Move Under Ground

Nick Mamatas - Move Under Ground


The year is nineteen-sixty-something, and after endless millennia of watery sleep, the stars are finally right. Old R'lyeh rises out of the Pacific, ready to cast its damned shadow over the primitive human world. The first to see its peaks: an alcoholic, paranoid, and frightened Jack Kerouac, who had been drinking off a nervous breakdown up in Big Sur. Now Jack must get back on the road to find Neal Cassady, the holy fool whose rambling letters hint of a world brought to its knees in worship of the Elder God Cthulhu. Together with pistol-packin' junkie William S. Burroughs, Jack and Neal make their way across the continent to face down the murderous Lovecraftian cult that has spread its darkness to the heart of the American Dream. But is Neal along for the ride to help save the world, or does he want to destroy it just so that he'll have an ending for his book?

At first, that sounds what in fanfic circles is apparently known as "crack": an idea, a pairing, a crossover so absolutely ludicrous it's too weird and too much fun NOT to read. Like Winnie the Pooh fighting vampires in Sunnydale, or Mohammad on The Cosby Show.

But actually, it makes sense, in a somewhat twisted sort of way. The story is narrated by Jack Kerouac in something that... well, it's been a while since I read On The Road (in Swedish), so I really can't say whether Mamatas apes Kerouac or parodies him, but the prose flows in a jazzy, half-crazy manner that's often a delight to read. And somehow Mamatas manages to marry the beatnik counter-culture thing via Burroughs' bugmen and mugwumps to the huge, impersonal monsters of Lovecraft - or rather, not the monsters themselves but the underlying theme of an ancient, evil world looming just below the surface, the futility of mankind in a world where evil gods can snuff us out without hardly noticing us.

Had I seen the Beast in the sky - the tentacles, snaky scales, the deep burning eyes? Oh yes, under the full moon and everything, "All the hipsters can see him," he said. "Squares can't, and that's the trouble. That's why we have to move under ground now."

Once you're exposed to Lovecraft's monsters, you go mad; somehow this ties in nicely with Kerouac's buddhist leanings and a general anti-consumerist non-conformist spin.

Everyone dies. The soul is immortal. This isn't even real; it's an illusion. The world, it's a mad dream of a blind god.

Mamatas acknowledges two of the 20th centuries greatest myth-makers - both Lovecraft and Kerouac created (or were credited with creating) genres, worlds of their own, and as such he lets them create yet a new (or possibly) old world here. He does let his fanboy tendencies get the better of him once or twice, and at times he seems more interested in just putting a somewhat more Burroughsian spin on On The Road than telling a story of his own. But in the end, he does manage to weld it all together - if not seamlessly - and creates a really fun read. I'd say 3/5, possibly 4/5 if you're a big fan of K or L. Because let's face it, at its heart, it is fanfic, even if it is fairly original.



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