Strange Weather by Joe Hill (book review).

In ‘Snapshot’, the first novella in this ‘Strange Weather’ collection, Mike is a fat thirteen year-old kid with brains. He’s making a fancy toy gun in his workshop when Shelly Beukes turns up, shoeless, disorientated and confused. Shelly is getting old now but she used to be Mike’s child minder and practically raised him. A good lad, he sees her home and she warns him about a man who steals memories.

Later, he encounters the Phonecian, a sinister, tattooed chap with a camera that looks like a polaroid but steals memory when used. Well told but the story went on for twenty pages after the climax. Good pages, yet it’s an odd structure. In the afterword, author Joe Hill says that it first appeared as a short story so maybe he elongated it to a novella and it does feel a bit padded. At least you know what happened next and Chekhov would be happy with the gun. Anton, I mean, not Pavel.

‘Loaded’ is a short novel about guns in the USA and how some guys just love ‘em to bits. One such is Randall Kellaway who works as a security guard in the Miracle Falls Mall, St. Posenti, Florida. He wanted to be a cop but after he was kicked out of the army, no force would have him. Kellaway is just dying to use his sidearm on someone and gets his chance when a disgruntled girl at a diamond store shoots the boss who just dumped her. The case is investigated by local ace reporter Aisha Lanternglass, who saw her best friend gunned down by cops when she was a little girl. On armaments, Aisha is not as keen as Kellaway. An excellent, fast-paced novel with nary a wasted word which makes its bullet points without preaching and the final message is not what you might expect.

‘Aloft’ starts with Aubrey Griffin about to do a parachute jump that he really, really doesn’t want to do. He only volunteered to impress Harriet Cornell, a girl he’s crazy about. They’re in a band together and the jump is in memory of their late colleague June Morris, dead too young from cancer. Eventually, Aubrey does jump and lands on a cloud made of some solid white stuff. Mick Jagger appears, claims ownership of the cloud and tells him to get off. Not really. He’s stuck there all alone but the cloud stuff can form chairs, coat-stands, even a bed and these things appear when he needs them as if it can read his mind. The cloud can’t feed him, though. While he’s stuck, Aubrey reflects on his life so far and his unrequited love for Harriet. ‘Aloft’ has an interesting SF concept and a moving human story.

The last short novel is ‘Rain’. It’s a hot day, the last Friday in August and nearly everyone is outside. Honeysuckle Speck, a twenty-three year-old ‘bull-dyke’ waits for her girlfriend in Boulder, Colorado. Yolanda arrives and so, a few minutes later, does the rain, not water but sharp crystal nails. A torrent of them falls from the clouds, killing Yolanda, her mother and many others. Honeysuckle decides she must go to Denver and tell Yolanda’s father that his wife and daughter are dead.

It’s a heck of a trip involving good cops, bad neighbours, a mad cult called The Church of the Seventh Dimensional Christ and one Marc DeSpot, a Latino wrestler. Honeysuckle is a tough, likeable character and the story has plenty of action. Initially, I thought this was a weird yarn with no explanation but it turns out to be real Science Fiction. Hill got through the whole thing without once mentioning ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ by Bob Dylan. I didn’t.

I rank the stories thus: ‘Loaded’, ‘Rain’, ‘Aloft’, ‘Snapshot’ but must say I really enjoyed the whole book. Long ago, Stephen King had considerable success with a collection of four short novels called ‘Different Seasons’, three of those yarns being made into movies. The title ‘Strange Weather’ for this collection may be a homage. Like King, Hill writes a gripping story, gets you involved with the characters and paints an honest, vulgar portrait of contemporary American life, farts and all, that may well be useful to social historians of the future. He writes in the gritty, realistic American prose whose Godfather is Raymond Chandler and demonstrates more wit and humour than King but not as much as Joe R. Lansdale. This volume, especially ‘Loaded’, is an entertaining read and worth your time.

Eamonn Murphy

November 2020

(pub: Gollancz, 2017. 432 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-1-473-20117-8)

check out websites: www.gollancz.co.uk and www.joehillfiction.com

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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