(2017) Joe Hill, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, 433pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22117-8
Joe Hill has become a major force in horror and fantasy fiction, over the years. He writes that he came up with these novellas as a change of pace from longer works, like ‘The Fireman’ and ‘NOS4R2’. He has already shown that he can easily do short fiction with his collection 20th Century Ghosts so let’s see what this collection is like.
The opening story ‘Snapshot’ is narrated by Michael, a fat 13 year old in 1988 Silicon Valley, helping with a neighbour suffering from Alzheimer's who was his housekeeper and childminder. Michael runs into a man with a Polaroid camera that takes pictures of memories and takes them out of your mind. Hill does a very good job of capturing the narrator’s thoughts of what he was at the time and comparing things with today. It’s a good traditional story of a kid comforting a supernatural threat, but the novella is also about the loss of people from Alzheimer's and degeneration memory conditions.
The second story ‘Loaded’ starts in 1993 with a black teenager Colson Withers shot by 2 police officers with a CD in his hand. In 2013 Randall Kellaway a security guard and prejudiced Iraq veteran gets an injunction to stay away from his child and his wife. At the Miracle Falls Mall, a shop assistant is dumped and fired by the manager of the jewellery store, when their affair is discovered. She returns with a gun that the owner gave her as a present. Kellaway enters only to shoot a Muslim woman with a baby, thinking she’s wearing a bomb, as well as the shop assistant who’s’ already killed the manager. When another bystander appears to say that he misheard what he originally said about the shooter, Kellaway shoots him as well and hides the bullet.
While Kellaway tries to ride on the fame as a hero, as nobody else can initially deny the evidence. But local reporter Aisha Lanternglass, who saw Colson get shot, starts to examine the facts and Kellaway’s background and over a few days Kellaway snaps with horrific consequences. Joe Hill said that he wanted to write about ‘about America's endless cycle of mass shootings.’ With his skill at quick character sketches, Hill creates a devastating story, about weapon availability and glamorisation in a society built on built around hypocrisy and prejudice.
The third story ‘Aloft’ returns to fantasy. Aubrey Griffin is a 23 cello player going Skydiving to impress Harriet, the girl he is in unrequited love with. Aubrey and the instructor jump out and land on a solid cloud structure. The instructor is blown off by the parachute and Aubrey is left marooned on the cloud. While he is trapped there, we flashback to his time playing on stage with Harriott and her friend June who died of cancer. Aubrey discovers that the cloud will respond to his thoughts, but does not want him to discover too much about it. While this is a wonderfully fantastical premise. It is the study of Aubrey that makes this novella work as it moves back into his past while the cloud exploits his memories as he explores it.
The final story ‘Rain’ begins with 23-year old law student Honeysuckle Speck waiting for her girlfriend Yolanda and her mother to arrive and move in with her in Colorado, Boulder. As she arrives, a shower of sharp powerful crystal spikes falls from the sky for several minutes. Honeysuckle finds herself heading out on journey across an America that starts to fall apart as the lethal and destruction showers of spiked crystal continue over the country and the world. It’s a very dark narrative that is a new variation of the apocalypse story, acting as a commentary on the fears permeating people in today’s America.
At the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards this volume won the award of Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. I would say this is a deserved award. What Hill is able to do is to craft these character focused narratives focused on people caught up in these events and how they react to them. In addition to these, they tie into the concerns creeping into everyday life. By now, Hill is confidently establishing his own distinct path. All of these stories would have been the highlight of any collection, in a single volume, it’s a bargain.
See also Peter's take on Strange Weather.
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