First Lines: The Fireman

If you want to talk about Joe Hill’s The Fireman, you’ll eventually have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: talking about The Fireman while not discussing his father’s work seems nearly impossible. As Hill said in an interview with Wired:

Two-thirds into writing the book, it suddenly hit me how much The Fireman parallels The Stand. There were some strong threads connecting the two. So, do you run from that? I think it’s more fun to embrace your influences than to try to bury them.

So the deaf/mute boy gets called Nick, the pregnant leading lady’s second name is Francis (“May I call you Frannie?”), the off-brand cola is called Nozz-A-La, hell, he event admits in the dedications: “for my father, from whom I stole all the rest.” (the title was Ray Bradbury’s working title for Fahrenheit 451). He even mimics his end-of-chapter “… but if only they knew what would happen next …” cliffhangers.

“But,” you ask, “Does it matter?”

“No,” I say. “No, it does not matter a bit.”

Well, apart from that cliffhanger thing, because that just drives nuts. But that’s about the only thing I can hold against it, as The Fireman is delightful: the world is going to hell in a flaming hand basket on behalf of some spore that causes people to spontaneously self-combust (Draco Incendia Trichophyton, but just Dragonscale to it’s friends), and Nurse Harper (late twenties, pregnant, slight Mary Poppins fixation) is having none of the gloom. After getting rid of her jackass husband, she joins a group of infectees hiding away at disused summer camp, where she falls in love with the titular fireman (British accent, bit of a potty-mouth, not really a fireman). And of course there are bad guys hunting everybody with the ‘Scale.

Besides that, The Fireman is also a fine exploration of what happens when you put a lot of people in a tight corner. And that is where I think the story really shines. The Stephen King stories I like best are those were it isn’t about the gore, but about the people. And this book has a bunch of pretty good people, evolving characters with their own quirks. And then there’s all those pop culture references (even J.K. Rowling gets thrown in front of the bus), those little sentences that make you want to quote the book to smithereens, and the occasional moment that makes you want to put the book on fire.

So getting back to the elephant: I didn’t mind it. The Fireman is not The Stand, it’s its own thing, with a bit of common ground. And, it doesn’t get in the way of the story. If you’re not a Constant Reader, you might not pick up on all those little links. And if you do, it’s like, “Hey, we’re in this together,” an inside joke. Also, as with NOS4R2, it’s just Hill having fun, not an attempt to merge fictional universes. But I guess I wouldn’t mind if it eventually come to that.

Bottom line: I liked this book. A lot. And if you’d ask me, I’d say you should totally read it. Highly recommended.

Book read
Joe Hill — The Fireman
First line
Harper Grayson had seen lots of people burn on TV, everyone had, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground behind the school.