Full Throttle by Joe Hill (book review).

The collection ‘Full Throttle’ opens with an introduction in which the author chats about his childhood, his famous father Stephen King and the tons of crap Joe Hill wrote before he learned to do it properly. For no matter whose blood runs in your veins, you have to write a lot to learn to write. Joe Hill has the awards now to prove he can do it.

He leads off the fiction with ‘Throttle’ a team effort by him and dad. As it happens, I read ‘Throttle’ elsewhere. It’s an excellent story about a motorcycle gang versus a mad truck driver, written as a homage to Richard Matheson’s ‘Duel’. A perfect start to the book. At second reading, it still seems to me more Kingy than Hilly, but I could be wrong.

Same goes for their other collaboration here, ‘In The Tall Grass’ but that’s probably because it has echoes of ‘Children Of The Corn’. In this case, it’s a brother and sister driving through Kansas who get lost in the grass where weird things happen. The concept was good but the horror was too horrible for my taste.

The other stories are pure Hill. I liked them all but preferred the fantasy to the horror. My favourite was ‘Faun’ in which wealthy people fond of hunting get the chance to kill the creatures of fairyland. In a little house in Maine, there’s a small door that will let you in, but only twice a year. The hunters are a mixed bunch of interesting characters and the finale is wonderful.

‘Late Returns’ is about a mobile library where ghosts from the past bring back books years overdue. Hill indulges in nostalgia for old pulp paperbacks and, at the same time, tells a few human stories with a nice cast of decent folk. Libraries played a big chart in many childhoods, including mine and this gentle fantasy was a pleasant way to pass an hour.

Another good fantasy, albeit slightly darker, was ‘The Devil On The Staircase’. Quirinus Calvino works carrying stones up and down a long, long flight of steps in Positano for his bricklayer father. Later, he carries wine for a merchant and falls in love with the beautiful Lithadora. There’s one gate off the staircase that no one takes because it’s rumoured that those steps go all the way to Hell. The prose for this is cunningly laid out in staircase patterns, but the story was strong enough not to need the gimmick. However, experimentation is part of the fun of short fiction.

Peer pressure and status symbols are with us to stay and feature strongly in a near-future SF/Steampunk story ‘All I Care About Is You.’ After her dad suffers an industrial injury not covered by the insurance, teenage Iris finds herself poor on her birthday. Too poor to ride the Spoke up through the clouds and see the stars and drink Sparklefroth with her friends and plunge back to Earth in Drop Bubbles. Then she finds an old Clockwork, Chip, and has just enough tokens to make him serve her for a couple of hours. Chip is smart. A terrific tale, full of invention with an ending that was perhaps too realistic.

Some stories shine a light on America. ‘Thumbprint’ is about a bartender who served with the military at Abu Ghraib prison in Afghanistan and did things she’s not proud of now. The past comes back to haunt her. ‘Mums’ has fantasy elements but is mostly about paranoid, gun-toting lunatics who hate their own government. ‘You Are Released’ is a gentler story that features a cast of American archetypes, redneck, gay man, liberal Jew, film star and handsome businessman. They’re all stuck on a jumbo jet in flight when World War III breaks out.

There’s horror, too, of course, in the mode of Stephen King. Characters you can believe in and like are introduced in a real world scenario, and then the weird stuff happens. ‘Dark Carousel’ has a gang of teenagers messing with an old geezer in a fairground. They regret it. ‘By The Silver Waters Of Lake Champlain’ features kids and a lake with something old and hungry in it. ‘Wolverton Station’ is not a place you want your train to stop. When it comes to horror, Hill is a chip off the old block and he does it well.

To be fair, he does everything well. The writing throughout is clear and concise with neat similes and a few laugh out loud funny lines. The characters are likeable or not according to their roles but all well-drawn and believable. These are all strong stories, too, with proper, satisfying endings, often with a twist. The book is great entertainment and Joe Hill is a fine writer. Maybe it’s in the blood and the gore, too, of course.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2020

(pub: Gollancz, 2019. 477 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-1-473-21989-2)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website:

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