Strange Weather by Joe Hill

November 2, 2017

“Snapshot” is the disturbing story of a Silicon Valley adolescent who finds himself threatened by “The Phoenician,” a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid Instant Camera that erases memories, snap by snap.

A young man takes to the skies to experience his first parachute jump. . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero’s island of roiling vapor that seems animated by a mind of its own in “Aloft.”

On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails—splinters of bright crystal that shred the skin of anyone not safely under cover. “Rain” explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as the deluge of nails spreads out across the country and around the world.

In “Loaded,” a mall security guard in a coastal Florida town courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun rights movement. But under the glare of the spotlights, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it. When an out-of-control summer blaze approaches the town, he will reach for the gun again and embark on one last day of reckoning.

I’ve become a real admirer of Joe Hill’s work over the last couple of years. I may have been late to the party, I’m still slowly savouring Locke and Key. The Fireman is a doorstop of apocalyptic goodness. Horns is deliciously dark. My other half also assures me that both Heart Shaped Box and NOS4R2 are equally splendid. With all that in mind, a new release featuring not one but four novellas from Mr Hill promises to be something a bit special.

Snapshot – Ahh, the Eighties, a halcyon time when the world was a simpler place (ignoring the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and the rise of the yuppie obviously).  Michael Figlione is a nerdy teen who likes nothing better that inventing things. One day he meets a neighbour wandering aimlessly around the streets. Her memory appears patchy at best. Is she suffering the vagaries of age or is there something more sinister going on? The other question, who is the Polaroid Man? I do love a “mysterious stranger” story. Especially when, like this one, it has a satisfying pay off. The characterisation is also a real highlight. Michael’s life and family is presented so well that I quickly forgot this was a novella. All the little throw away details that sneak into the main narrative help to flesh out each and every person in the story. Actually, now I think about it, Joe Hill manages to pull this same trick in all four novellas. The characters are so well established and very real.

Loaded – In the second novella the topic of America’s gun culture is picked apart. The story follows how character’s lives are ended or changed irreversibly by their interaction with firearms. Separate threads of a seemingly disparate narrative begin to weave together and finally meet in a single shocking event. The story doesn’t stop at that point however. The aftermath and repercussions of people’s actions are also explored. I don’t want to give away too much detail. Trust me, you’re best coming into this story cold. Hill examines every aspect of the arguments both for and against gun ownership. He manages to dissect such an emotive subject with genuine skill. Loaded doesn’t feature any supernatural or mystical elements, which makes it all the more frightening. The sad truth of the matter is that what with almost daily mass shootings in the United States, Loaded could easily be entirely based on fact, it certainly feels like it. I’ll be honest, the ending utterly destroyed me. It felt like an emotional gut punch. Though a difficult subject matter, Joe Hill treats the topic respectfully and with a thoughtful insight. I think this may win the prize for my favourite story in the collection. It is undoubtedly the most harrowing but also the most affecting.

Aloft – As if jumping out of a plane wasn’t terrifying enough, how about jumping and never hitting the ground? Imagine Robinson Crusoe on a cumulonimbus and you’re about halfway there. Aubrey Langdon Griffin finds himself adrift in the sky. Alone, with little but his thoughts, he is prompted towards introspection. In his isolation he gets the chance to re-evaluate past decisions and mistakes he has made. There is a transformative tone to this novella that I liked. Aubrey goes through an internal journey that finds him ultimately changed. How often do we get the opportunity to revisit our memories properly and focus on the choices we’ve made? More a character study than anything else, Aloft is a welcome change of pace after the tension inducing Loaded.

Rain – Apocalyptic fiction is hands down my favourite sub-genre. I cannot get enough of it. Last year I read The Fireman and loved every word. It’s a huge sprawling behemoth of a thing. Rain feels like the opposite, it’s dialled right back. The entire novella takes place over a very short time period, only a couple of days, and features a much smaller cast of characters. Honeysuckle and Yolanda are about to move in together when a meteorological Armageddon strikes. It is so severe in nature that society very quickly begins to collapse. Politician’s sabre rattling reaches epidemic proportions, everyone blaming one another, and things quickly escalate. Amidst all this horror I think Rain is actually a love story. It’s really about the lengths you would go to for someone who is your world. That’s the interpretation I took from it anyway. I’ll admit initially I wasn’t expecting such a bittersweet tale, but it is all the better for it. Turns out the old axiom “a little bit of rain never hurt anyone” isn’t true at all.

Strange Weather is, in a word, brilliant. All the stories are great, but as I mentioned before if I had to choose a favourite story it is going to have to be Loaded. People should be forced to read that and learn from it before buying a gun. I’ve reached the stage now where I await each new Joe Hill book with unrestrained glee. I know that his writing is going to have me completely hooked from the get go and that each new tale is going to make me think. Good fiction needs to be like this, to challenge preconceived notions, to educate and to inform. Strange Weather is the rarest of treats and does exactly that.

When I started reading Strange Weather, Snapshot in particular, made me feel nostalgic. So much so, that I found myself listening to the soundtrack to Stranger Things 2 by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein whilst reading. Seems like a good fit. The music and the novellas both manage to evoke the entire gamut of emotions from terror and sadness to joy and hope. Works for me.

Strange Weather is published by Gollancz and is available from 7th November. Highly recommended. Joe Hill’s writing just keeps going from strength to strength.

One Comment

  • Rebecca December 28, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Just finished and I loved them too – but Loaded was actually my least favorite. I come from a cop family so … I’m uncomfortable with the constant broad brushstrokes on a community. But I do love how he makes everyone feel uncomfortable. He’s a genius, for sure.

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