Andrew Hook's Human Maps was published by Eibonvale Press in November/December 2016.

Information about Andrew Hook:

Andrew Hook has been widely published in the independent press in a variety of genres. "Human Maps" is his fifth short story collection.

Click here to visit his official website.

Information about Human Maps:

Through dreamscape wonderment, fetishism, guilt, loss and love, these twenty-one stories map both physical and internal environments. Hook's familiar themes of identity, memory, and the nature of reality thread multiple genres to form a dense cartographic exploration of the human condition.

A REVIEW OF ANDREW HOOK'S HUMAN MAPS

Andrew Hook's Human Maps is a fascinating and impressive collection of stories that contains elements of literary fiction, slipstream fiction, literary speculative fiction and modern strange fiction. It's one of the best collections available for those who want to read something different and extraordinary.

Because it's possible that Andrew Hook may be a bit unknown author to many readers, here are a few words about him. Andrew Hook is an author who has been widely published in the independent press in a variety of genres. He has written many stories that range from literary fiction to speculative fiction, and he has combined different genres to create original fiction. He is the author of such books as The Virtual Menagerie and Other Stories, Moon Beaver, Beyond Each Blue Horizon and Slow Motion Wars (with Allen Ashley).

Although I haven't read many stories by Andrew Hook, I've come to appreciate his stories a lot during the recent years, because they're fascinatingly different. He has his own writing style that can be described as literary, insightful, thoughtful and wistful with a touch of experimentalism and surrealism. His fiction appeals to my taste in literary speculative fiction, because I enjoy reading stories that make me think about things.

Human Maps demonstrates the author's versatility and his imagination in an excellent way, because each of the stories is something special and unique. This collection can be seen as a testament to the fact that speculative fiction is truly a force to reckon with and should not be underestimated by anybody, because speculative fiction gives authors more freedom to explore many things than normal literary fiction.

I consider Human Maps to be one of the finest collections published during the recent years. It's a collection that has plenty of re-read value because of its dirverse contents. I personally read it twice before starting to write this review, because all of the stories were impressive and contained plenty of minor details, nuances and thought-provoking elements.

This collection contains the following stories:

- Tetsudo Fan
- The Perfection of Symmetry
- The Human Map
- Blue Sky World
- Bothersome
- Vulvert
- Periscope
- Monster Girl
- Beyond the Island of the Dolls
- Rain from a Clear Blue Sky
- Cling
- Wounder
- The Quickening
- Flytrap
- Black Lung
- On the Beach
- Old Factory Memories
- Dizzy Land
- The Opaque District
- Things That Are Here Now, Things That Were There Then
- Blood For Your Mother

Each of the above mentioned stories is worth reading, because the author has created mesmerising and intellectually stimulating stories. These stories are not your normal kind of speculative fiction, but something more meaningful, because the author explores the human condition in many ways and has an ability to write intriguingly about feelings and relationships.

What I like perhaps most about these stories is that the author writes about everyday life and different situations in an intriguing and slightly surreal way. Fine treads of surrealism are present in many of these stories in varying degrees and tiny speckles of strangeness and horror manifest themselves every once in a while in a powerful and memorable way.

Although these stories differ from each other, there's a kind of a subtle thread between some of them that connects them. For example, "Monster Girl" and "Beyond the Island of the Dolls" are partly connected to each other.

Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:

Tetsudo Fan:

- A story about a 15-year-old Kazuo who lives in Tokyo. He meets Kunihiro who's also a tetsudo fan.
- This is an intriguing and insightful glimpse into Japanese culture and the life of a tetsudo fan.
- I was already familiar with this story, because it was originally published in Rustblind and Silverbright: A Slipstream Anthology of Railway Stories. It was nice to find it here, because it's a good story.

The Perfection of Symmetry:

- A fascinating and a bit unsettling story about Vermillion who is a model and has a perfectly symmetrical body.
- I like the author's way of exploring what it is like to be a model and what a person has to endure in order to maintain a perfect body. It was fascinating to read about what Vermillion thought about her body and her appearance.
- Although this story is not body horror per se, it has certain elements that can almost be placed within the limits of the literary body horror genre.

The Human Map:

- In this story, the protagonist is trying to return home and finds himself in various places around the world.
- This story has an excellent ending.

Blue Sky World:

- The protagonist of this story finds Sidoney by the roadside and is captivated by her delicate and beautiful voice.
- An interesting exploration of a rift between time and space and what comes through it to our world.
- I found it interesting that what was left unsaid in this story was almost more powerful than what was revealed to the reader.

Bothersome:

- An interesting story about a female scientist whose thoughts seem to drift somewhere between memories and aging because of dementia.
- This is a story that raises many questions about getting old and losing one's ability to control one's body and mind.
- It's great that the word dementia is never mentioned and nothing is explained, but small clues are revealed every now and then about the protagonist's condition, because it allows readers to figure everything out for themselves.
- In my opinion, this story is a fine example of a story that it difficult to classify, because its contents range from fantasy to realism.

Vulvert:

- In this story, a guy is fascinated by Velvet's way of pronouncing "velvet" in a special way.
- An intriguing glimpse into pronunciation and relationships.

Periscope:

- A science fiction story about a chinese man, Dr Swe Swe Win, his lover and a periscope he has devised that allows him to see the future.
- It was interesting to read about how the man could see the future, but couldn't predict it, because the glimpses from the future won't give enough information to predict what will happen.

Monster Girl:

- A story about a university student called Yoshi who works at a host club so that he can get enough money to buy a love doll.
- A fascinating glimpse into the life of a young Japanese man, his job and his needs.

Beyond the Island of the Dolls:

- After losing his daughter, Stewart changes his life and begins to live differently and travels to Mexico with a doll. He visits the famous Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls).
- I find this story especially intriguing, because it's disturbing, melancholic and touching.
- This is without a doubt one of the best stories in this anthology.

Rain from a Clear Blue Sky:

- In this story, a group of friends, who are into challenges and want to push themselves, decide to take a hike through the Dyatlov Pass which has an infamous reputation.
- An excellent and atmospheric story with a few intriguing horror elements.
- There's something about this story that slightly reminds me of Nathan Ballingrud's literary dark fiction.

Cling:

- A story about Barnaby, Joachim and Jasmine who are making a film.
- The author writes excellently about how Barnaby feels about Jasmine and how he has fallen in love with her while Joachim loves her through the camera lens.

Wounder:

- An excellent dark fiction story about the words "bonus" and "wounder" in the relationship between Michael and Chloe.
- Beauty and terror go hand in hand in this story, because it depicts a relationship that gradually develops into something surreal.

The Quickening:

- A story about Benedict who notices a man standing outside a house; the man seems to be waiting for someone. Soon Benedict begins to notice other strange things.
- An atmospheric and well written strange tale that will be of interest to readers who love modern strange stories.
- This is one of my favourite stories in this collection.

Flytrap:

- A story about three persons - Adamson, Gareth and Beth - whose lives and feelings are explored in an intriguing way. At the beginning of the story, Adamson feels lonely on Earth, Gareth is intrigued by a Venus flytrap and Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers resonates with Beth.
- An excellent and well written story that is something different.

Black Lung:

- In this story, a man has dreams about living over the bridge and meets Ondine who has died.
- I like the author's way of using the bridge as the place between the world of the living and the world of the dead, because it connects both worlds.
- This story has a touchingly melancholic and dream-like atmosphere that I found captivating.

On the Beach:

- A story about a young man who moves into a new place and hears from the landlady that the previous tennant has died in the bath in his rooms.
- This short story has an excellent atmosphere, because it pulls you into the story and won't let go until you've reached the end.

Old Factory Memories:

- In this story, residents of a care home visit Carson's meadow where a factory was once located.
- The author writes excellently about the characters and their conditions, because he does it without underlining anything.
- This amazing story is one of the absolute highlights in this collection, because it is touching, nostalgic and thought-provoking. The ending is perfect.

Dizzy Land:

- Hunter sees California Sands as a chance for a new beginning and wants to develop the place into Dizzy Land, a series of attractions and fairground rides.
- This story has a fascinating amount of underlying darkness and terror.

The Opaque District:

- A story about what happens when the world banks call in their debts and provisions become rationed and fought over.
- The author writes well about the queues and what can happen to people who can't handle the reality.
- This is one of the best stories in this anthology.

Things That Are Here Now, Things That Were There Then:

- A story about Constance who is an artist. Constance photographs her every waking task.
- It was interesting for me to read about how Constance seemed to suffer from some sort of mania that forced her to take many photographs and document her life by putting photos to the walls as if she's living inside a memory.
- This story reveals that it is possible for love to be a falsehood based on belief in the purity of art.

Blood For Your Mother:

- An excellent story about Miriam who has returned home, because his father is not well. Her mother has died and her father can't cope alone without help.
- The author wrote well about how Miriam wanted the social services to help her father, because she couldn't do it and the elderly neighbour also couldn't be able to do it for much longer.
- This intriguing story with a surprise twist is one of the highlights in this collection. It's a brilliant shocker for those love horror stories.

Here are a few additional words about some of the stories:

- "Bothersome" gets a special mention from me for being one of the best stories ever written about dementia. This story impressed me, because the author never clearly mentions what is wrong with the female scientist, but lets his readers find out what she suffers from.

- "Rain from a Clear Blue Sky" is one of my favourite stories in this collection, because it's a memorable account of a group of friends who decide to go on a hike through the Dyatlov Pass where people have been killed. The dark past of the Dyatlov Pass enhances the exciting atmosphere of the story. The author writes well about the characters and tells what they think about the puzzling deaths of the hikers who entered the Pass in 1959.

- "Old Factory Memories" is also one of my favourite stories, because it's one of the best stories I've ever read about the residents of a care home. The author's way of writing about the characters and their conditions feels realistic and evokes many feelings in the reader. This is a beautifully written story about memories, enhanced state of being and sensory awakening.

- "Blood for Your Mother" is a memorable story about Miriam who has been pushed away by her parents, but returns home, because his father is not well and needs help. The author writers excellently about Miriam and how she feels about her parents, because she was almost banished from her home without any kind of explanation until now, because her father is ready to reveal her everything. What she hears from her father is truly terrifying and unforgettable. I loved everything about this story, because it begins as a normal story, but suddenly turns into a horror story with Kafkaesque elements. The surprise twist at the end is amazing and will delight horror readers.

I like the author's prose and writing style very much, because his stories have depth and he doesn't deliver easy answers to his readers. In his prose, feelings of guilt, loss and love are often present and the human condition is explored in vivid and memorable details.

I was impressed by the characterisation, because the author creates compelling characters who live their own lives, have their own problems to deal with and try to make sense of the world around them. For example, Miriam in "Blood For Your Mother" is a well-created and realistic protagonist who has her own life, but feels bound by duty to make sure that her father gets approriate help from the social services.

I find the author's effortless way of using metafictional, strange and surreal elements refreshing. It's almost uncanny how fluently he uses these elements and delivers fascinating stories that defy easy classification.

I highly recommend Andrew Hook's Human Maps to readers who expect quality and originality from their speculative fiction stories, because it's something different and original. The deeper you sink yourself into this collection, the more you'll find yourself enjoying and loving it, because it's an excellent and intriguing collection for adult readers.

Highly recommended!

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