Full disclosure: I appeared alongside Tom Over in The Bumper Book of British Bizarro, which includes two of the stories reprinted in this collection.
The Comfort Zone and Other Safe Spaces is represented twice on the Splatterpunk Award ballot, as one of its stories – “Phylum” – is up for Best Short Story. So, let us take a look at the rest of the book…
The collection opens with the decidedly quirky “Tunnels”, in which man swallows a heirloom pendant to prevent it from being stolen by muggers. After passing through his digestive system, the once-chipped pendant emerges in immaculate condition; his inspires him to begin experimenting with the effects of his gut on various other heirlooms. Next is “The Wetness”, which opens with a graphic description of a man’s nocturnal emission; as the narative unfolds, we learn that the protagonist is followed seemingly wherever he goes by a mysterious gooey puddle. What begins as a story of bodily-function gross-out turns into a ghost story of love, loss, suspicion, frustration and a very strange fetish.
These first two stories turn out to be a representative introduction to the collection as a whole. Tom Over shows that he is never in a hurry: his tales tend to feature an understated oddness that gradually builds as the narrative unfolds. Often his stories will conclude with a twist that replaces one form of strangeness with another, more striking variety which still occupies the same mundane setting. In “The Portable Hum” a humorous anecdote about the narrator receiving accidental telephone calls from their father takes a darker turn when the protagonist ends up listening in on something inexplicable. “The Happiest Thought”, which has a similar ambience to Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”, depicts a family home that becomes the location of bizarre spatial distortions: a large whirlpool appears in a plugged bathtub; the staircase starts to grow and contract; and new areas open up, so large that members of the family start going missing.