Postcards From a Dying World
News, views, book reviews and commentary from the Science Fiction and Horror fiction underground. Home of the Wonderland award nominated author of Vegan Revolution...With Zombies and Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill
The Fireman by Joe Hill
hardcover, 768 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by William Morrow
I have very mixed feelings about this book. Let me start by saying I am a fan of Joe Hill. I have only read 20th Century Ghosts which I thought was genius, and Horns which I enjoyed. I really enjoy following him on Twitter, listening to interviews and I have gone to his live book events twice. I think he is a talented writer and even though I think the book contains many excellently written pages and wonderfully realized characters it is over all a failure for me. Joe Hill is a fantastic writer don't get me wrong, and I can't argue with the fact that I read it pretty quick.
The book suffered from over hype some of which is the fault of the author himself who allowed the book to be compared to his father's masterpiece The Stand (on the three guys with beards podcast for example). Several authors I respect who read early copies hyped it as well. I was very interested because the concept is amazing. I loved that it was a original take on the end of the world novel. That is hard to do at this point but the concept of the dragonscale a disease that causes people to ignite into flames presents a very interesting end to the world as we know it.
It is unfair to always compare Joe's work to his father, that said it is almost impossible not to when he does it himself. Comparisons to the Stand, and the 700+ page count had me envisioning a globally reaching epic that explored the end of the world through multiple characters. What we get is better compared the farmhouse story line from the second season of The Walking Dead or if you want to keep it to Stephen King than I would say Cell. At the time King said in interviews he was inspired by Spielberg's War of the Worlds to narrow the focus of the world ending to a few characters. One of my biggest problems with the fireman is just that. A Narrow focus almost entirely on the point of view character nurse Harper Willows. It's not first person but it might as well have been.
There are plenty of positives in this novel, despite the Harper POV almost all of the characters are rich and well written. From the title character John Rookwood, Allie and even the villains are fully realized. One very interesting character gets ignored and that is the shock jock radio host the Marlboro Man. The narrow POV cheats us of a backstory or learning how he became the radio voice for the movement to kill the infected. This was a super interesting story. Hill gave us a glimpse but in order to do that he had to contrive a scene where Harper just happened to come looking for medicine at her old house at the right time to hide under a window and over hear her abusive ex plan murder with marlboro man. It was a stretch.
The opening 100 pages and the last 150 pages I thought were perfect but 250 pages is not enough when you have a narrative dragging through wet cement for the other 500 pages. Once Harper leaves her husband early in the novel she ends up at a camp for the infected, most of the novel is about the internal politics of the camp and survival on those camp grounds. We see little to none of how the plague effects the greater world. Hill calls it a plague novel but for 500 pages in the middle it is more of cult/ commune novel.
That was just not the novel the interviews and reviews got me excited for. In many ways I think Sarah Pinborough did a better job of creating the feeling he was shooting for in the Death House in more than half the pages. The novel felt bloated and it felt to me that the point of what made the story interesting flew over Hill's head.
It is interesting however that the root of the problem might be found on page 492 when he has a character say "Any writer who works by outline should be burned at the stake. Possibly with their own outline and notecards as kindling." First this statement didn't make alot of sense coming from the character, and took me out of the book. Of course I am a writer who believes in outlines. As Fundamentalist about writing by the seat of their pants as King , Hill and others are... I am with the outliners.
Joe Hill is more talented writer than I'll ever be. He has a real talent for characters, down to the minor ones. The prose is powerful and some of the scenes toward the end are savage and heart-breaking. I gave this novel 3/5 stars, because the actual prose was GREAT. The story however was not great, very disappointing since the concept was so strong.