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“Strange Weather” by Joe Hill

After writing several best-selling novels, Joe Hill has produced a collection of four novellas, Strange Weather. As the title suggests, weather phenomena play a role in each story, though not always as a central element.

Among the stories, “Loaded” is the only one that’s overtly political. It deals with both mass shootings and “blue on black” violence (the killing of unarmed African-American men by police officers). However, Hill doesn’t sacrifice plot or dialogue for the sake of his political point. For the most part, the characterization doesn’t suffer either, although I feel the piece would have been even stronger if one particular character’s situation had been more nuanced. The story takes place in a town that’s in the path of a wildfire. This seems particularly apt, given that fire is often used as a metaphor for conflict.

In my opinion, “Snapshot” is the strongest story in the collection. There are some conceptual similarities to Stephen King’s “The Sun Dog,” but “Snapshot” is definitely its own entity. It kept me turning pages, and there’s a great Easter egg at the end for readers of Hill’s other work.

“Rain” is notable primarily for the uniqueness of its characters. If one were to simply describe the characters, without any context about the plot or author, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’re probably part of a screwball comedy. That might not sound like a promising cast of characters for a horror story, but Hill makes it work.

One of the strengths of Stephen King’s stories is that they’re often just as much about the human characters’ interactions and problems as they are about various supernatural menaces. “Aloft” shows that Hill has absorbed this lesson from his father’s writing. The main character is stranded on a distinctly odd cloud after a skydiving accident, but this plight is very much intertwined with his anxieties, friendships, and romantic relationships.

Occupying a middle ground between the shorter pieces of 20th Century Ghosts and Hill’s novels, all four of these stories are well worth a read.

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