Gunpowder, Joe Hill

Review by Stephen Theaker I read a lot of horror in my early teens, when I was still dependent for reading material on the adults around me and the library. So that meant lots of James Herbert and Stephen King, and some Shaun Hutson. Once I got to the point that I could buy more books for myself than I could possibly read, horror fell to the wayside – I'd enjoyed Herbert and King, but my favourites were Vance, Moorcock, Asimov, Farmer, Dick. More recently I do most of my reading at bedtime: not the best time to read horror!

Which is all by way of explanation for why this was the first book I’d read by Joe Hill. I’d taken Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts out from the library, but never got around to reading them.

But now science fiction fans can find out what all the fuss is about. This superb novella took hold of my attention from the very first page and never released it. If I didn’t read it in a single sitting, I’ve no memory of what else I was doing that day! It’s a familiar scenario – gifted kids and the military that wants to exploit them – but the writing is so wonderful, the character touches so exquisite, the narrative so brilliantly focused.

The story starts out small – the relationships between the boys and their handler/mother – but opens out to so much more. I won’t say what, because it should all come as a surprise – but it’s all cool stuff. It’s tragic, moving, epic and glorious, and all in a mere eighty pages.

It may still take me a while to read Joe Hill’s horror works, but if he continues to write science fiction he’ll very quickly become one of my favourite authors. If Stephen King had been an out-and-out science fiction writer, would he have been writing sf as wonderful as this for the last twenty years? It doesn’t bear thinking about… Let’s just hope Joe Hill produces more in this line over the next twenty years.

PS Publishing, hb, 88pp

This review originally appeared in TQF28.