Strange Weather by Joe Hill
This is a collection of four short novels by King the Younger, one of two male novelists sired by that master of horror writing, Stephen King. Joe Hill does have some of his auwl fella’s physical characteristics, but it’s his writing and the high standard therein that most readily marks him as the son of a literary great.
The first novel we encounter in this eclectic mix is Snapshot, set in 1980’s USA. Michael Figlione is an over-weight, nerdy 13-year old with a penchant for inventing. He discovers his neighbour and former babysitter, Shelley Beukes, wandering disorientated in the neighbourhood. As he dutifully escorts her home, she cryptically tells him to beware of the Polaroid Man. Michael is intrigued.
He soon gets the unfortunate chance to meet this individual who, as it happens, is not a figment of Shelley’s tortured mind. The Polaroid Man turns out to be an extremely nasty piece of work who uses a preternatural camera to steal large fragments of people’s memories and therefore large pieces of their lives. As Michael figures this out, he becomes terrified of the implications for both Shelley and himself.
Both boy and evil man meet during a storm when The Polaroid Man returns to Shelley’s humble home to thieve more pieces of her disintegrating mind. Fortunately, within the chubby structure of Michael Figlione resides a brave knight who betters the memory thief. Michael turns the tables on Mr Nasty, but cannot replace Shelley’s memories, and so damaged she must remain. Michael also discovers that the camera contains nothing more than an unidentifiable metal with preternatural properties. Although Michael destroys the vile camera, he keeps the metal and, over the years, uses it in various inventions, some of which, we are informed, are in your smart-phones and computers of today.
Snapshot is a wonderful story. It has all the necessary ingredients for a page-turner. The imagery is sultry and poignant. The characters are interesting and plausible. The pace is perfect. It is a good example of the skills of Joe Hill, who is a very fine writer.
Story two is Loaded. This one is extremely topical as it deals with the prevalence of guns in US society. Strange Weather was published in 2017 when gun-crime and mass-shootings were sadly as commonplace then as now.
Randall Kellaway is an Iraqi veteran with an attitude problem. Because he was given a dishonourable discharge for his conduct when in uniform, he is unable to get a job in law enforcement and so ends up as head of security at a mall. But life gets worse for ole Randall. His wife has had enough of his abuse and files for divorce, which means that he won’t get to spend as much time with his young son, George. This may be a blessing in disguise for the 5-year old as his father’s idea of good parenting leaves a lot to be desired. Randall’s weapons are seized by the cops. He is furious and turns to his buddy, Jim Hirst, for a weapon which he of course gets.
Meanwhile, Aisha Lanternglass (great name) is a single black mum who works as a highly respected reporter for a local paper. Aisha’s beloved step-brother was shot dead by a trigger-happy cop when she was still a child. Aisha has had a revulsion for guns ever since. When she reports on a mass-shooting at the mall where Kellaway works, she comes to suspect, and then realize, that all is not as it seems. Five people die in the incident. The shooter is apparently a disaffected young woman who kills her former employer and lover. But three innocents also die before Kellaway manages to take down the shooter using his illegally acquired weapon.
But Aisha is soon certain that Kellaway’s version of events is all wrong. The problem is, the dogged journalist has forgotten that the most dangerous man in the world is the one with nothing to lose. Randall Kellaway fits that bill and ticks that box with a heavy permanent marker. As Randall’s story begins to publicly unravel he decides to settle all scores. The results are devastating.
This novel is very relevant for our world today and raises the issue of gun ownership and the resultant prevalence of guns in US society. Joe Hill does not assume a particular position in this novel. Instead, he weaves the story and lets the reader decide. For Rebel Voice, the jury remains out on this issue. After all, the Swiss have lots of guns, as do Canadians, but they do not have the same problems with mass-shootings. It may be that the real issue in the US is not gun ownership, but the obvious fractures in society with the disconnect and marginalization that many feel. This is exacerbated by a sensationalist media who will stop at nothing to self-promote. In short, US society is a pressure-cooker with a great deal of unacknowledged unhappiness and social need which shows as mass-shootings. It is the Surplass/Establishment and not the guns that are ultimately to blame.
Loaded is definitely a fine read with a solid cast and good plot. The title is even a clever double entendre commenting upon the entire issue. The novel encompasses a lot in a short space of time and has a very intriguing conclusion.
Number three is titled Aloft, and is an unusual one. When Rebel Voice first read the synopsis for this one, it seemed like a stunted plot. But it is far from that. Aubrey is a twenty-something man hopelessly in love with Harriet Cornell. Sadly, Harriett doesn’t appear to feel the same for Aubrey, at least not in that way. When their close friend, June, dies from cancer, the pair agree to do a parachute jump in her memory. Although Aubrey is shitting himself, he goes ahead with it, such is the power of the penis.
The problems begin when they spot an unusual cloud below the plane prior to their tandem jump. Then the plane’s engines inexplicably stop working. Aubrey is left with no choice but to jump for it with his strapped-on instructor, Axe. Rebel Voice is not sure that it is advisable to jump out of a plane tied to someone named Axe. In any event, they exit OK but land before the chute opens. Their landing platform is… a cloud.
Axe is badly injured in the incident and Aubrey unfastens himself to see if he can help. Unfortunately, the wind picks up and carries Axe over the edge leaving Aubrey stranded 2 miles in the sky on an unexplained phenomenon.
The cloud is vast; one mile long and just as wide. It has characteristics not associated with other such natural occurrences. You can stand on it for a start. There is also the fact that whatever Aubrey thinks of, the cloud will try to recreate. He gets a warm bed, a coat-rack, a castle and a replica of Harriet that he proceeds to screw silly. Yes, Aubrey is one sex-starved, perverse mother-fucker.
If the entire premise sounds outlandish, that’s because it is. But don’t scoff too soon. The plot works. Hill has managed to take the ridiculous and make it approachable. His father’s blood flows strong in his veins. It’s strange that a cloud in the sky could be viewed as a claustrophobic platform, but that is what it becomes. Although the cloud, or whatever it is that controls the cloud-like feature, wants to make Aubrey comfortable, it will not let him leave. It is effectively a floating prison. Yet the bold Aubrey has other ideas.
The final act in this drama is highly enjoyable. The explanation for the cloud and its peculiar properties could have come straight out of Monty Python, and this is what Rebel Voice was reminded of when the source was revealed. Wacky but fun. There’s no point in being told, at this time, what happens to Aubrey. Aloft is an enjoyable jaunt into the incredible that contrasts beautifully with Loaded. The character list is small and obviously restricted. But it is the cloud that really steals the show.
Last, but by no means least, we have Rain. This is an apocalyptic-type novel set in the US of today. Honeysuckle Speck (yet another great name) is a ‘twenty-three-year-old Joe Strummer lesbian look-alike’ in love. When her girlfriend, Yolanda, brings her mother to visit, Honeysuckle is stoked. Sadly it doesn’t go to plan.
As Miss Speck is playing with 9-year-old Templeton, the son of her neighbour, Ursula, Yolanda arrives just as the rain falls. But this is no ordinary emission from the sky. Instead, it contains razor-sharp crystals shaped like needles that shred anyone unfortunate enough to be outside. Both Yolanda and her mum are killed in front of Honeysuckle’s eyes, along with tens of thousands of others in the greater Denver area. Gruesome.
The entire country is in shock as the phenomenon spreads across the land claiming more victims, but no one has yet any answers as to why it all began. Soon the recriminations start, and in this Joe Hill appears to take a clear pop at Donald Trump. Twitter messages are referenced. Finally, a laboratory that researches crystals such as those in the rain is prematurely blamed, and the war-mongering President launches a nuclear strike on the facility in Georgia – that’s Georgia in the Caucasus, not Georgia where that spoiled cutty Scarlett O’Hara caused all the problems.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Honeysuckle decides to make her way to the home of Yolanda’s father to break the bad news. Cars are off the road and phone lines are down with communications limited. So begins an arduous trek, during which our feisty heroine meets all manner of ill-set and unfortunate individuals. As law and order breaks down, chaos reigns. Old scores are settled, wackos come to the fore, and religious fruit-cakes are in their element.
It’s a strange but very engaging novel. The author really knows how to grab the reader’s attention and hold it firmly. The lead protagonist is very likeable without being mawkish. The horrors of the killer rain are portrayed well, but not in a gratuitous fashion. Honeysuckle’s journey is like Huckleberry Finn meets The Road meets Miss Marple. It’s light entertainment though, with a nod and a wink to murder-mystery as Miss Speck begins to figure out what no one else has, i.e. who exactly is responsible for creating the daggers of rain. Rebel Voice will give you a clue. It’s not members of the Islamic community.
Rebel Voice thoroughly enjoyed Rain. But then again, Rebel Voice thoroughly enjoyed all four of the short novels to be found in Strange Weather. As mentioned previously, Joe Hill is a damn fine writer and will carry his father’s torch admirable in the years ahead. One point of note, though, about Joe Hill. In his author pic he looks like he might have problems around the time of the full moon. Rebel Voice would not want to go for a walk on the moors with King the Younger during that time in the cycle. No way. Fuck that!
But lycanthropy aside, Joe Hill is a favourite of this site and Strange Weather comes highly recommended. His father couldn’t have done it any better and Rebel Voice can give no greater compliment than that.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Four perfectly sized, and paced, pieces of exquisite literature which will keep you hooked all the way to a smooth end.