“It was a pleasure to burn.” Ray Bradbury
Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman, is my recommendation for your backyard read this summer. Any book that has the nerve to open with a Ray Bradbury quote (see above) saddles itself with a high expectations, and Joe Hill really delivers the goods.
The world is tormented by a killer spore, nicknamed “Dragonscale”, that infects the human race. You know you’ve got it when your skin suddenly gets covered with elaborate black and gold flecked lines, like a glowing, burning henna tattoo. The next (and final) stage of the infection is spontaneous combustion. Yes, you read that right. You just burn up, without any warning. It’s a tough diagnosis.
The novel tells Harper Grayson’s story. She’s a nurse who finds herself infected with the Dragonscale right around the same time that she discovers she’s pregnant. (Isn’t that always the way?) In her experience with treating infected patients, she’s seen cases of infected mothers who give birth to healthy children, and she is determined to live long enough to give birth to her child.
It’s a grim premise, but I felt compelled to see how it all turned out. Joe Hill’s prose smolders along and then suddenly erupts in number of literary “set pieces” that caused me to have a couple of late nights where I stayed up well past my bedtime to see what happened next.
Along the way, Harper meets up with the titular “Fireman”, an almost mythical character who, despite being infected with the ‘scale, has somehow survived it and can control and harness the power of the spore to his own benefit. Harper is a huge Mary Poppins fan, and there are many nods to that classic story peppered throughout The Fireman. For example, there’s more than a passing resemblance between “The Fireman” and a certain chimney-sweep named Bert, and one of the most moving scenes in the novel involves a group sing-along to Just a Spoon Full of Sugar. To say anything more would be a SPOILER, so let’s leave it at that.
The novel is clearly influenced by Joe Hill’s love of classic sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham, (the summer camp in the novel is called Camp Wyndham, for example), but it also could easily stand beside Stephen King’s The Stand as an example of an epic post-apocalypse story. It’s not surprising, as some of you may know that Joe Hill is actually Stephen King’s son.
It’s difficult to read a Joe Hill novel and not compare him to his famous father. I’ve been guilty of doing that very thing in the past, but I can honestly say that The Fireman stands on its own merits and showcases Joe Hill as a major creative force, period. Regardless of his DNA. From the first page you get the sense you’re in the capable hands of a master storyteller who has finally come into his own.
I love the dedication in the front of the book, which reads in part:
“Inspiration: Ray Bradbury, from whom I stole my title. My father, from whom I stole all the rest”.
If you enjoy The Fireman, you might enjoy some of these other related titles (and their cool vintage covers!) -Trevor
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers