Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

9781473221185Joe Hill follows up his brilliant epic The Fireman (one of my favourite books last year) with a collection of four novellas guaranteed to enthrall, and in one particular case, utterly chill its readers.

Strange Weather highlights a terrifying truth: real world terrors far outweigh the horrific manifestations of our nightmares. Three of the stories in this collection, linked thematically by diverse weather phenomena affecting their worlds, demonstrate Hill’s peerless imagination and uncanny ability to make the impossible scary as hell, chill the blood of his readers, and make their hearts race with fear. In Rain, a blissful Colorado day turns into Hell on Earth when needles begin pouring from the sky in place of rain. In Snapshot, an elderly neighbour warns a young boy about “the Polaroid Man” whose camera seems to be stealing memories. In Aloft, instead of rocketing through sky and clouds, a sky-diver find himself stranded on an alien cloud on which his memories and desires come to life in ephemeral form.

But it’s the second short story, Loaded, that proves the most resonant and disturbing, and oddly enough, free of any semblance of paranormal trappings. It’s real, and its terrifying. Recounting his almost-palpable disgust for America’s gun laws, Hill’s tale  recounts a decade-long history of gun violence and racism and domestic abuse in a Florida town through the actions of a mall cop. It’s an utterly creepy, horrific story, and its ending made my stomach lurch. It’s Joe Hill writing at the peak of his powers.

The four novellas that comprise Strange Weather are dark, unpredictable, and altogether entertaining. After the gargantuan The Fireman and NOS4A2, it’s a treat seeing Hill excel at the shorter form.

ISBN: 9781473221185
Format: Paperback (232mm x 154mm x 32mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Gollancz
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 31-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

FiremanCormac McCarthy’s literary masterpiece The Road presents a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world navigated by an adult and a child. The specifics of the extinction event are not clarified. It doesn’t matter why society crumbled, just that it has, because all that matters for its populace now is survival. The Road is a novel about the repercussions of the unspecified catastrophe that decimated society; decidedly post-crisis. Joe Hill’s The Fireman takes a different route, set at the very beginning of society’s decline, as the Dragonscale pandemic seizes hold, drawing patterns on people’s skin and eventually literally igniting them, causing them to spontaneously combust. Whereas the characters in The Road are surrounded by nothing but absolute despair, in The Fireman trappings of pre-pandemic lives still exist; tangible reminders of what once was. Both worlds are perpetually dangerous and unpredictable. And both novels are hallmarks of the narrative malleability of the post-apocalyptic concept.

Though operatic in scope, The Fireman is centred firmly around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes a volunteer at her local hospital when society starts to decay, and school becomes a thing of the past. When Harper discovers she, too, is infected by Dragonscale — and pregnant! — she vows to bring her baby safely into the world. Her husband Jakob has other ideas, disgusted by the mere thought of bringing another human into a world such as this, and attacks Harper, determined to abort her life and their child’s. During her escape she encounters John Rockwood — the near-mythical figure known as The Fireman — who welcomes her into a secluded camp of infected survivors, who have learned to control their infection. Jakob, meanwhile, joins the Cremation Crews; marauders who kill the infected on sight. Thus, the board is set, the terrain unknown. Husband and wife are destined to meet again; the question is, in what circumstances?

Survival in a Dragonscale-infected world is unglamorous, and Joe Hill doesn’t pull any punches as he exposes readers to the bleak reality of a world beginning its rapid spiral. He showcases a warped evangelical religion based on ‘the bright’ – an aftereffect of the Dragonscale infection – and demonstrates, as these types of stories so often do, that man’s greatest threat to its own survival is itself rather than the wider crisis. The characters that populate these pages are diverse and vibrant, with distinct follies and histories. Harper is an empathetic heroine, far stronger than we (and she) first realise; desperately clinging onto survival against all odds, as everything she’s ever known degenerates. The Fireman is a mammoth tome: to work, it needs a superior protagonist, and Hill has granted his readers a supremely memorable one.

The Fireman is Joe Hill’s most ambitious novel yet, and will inevitably be compared to his father’s seminal work. The thing is, these comparisons are warranted. Hill’s latest novel is indeed reminiscent of Stephen King’s greatest work – but never derivative. Like King, Hill is a master storyteller – it’s in his blood, clearly – and this novel elevates him into a new literary stratosphere. It has been a long, long time since I was last able to lose myself in an epic like this.

Australian Publication Details
ISBN: 9780575130722
Classification: Fiction & related items » Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 608
Imprint: Gollancz
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 17-May-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

US Publication Details
ISBN: 9780575130722
Publish Date: 17-May-2016
Format: Hardcover
Imprint: William Morrow
Publisher: HarperCollins
On Sale Date: 17 May 2016

Review: Thumbprint by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella & Vic Malhotra

ThumbprintThis hardcover published by IDW includes the original short story scribed by Joe Hill, and its comic book adaptation by writer Jason Ciramella and artist Vic Malhotra. Both are quality examples of storytelling in their respective mediums; but thanks to the pairing of both the original prose story and its subsequent reworking into a new form, the collection also offers fascinating insight into the adaptation process.

Ciramella and Malhorta make slight alterations to Hill’s narrative, but it’s fundamentally the same: Private Mallory Grennan has returned home from Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq, determined to start a new life, away from its horrors, hoping she can somehow extinguish her guilt. Abu Ghraib is infamous for its violation of human rights; prisoners there were tortured, sodomized and sexually abused by military police personnel of the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency. Grennan participated in these acts; she drew neither pleasure, nor displeasure from her actions. It was her job, it was what she signed up for, and ultimately, when you’re marooned in that world for an elongated period, the concepts of right and wrong dissipate into simply what is. This was her reality, and Grennan did what she had to. Back home now, Grennan hasn’t been able able to forget, nor forgive, herself for her brutal exploits. And when mysterious envelopes containing blank sheets of paper stained with a thumbprint begin showing up in her mail, at her door, even in her home, she knows it’s her past come back to haunt her – – but Grennan’s got a lot of potential ghosts.

Hill’s short story paints a bleaker picture of Grennan than Ciramella and Malhorta. She’s harsher, more despicable, and more unlikable than her comic book equivalent. Both stories focus on the effects war has on people; the psychological, PTSD trauma that’s whispered about, but rarely properly spotlighted, and how that can flare up and hinder ex-soldier’s reintegration into society. THUMBPRINT is a psychological thriller with a menacing core. The comic plays into the tropes of the genre more than the short story, purely for conventional storytelling reasons. Hill can afford a nebulous ending, whereas perhaps the graphic storytelling form necessitates a conclusive finale. I preferred Hill’s, but having read the graphic adaptation first, Ciramella and Malhorta’s version is equally satisfying in its own right. Ciramella adeptly deconstructs Hill’s story into a strong script, which Malhorta illustrates with great aplomb. His art style, slightly sketchy with thick inks, is suitably gritty.

THUMBPRINT, in both its incarnations, is a powerful character study. It’s a short read, but of the highest quality; another reminder that I need to delve into Hill’s longer prose as soon as possible. The comic and prose story have their own merits, and presented together in one volume, this is a fantastic package for any reader looking for a quick, powerful story about war and its impact.