Strange Weather. Book Review

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Gollancz, h/b, 448pp, £16.99
Reviewed by Alister Davison

Strange Weather is a collection of four short novels by Joe Hill, each – however tenuously – linked by a central theme. Anyone familiar with Hill’s post-apocalyptic tale The Fireman will know that he is a writer who works well on an epic stage, able to create a vast array of characters and scenarios to grip the reader from beginning to end, and this quartet of stories showcases his talent in the shorter form.

It kicks off with Snapshot, the story of a young boy who encounters a man with a camera which, other than taking photographs, also steals memories. It’s a tender tale, which makes the villain feel all the more terrible, a vile interloper in the narrator’s life and community. Often sinister, with scenes of gripping terror and jeopardy, it is grounded by its characters and the relationships between them. By the end, it felt like I’d spent years in their company, which made the finale even more heartbreaking. Be warned, there will be tears.

How does anyone follow that? In Joe Hill’s case, it’s with a story called Loaded. In this, a security guard prevents a mass shooting, becoming a hero in the aftermath. All is not as it would initially seem and, as the plot develops, so the truth unravels. Like Snapshot, the characters are vividly brought to life, but this is also a story with a message about gun control. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s incredibly thought-provoking, with an ending that will leave jaws hanging.

Next is Aloft, in which the protagonist is about to attempt a charity sky dive in order to impress a woman. When it goes wrong, in the strangest of circumstances, our hero is forced into action and decisions have to be made to save his life. As a character study, it works well, a cake iced by the bizarre situation he finds himself in. It may not appeal to all – it’s by far the strangest of the four stories on offer – but Hill’s writing remains appealing, and his powers of description shine.

The final offering is Rain. It’s an apocalyptic tale, in which the usual form of precipitation is replaced by thin shards of crystal that rip through anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in a downpour. Often brutal in its description – as expected – it remains a personal tale of tragedy, with a main character struggling to survive. In his afterword, Hill describes this story as sprouting from a desire to spoof The Fireman, but he’s doing himself a disservice here; Rain is a remarkable tale, one with imagery and characterisation that sits in the head of the reader for some time.

The same can be said of all these stories. Told in few words, they’re nevertheless the right words. Hill describes such stories as ‘killer, no filler’ and this quartet prove him right. There’s something for everyone in this collection; filled with a depth of memorable emotion that belies the word count and populated by characters to care for, Hill’s fans will love it, while anyone new to his work would be hard-pressed to find a better place to begin.