PS Publishing / December 2008
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand
Joe Hill has made quite a name for himself writing stories with more than a hint of darkness. So it should come as no surprise that his first foray into Science Fiction, that world of gleaming metal and starlight, has more than its share of shadows. In Gunpowder, the shadows aren’t filled with ghosts and beasts, however; they’re filled with bad decisions, regret, and the inherent danger of power in the hands of children.
Gunpowder, the planet, is so dubbed by its would-be makers, a group of children engineered to be psyformers, those who can make and remake reality with their minds. Perhaps someone thought placing such power in the hands of children was smart; after all, children rarely dwell in personal agendas and political bickering. But children dwell often in the land of imagination, and these children - these boys, for they are all boys on Gunpowder, with the exception of protector/mother figure Elaine – like to dream of things like knifeblade grass and arsenic rain.
Their job, their reason for being, is to make the planet habitable. They are one of many groups scattered across the void, trying to make worlds where people can live. They are happy there; even Charley, for whom The Talent never properly manifested, finds peace among his brothers. But as so often happens, that peace is fleeting; one day a new leader arrives, one bringing terrifying gifts and news of war. The boys have another purpose, it seems, and like it or not, they are about to be called to duty.
Hill builds tension from all sides, driving characters and readers alike to the inevitable breaking point with precision. Just like the boys of Gunpowder, we know things are going to go change the moment that approaching skyboat lands – and probably not for the better. This is Lord of the Flies for boys who don’t need – and don’t want – to be rescued. By the end of the story, new leaders are indeed in place on Gunpowder, but it’s not the leaders anyone intended.
With each new piece of output, Hill is showing that he is a natural-born storyteller. Novel, short story, comic or collaboration, he seems to have an intuitive sense of what makes each particular medium work. Hill has hinted that Gunpowder may be the first in a series of stories revolving around these psyformers, and the payoff of this novella certainly leaves that door swinging wide. But if he never revisits this world – which would be a shame, to be sure – there’s enough here to stand on its own. Gunpowder is a fine addition to Hill’s bibliography, and belongs on the shelf of anyone who likes a good story.
Purchase Gunpowder by Joe Hill.