plenty of style and originality in them that is often lacking from many similar kind of stories. All of the stories were genuinely good and worth reading, and they differed nicely from each other. I also noticed that the quality of the prose was excellent in all of the stories. Because I'm personally fond of good prose and fluent storytelling, I was pleasantly surprised by the authors' writing skills.

Some of the authors in this anthology are already established authors who have written books and short story collections, but others await to be discovered by readers (a few of the authors were previously unknown to me). I sincerely hope that all of the authors continue to write speculative fiction, because they write good, nuanced and original fiction.

I think it's important to say that Creeping Crawlers is an excellent example of how important small independent publishers are to the versatility of modern speculative fiction. Independent publishers like Shadow Publishing dare to publish fiction that boldly differs from mainstream speculative fiction and contains plenty of beautiful prose and thought-provoking material, which attracts readers who want the best from their speculative fiction.

The cover art by Steve Upham looks beautiful and demonstrates a versatile collection of different crawlers.

Creeping Crawlers is an intriguing and unique anthology filled with depth, style and originality. If you enjoy reading well written speculative fiction, I strongly urge you to read this anthology, because it's one of the best speculative fiction anthologies of the year. Because this kind of anthologies are rare and special treats to quality-oriented readers, please make sure that you'll read it as soon as possible - you'll be wonderfully terrified and mesmerised by its contents.

Highly recommended!

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