Thursday, July 7, 2016

Joe Hill takes a Stand

It is no secret that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. It used to be a secret and Hill evens mentions the secret in his author's note that concludes his 752-page epic novel THE FIREMAN.

Hill has referenced his father's work before. In NOS4ATU, he mentions King's book DR. SLEEP and King does the same in that novel. In THE FIREMAN, Hill not only pulls some clear references, but some allusions that are hard to miss for constant readers.

Some of the allusions are spoilers and I will do my best not to go there. Some, however, come toward the beginning of the book and aren't plot spoilers but interesting devices that propel the story and help develop characters.

First, the heroine of the book, Harper Willowes Grayson, gets pregnant early. Her husband goes nuts and Harper spends the rest of the novel dealing with her pregnancy as well as the global epidemic Dragonscale spore. The spore causes people to combust, which leads to fires wiping out most of the population.

So you see: a pregnant woman left on her own and a world-destroying disease... Shades of King's THE STAND are planted early.

You could say these things are a coincidence and I'd maybe agree except for one more thing. One of the main characters is a young deaf boy named Nick.

So... what to make of that? We just have to accept it. While THE FIREMAN is an original book and well worth your time, we have to accept the homage qualities of it. Even if Hill was not the prince of horror, a book such as this was inevitable. Hill isn't the first to destroy the world via plague and use THE STAND as a guide. If anything, it's a love letter to his father's most popular book.

Hill even snuck a can of Nozz-A-La into the book.

OK, all that aside, Hill has written a startling book that is full of complex characters, intrigue, mystery, fear and delight. THE FIREMAN is a work of horror that fulfills its promise as the spawn of THE STAND and FAHRENHEIT 451.

It is also a ghastly look into how our modern society would handle such an epidemic. Some would trust the government to their detriment, but the bands of survivors aren't always better. Paranoia mixes with the All-American desire to do things oneself. Sometimes that means harboring the sick and sometimes it means taking responsibility for eradicating them.

It is a frightening thought (and what drives this novel) that individuals can come together for the greater good or for something worse than the disease. People can be amazingly good and downright horrible. Hill captures both sides and recognizes that in hard times, even good people do bad things and bad people tend to do worse things.

THE FIREMAN is Hill's fourth novel and fifth book overall. If you think that is too few, also remember that he is a prodigious comic book writer, as well. Hill will be with us for a long time and he keeps getting better.

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