Book: The Fireman

"The Fireman"

No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one… Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks–before causing them to burst into flames.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse treated hundreds of infected patients before contracting the deadly virus herself. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper now wants to live–at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their once-placid New England community collapses in terror.

But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger, a man wearing a dirty yellow firefighter’s jacket and carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known simply as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted…and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

Halfway through The Fireman, I was already starting to piece together what my eventual blog post about the novel was going to be like; about the monstrosity in human beings, and the humanity that can be found in those perceived as monsters. This thesis stuck with me until I put the book down.

The thing is, when I started typing the book’s synopsis for this post, I found myself wanting to write about the synopsis instead. Because, while interesting and intriguing, the book synopsis is also misleading as to what the novel is truly about.

In it, we get a sense of the Fireman as this truly mysterious being whose presence will dictate whether the world would survive or fall to ashes. But The Fireman is about so much more than The Fireman, or Harper for that matter.

Imagine the comic book series of The Walking Dead. Imagine that you didn’t have to wait a month for each installment of the issue. Imagine the series if it weren’t being stretched out to last for as long as possible. (No shade. I still find The Walking Dead comic book series interesting and entertaining, unlike it’s television counterpart.) Imagine having an ending for The Walking Dead. Now take out the zombies, but keep the apocalypse, the factions, and the conflicts in what it takes to be human. That’s The Fireman.

It’s a study on humanity and monstrosity, and how we usually mistake one for the other because of appearances.

Joe Hill is a master at painting this world with just his words, all the while putting meaning behind the visuals he is drawing up for the readers. The way he describes the characters, their changes, and the relationships they create continuously push his message of solidarity, of compassion, and of so many other things.

Then you finish the novel and go back to the synopsis, and you can’t help but wonder: why the focus on just that? I understand the novel is called The Fireman, but why focus on just one aspect of his being? Why box Harper to just her relationship with Jakob?

Sure, Harper’s failed marriage with the unhinged Jakob plays a big part in how everything unfolds. And yes, the Fireman does have a big role in the story that is being told. But to limit the scope of the novel to just the two is doing the novel a disservice. Harper’s pregnancy and her relationship to Jakob, and the Fireman aren’t the be-all and end-all of this novel.

To anyone who has yet to read the novel, don’t bother reading the synopsis. The novel is wonderfully written, and is, in my opinion, Joe Hill’s most mature work yet. You won’t regret cracking the tome open and entering this world.

Book: 20th Century Ghosts

"20th Century Ghosts"

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past…

I picked this book up because I thoroughly enjoyed NOS4A2 and Horns, and I realized: I still have yet to pick up any other Joe Hill books. So when I saw a copy of this anthology at Forbidden Planet while on the lookout for something to read during my almost twenty-hour flight back home… Well, I just had to pick it up, right?

Now, here’s the thing: Joe Hill writes horror stories. And although I love reading and writing horror stories… I kind of scare easy. And when you’re thousands of feet up in the air, reading an anthology of scary stories is the last thing you want to do.

Except– It’s not really an anthology of scary stories. It’s a collection of horrifying tales, yes. And sure, one of them gave me nightmares (My Father’s Mask)– But, take the 20th Century Ghost story for example. It wasn’t written to strike fear into readers’ hearts, but it was written with a lot of heart. And you have got to read the story in the Acknowledgments section.

Then there’s The Widow’s Breakfast that gives you just the right amount of goosebumps, and there’s The Cape that does horrify readers for a different reason. But some stories, like You Will Hear The Locust Sing, that made me scratch my head. (Although, I confess, I’ve never been a fan of films like The Fly, so I might not be the intended audience for this particular story).

It’s an eclectic collection. Each story will strike a different chord of thrill or fear in your spine. If it doesn’t, it’s probably busy plucking at the strings of your heart. But at the end of it all, it turns out that 20th Century Ghosts isn’t really an anthology of horror stories. Just stories that are supposed to horrify.

And I could’ve survived reading it up in the air with no fear of goblins appearing on the wings of the plane.

If you’re not familiar with Joe Hill or his works yet, I suggest you don’t acquaint yourself with his works through this collection first. Read one of his novels and then find your way back to this anthology instead.

Book: Horns

"Horns"

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician, the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star. Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more–he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone–raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances–and Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power–he can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets–to go with his terrible new look. He means to use it to find whoever killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due.

It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s… It’s more than I expected. And I already had expectations, after reading the equally astounding N0S4A2.

Knowing Joe Hill’s background, I always assumed I wouldn’t like his works. See, while I respect Stephen King and I love his premises, I was never a fan of his writing. I don’t know why. So when I picked up N0S4A2 before, it was with trepidation. After all, Joe Hill was being hailed as someone who is carrying on his father’s legacy. I was wary. But I ended up liking his style of writing. Horns, my second foray into Joe Hill’s world of horrors, cements the fact that he is not like his father at all.

Yes, he has Stephen King’s knack for creating a mythology so complete that anything that happens within the story is unquestionable. But in their handling of words, I would lean to Hill as being the more accessible one. Maybe because he has a younger voice, and has a better hold on how readers now take in words. But that can’t be true, right? After all, Stephen King continues to be widely read. More widely read than his son, if you think about it. But this is a topic that’s separate from Horns, and this is a post about said book, so let’s get on with the discussion.

Horns is a book of ironies: the devil performs miracles, while the good guy is awarded horns. And what I like about the book is that it plays with these ironies, it explores these characters, and we are not spoon-fed information about why something is happening. Things happen. Shit happens. And everything is taken in stride. The story is messy. Realistically messy. Nothing feels preordained, even when you think you know where the story is finally going.

I loved how Hill presented Ig as someone who doesn’t see himself as a good guy. He is presented as the most hated man in their community. And yet, as we get to know him, page by page, we decide for ourselves who Ig really is. That he isn’t the devil he’s being painted out to be.

And I love how Hill tackles the idea of people doing things that aren’t the things they want to do; that their innermost voice can say vicious things while presenting a virtuous front. It’s the idea of identity, and how we consciously shape how other people see us. And what happens when that ability, to create our own identity, is taken away from us.

Horns tells the story of Ig, but at one point in life or another, Ig has been us. Subjected to judgment by the court of public opinions. Given a verdict without the proper trial. And all we can do is to keep on keeping on. To live our lives despite what other people are saying. To give the effect of not being affected, while doing our best to set things right–to set us right.

Horns is a study of people at their most base form: as creatures who want to be liked.

Suffice to say, I loved the book and I think people who share my taste would too. If you find yourself agreeing with most of my reviews here at the blog, then this book is probably for you too.

But, if you need more opinions, then why not check these blogs out:
The Write Place
The Horror Hotel
Empires and Mangers

Book: NOS4A2

"NOS4A2"

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble…and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.Book: NOS4A2

But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special–something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds–her magic pitted against his–Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying….

This book is awesome, and I have no words to describe how awesome the book is. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try–

NOS4A2 has the most interesting gimmick: inscapes. Shortcuts through reality that only one person can use, and using things that they love. It’s an amazing concept. And it is utilized perfectly in the story that NOS4A2 tells.

And what a story.

Family is the central theme of Joe Hill’s book on magical ways that take you where you want to go. As protagonist Victoria McQueen tries to do right by the family given her, villain Charles Manx makes his own family by twisting the minds of his victims. And as both go through a journey that juxtaposes against each other, they come to a head in the most expected (not a typo) and most action-packed way.

One of the reasons why I like the book so much is that it’s easy to read. Author Hill paints a vivid world where the characters feel fully-formed and never half-assed. The characters we meet are flawed, scarred, and yet we never waver from the notion that they are protagonists–even when we’re supposed to get mad at them, we know that we’re still rooting for them.

But it’s Charles Manx that really steals the show. He is a constant threat throughout the book, even during the times when he is absent from the pages. Death couldn’t keep him away from his prizes, and his unwavering belief that he is doing the right thing only makes his brand of evil all the more scary.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel from Joe Hill, but if this is any indication of how good the other novels are, sign me up for his fan club!

If my recommendation isn’t enough for you, check out what these other bloggers have to say about NOS4A2:
The Book Smugglers
Entomology of a Bookworm
Horror Novel Reviews

the new dead

"the new dead" with foreword by christopher goldeni love zombies. well, i don’t love them in that way, but i love everything that has anything to do with them. i think i covered this part in my post about FEED. so now, i’m just going to talk about THE NEW DEAD.

first and foremost, it’s a collection of stories. it’s not just one story, and that’s why you can see a list of authors on the book cover. well, obviously. and i asked fully booked to hold one for me in reservation without knowing anything about the book. i just knew it was about zombies, and that was it. but to say that it’s a book of zombie stories would do the book an injustice.

THE NEW DEAD is a book about the idea of the undead, or if you will, the newly dead.

sure, there are still stories on zombies — that’s as inevitable as the zombie apocalypse. but most of the stories you’ll find here takes on the zombie idea in new ways that you’ve never seen before. in a few, you might even wonder who the real evil is.

i read the book from cover to cover, but i did make two exceptions in the order of reading: max brooks’ CLOSURE, LIMITED and joe hill’s TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD, which i picked out to read first.

THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and WORLD WAR Z remain as two of my all-time favorite reads. so when i saw max brook’s name on the cover of THE NEW DEAD, i was excited to read a new story from him. CLOSURE, LIMITED is set in the post-apocalyptic world of WORLD WAR Z, and in it we reunite with the “author” as he interviews a man who offers closure for those who lost someone to the zombies.

what made WORLD WAR Z one of my favorite reads is the fact that it’s a zombie book without the zombie killing-spree. zombies are about to become a thing of the past, sort of, and people are trying to rebuild their lives. and while the book itself had closure, it never tackled the idea of closure the way the author tackles it on CLOSURE, LIMITED.

it’s hard to write an afterthought when the story you’re avoiding to spoil is a few pages long.

moving on to TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD; the author chose to tell the story in tweets. lines that are 140 characters long, or less. and i have to say, it’s a very interesting way of telling a story. you feel the urgency of the tweets as they come, as you go along. and when the horror begins–

well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself, wouldn’t you?

THE NEW DEAD is a great book for anyone with a really busy schedule. any anthology books are, now that you think about it. the stories are long enough to actually tell a story, but short enough that you can just pick it up anytime to read. you can also put it off while you’re reading something else. at the same time, if you choose to read it all the way through, like i did, you won’t ever get a sense of “been there done that”; it’s fascinating how these writers found so many ways of telling a zombie story.

so if you ever find a copy of THE NEW DEAD, buy it.