|Posted on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 10:03 pm: |
Fantastica Daily says, "Pretentious and masturbatory."
Cult Cuts claims: "I say absorb because simply ‘reading’ it seems kind of cheap and meaningless. You read Stephen King or Dean Koontz. To just read MOVE UNDER GROUND would do the book a disservice. In just under two hundred pages, the author manages to bring a density that is usually reserved for one of James Michener's mega-novels. It's amazing how much eye for detail is exhibited in such sparse storytelling."
Fangoria's book reviewer dug it: "One might at first expect that attempting to satisfy the tastes of both the Beat generation and Cthulhu followers would clash resoundingly. Instead, the result is a successful merger of two offbeat subcultures (in which all members are clad in black, naturally). Nick Mamatas appropriates Kerouac's voice as the first-person narrator, an approach that hooks the reader from the first sentence. He nails the beatnik lingo, infusing the narrative with a conversational tone and delightfully descriptive metaphors."
Gary K. Wolfe of Locus, not so much (no URL for this one): While there are intriguing points to be made about the alleged parallels between the Lovecraft circle and the Beats, Mamatas seems unsure of whether he wants to explore this, to simply write a supernatural adventure thriller with recognizable names, or to coyly separate the initiates from the mundanes.
Later this month and next: reviews in Publishers Weekly, the May Locus (Faren Miller disagrees with Wolfe), American Book Review, Trashotron, and Dark Fluidity.
|Posted on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 10:27 pm: |
Ah, and I almost forgot, ChiZine:
The places and events in Mamatas' prose leap to life with the same clarity as Kerouac offered us, but not in the world as we know it. Several layers of what we accept as reality have been shaved away, and a gun-toting William S. Burroughs joins our heroes on one final trip across country, sometimes driving, sometimes riding the rails, other times bending time and space to their needs in perfectly logical leaps of faith. They fight the end of the world as we know it by doing the absurd. There is poetry in this that is undeniable.
|Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2004 - 12:12 pm: |
And another, from Bookslut:
What's impressive is that Mamatas has taken this premise and actually pulled off a damned fine novel. His Kerouac, if anything, tells a much more coherent story than the one who gave us On the Road, while still maintaining a stream of consciousness style that's true to the character (the setting is right around the time of one of Kerouac's Big Sur era breakdowns). As an unreliable narrator in an unreliable situation, many of the items of Lovecraftian fiction that are normally crippling to the narrative (the instant access the characters have to information, the ability to perceive the insanity of the world, etc) weave seamlessly into the narrative, and the potentially irritating beat cadence ends up fuelling the feeling of insanity that Jack and his buddies are undergoing.
|Posted on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 12:54 pm: |
Ooh ooh, and here's one from Publishers Weekly:
MOVE UNDER GROUND
Nick Mamatas. Night Shade (www.nightshadebooks.com), $25 (180p) ISBN 1-892389-92-4
The American dream reveals itself to be a Lovecraftian nightmare in Mamatas’s audacious first novel, set in the early 1960s, which goes on the road with Kerouac, Cassady and Cthulhu. Jack Kerouac is in California when he receives cryptic letters from soulmate and muse Neal Cassady, whose hallucinatory ramblings evoke “the Dark Dreamer” (aka Cthulhu), the Lovecraftian deity of cosmic entropy whom Jack blames for the era’s stultifying forces of conformity, commercialism and complacency. After Jack rescues Neal from his new life as a gas station owner in Nevada, the two reverse the steps of their earlier westward trek, fighting skirmishes with “the Cult of Utter Normalcy” that serves the god, en route to a climactic showdown in New York City. The book has no more plot than Kerouac’s On the Road, but the author makes Jack and Neal’s surreal adventures in middle America seem the perfect expression of Lovecraft’s mind-blasting horrors. He gives quaint cameos to Allen Ginsburg as a sewer-trolling prophet and William S. Burroughs as a god-swatting exterminator extraordinaire. He also manages a credible pastiche of Kerouac’s visionary prose, as in this description of Manhattan: “The heart of the world, concrete and fleshy, green money pouring in and out from every corner of earth through arteries of commerce and culture, all choked up and poisoned with the madness of dead gods’ dreams.” Though Lovecraft reduxes are common in horror, few show the wit and energy of this original effort. (May)
Forecast: Lovecraft fans who prefer their pastiches written as though they were old-fashioned pulp yarns may be put off, but those who appreciate sophisticated, progressive horror and fantasy fiction should eat it up.
|Posted on Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 08:40 pm: |
And another, on the personal website of Gary Braunbeck!
This novel succeeds on every level; as a character study, as a period piece, as a tense and frightening horror story, and as an adventure story of "the road".
I only wish I'd come up with the idea first - something I think a lot of people are going to be saying when they finish reading this wonderful novel.
http://www.garybraunbeck.com/html/reviews.html (second item)
|Posted on Saturday, April 17, 2004 - 10:41 am: |
Booklist's May issue will be running this review:
Mamatas, Nick. Move Under Ground May 2004. 198p. Night Shade, $25 (1-892389-916)
In this tour de force, which is Mamatas' first novel, the Beats meet the elder gods of H. P. Lovecraft, and a harrowing time is had by all. It's the early sixties, and Jack Kerouac is hiding from his public in Big Sur, enjoying the company of a Hindu deity in the form of a redhead he calls Marie, and waiting for word from Neal Cassady, his and many another Beats' charismatic hero. Word he gets, including some babbling on about the Old Ones rising out of the Pacific and sweeping across America. That sets Jack off in search of Neal and, with Neal and eventually Bill Burroughs, on a cross-country jaunt just ahead, or behind, the advancing dark tide of the Old Ones. Destination: Manhattan, where the since-separated Jack and Neal have a showdown -- with each other! Mamatas virtuosically parodies Kerouac's pell-mell On the Road style, but Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Exterminator!, minus the outré sex, are more obvious templates for this wild, weird, woolly romp. -Ray Olson
|Posted on Monday, April 19, 2004 - 11:20 pm: |
Garrett Peck of Dark Fluidity:
You find yourself hoping Mamatas was tripping balls when he wrote this. If not, there might be something very, very wrong with him.
|Posted on Saturday, May 01, 2004 - 09:19 pm: |
Here's a pedantic one fron Sci Fi Dimensions:
In the original Kerouac novels, these were supposedly the author’s own actions and thoughts. In this work, this extremely stylized literary device makes for an interesting traipse through the Lovecraft universe. Lovecraft’s works (written mainly in the 1920s) are the sound of buzzing behind the door; they deal with the anticipation of the inevitable discovery of the awful, the barely-glimpsed sight of the horrible. Mamatas brings Lovecraft’s ideas into a genre that rose forty years later, and opens that door to send his main characters swimming in a sea of maggots, describing every feeling, every taste, as they try to keep from drowning in mouthfuls of wriggling white bodies.
|Posted on Sunday, May 02, 2004 - 09:12 pm: |
Unlike many reviewers who spend a lot of time and words trying to say "this is really cool and you should read it", Faren Miller usually goes the extra mile, and tries to convey feel of a big by carefully arranging quotes and summations, with a sprinkling of analysis. Here's her take on MOVE UNDER GROUND. (typos are mine)
MOVE UNDER GROUND
Review by Faran Miller, from Locus, May 2004
Real authors from the last century turn up as characters battling Lovecratian horrors in two new firs novels. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William Burroughs star in MOVE UNDER GROUND (with cameos by other big names from the Beat era)… [stuff about other book deleted –JL]
Mamatas has begun to make a name for himself in the fields of dark fantasy and liteary fiction, as a 2002 stoker award nominee for novella “Northern Gothic”, editor of anthology THE URBAN BIZARRE, and short story writer (his first collection 3000 MPH IN EVERY DIRECTON AT ONCE came out last year.) As MOVE UNDER GROUND begins, the year is 1960-something, the place Big Sur, California, and the focus on narrator Kerouac, “hiding from my public when I finally heard from Neal again.” The two have gone their separate ways since the grand days of the cross-country trip that inspired ON THE ROAD. Kerouac is famous enough to HAVE a public, appear on the occasional TV show, and get recognized in bars and bookstores; he’s also trying to recover from a nervous breakdown and stay off the booze.
After reading Cassady’s letter he says “Usually I thought of smiling old Neal catting between wife and girlfriend, grinning and pretending to write, misunderstanding Nietzsche in the most brilliant of ways, but now I could only conceive of him as some blind fly picking his way along highway webbing.” In other words, the former Holy Fool turned ineffective family man has really lost it this time – hell, he’s babbling about some Dark Dreamer rising from the Pacific, Old R’lyeh reborn! By the time Neal’s third letter/scroll arrives, Jack has had more than enough of this crap: “I tore up to the cabin and threw Neal’s roll into the fire, where it went up in a belch of black slime and smoke.” Still, he fells some loyalty to his old buddy. If Neal’s that screwed up, it’s time to stumble back into the world outside Big Sur and try to save him. The thing is, Neal’s right about the menace and he’s not alone in his arcane knowledge. When Kerouac reaches San Francisco, Alan Ginsberg is there to confirm it with an air of goofy good-fellowship and a demonstration. Has Jack seen the Beast in the sky – the tentacles, snaky scales, the deep burning eyes?” Maybe not yet, but he’s bound to soon because (unlike the squares), “All the hipsters can see him.” The Underground had better move under ground, literally. Pulling out a dollar, Alan declares that Cthulhu’s “on the money.” Then jack sees it: “The dead president faded away under the light, replaced with the hideous tentacled head of the Great God, and in an alien font, one barely English, I could see his name carved into the depths of the flat bill. And Cthulhu turned to me, his tentacles dripping off the cameo frame…”
jack makes a wonderfully unreliable narrator, for the drugs and booze have already taken their toll on him: He’s hallucinating a spirit guide and the ghost of sax master Charlie Parker in a roadhouse before the monstrous Great One even shows up on that dollar. And the real beat writer’s vision of America as capitalist nightmare full of zombie consumers right out of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, evoked in run-on paragraphs laboriously typed onto endless rolls of paper, was as weird and despairing as Lovecraft at his most doom-ridden. Mamatas evokes it beautifully, in a mix of wild prose, profanities and paranoia – a paranoia rooted in truth and all to applicable to our own times. After going through more than enough ghastly experiences, Jack looks at a filthy river and his outrage rises to a jeremiad:
“We had everything already, the alter had been laid out, sacrifices prepared. Charnel pits in Europe, hills of dead babies, bombs that could take this city of money changing temples out in a flash of light’ the concrete and steel wouldn’t even last long enough to crumble down to the ground. We’re all so rich now that we’re one step away from holding out the begging bowl and blinking away hungry flies. How could the elder gods resist such a morsel – we’d stuck the decorative toothpick in ourselves."
Genre sticklers might think “Lovecraft + Beatnicks + social protest” could only add up to some kind of literary game – where’s the REAL horror? But dark fantasy is a product of our fears and visions. It’s fluid enough to encompass both humor (some of MOVE UNDER GROUND is quite funny ,as Prachett’s dark novels are funny) and political angst. Whether or not you call them hallucinations, these nightmares come to life on the page, like the “real peach of a wedding party, with multi-colored crepe paper streamers and flowers with living razors for petals clicking in piles in each corner,” interrupted when the wind blows a door open and “a shadow dark as coal slid in and over the polished wood floor… trembled, then erupted into a pillar that hit the ceiling with a furious quiet.” While Lovecraft at his most frenzied wrote purple pose, Mamatas can evoke all colors then fade to black.
|Posted on Wednesday, June 02, 2004 - 05:27 pm: |
And the Village Voice chimes in:
Having never met the men, Voice contributor Nick Mamatas—who, in a daring gambit, plops the Beats down in H.P. Lovecraft territory in his novel Move Under Ground—is less beholden to their memory. This position, and the critical stance it frees him to establish vis-à-vis the core Beats, results in a more piercing and poignant document. It also allows him to take their reputation to task in ways that would make Raskin and Kashner blanch. For instance, a hobo upbraids Kerouac for his peripatetic flakiness: "You're cruel, you know that? You're a cruel man. Selfish and uncaring. The world is falling into the shitter, and you're here, taking some primrose path. Kickin' back. Traveling, not living. Kitchen gets too hot, you're the first one out the door."
True, the receptacle in question is the slimy maw of some immense, octopoid "old god," but the criticism holds. In fact, Kerouac's "bebop prosody" and the Cthulhu mythos dovetail nicely, and what seems at first like literary stunt-casting actually gives Mamatas room to recast the Beats' fall from grace in fanciful terms unhindered by their tricky psychology, the strictures of reality and realism—or lingering platitudes.
|Posted on Sunday, July 11, 2004 - 01:30 pm: |
A few more reviews are trickling in. Green Man Review doesn't get it, or at least, it suspects that it doesn't get it:
The feeling I had reading Move Under Ground was not unlike the very first time I tried to read, say, Thomas Pynchon: a sense that there are jokes here, and that if I got them I'd find them funny, but I don't get them, so I'm laughing nervously in what I hope are the right places. Not a bad way to read a book, I guess, but not the best way, either.
|Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 - 05:57 am: |
The guy from Fantastic Daily disqualified himself and had no right to review this. I grew up in the Beat era, read Kerouac and copious Burroughs AND every word good ol' Howard Phillips ever wrote and think Move Under Ground is the Bees Knees. I mean, how could anyone really get the bugspray climax without having read Naked Lunch???? (Enjoyed it, yes. Got it, no. I am always afraid to imply previous knowledge in order to enjoy something I am suggesting. A big problem with Alistair (no relation) Reynolds who I suspect may border on the incomprehensible without knowing lots of SF tropes, quantum gravity theory, and especially special relativity.)
BTW, I got Pynchon and he remains my favorite author. What's the big deal? Lots of in jokes in the new Liz Hand which I am loving. One of her threads moved unexpectedly into Beat territory so I recomended Move Under Ground on the thread.
|Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 02:57 pm: |
Greatest SF blogger in the world, Matt Cheney, weighs in:
Much of the attention the book has received, both positive and negative, has boiled it down to its basic conceit: Jack Kerouac in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. The Cthulhu Beats ... R'lyeh rising off the coast of bohemian San Francisco ... a naked lunch with the Elder Gods ... subterranean exterminators haunting the dark...
As conceits go, this one is cool and clever, but it's not what the book is about; it's just a way of getting there.
|Posted on Friday, September 17, 2004 - 11:47 am: |
And the hits just keep on coming. Interzone #194 reviews MOVE UNDER GROUND as well. No URL, but here's the text:
Mugwump Schism: Bob Keery reviews Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
Writing, drinking and meditating his way back to sanity through the aftershocks of another nervous breakdown, Jack Kerouac receives a scroll at his Big Sur hilltop cabin, a cut-up Necronomicon smelling of blood. It’s from Neal Cassady, living omphalos of the Beat universe, and warns of bad times to come. Following a visit from the bodhisattva Kilaya, Ti Jean goes back on the road to track Cassady down before the worst happens. When he sees the sunken city of R’lyeh rear up into the Pacific night, he realises he is far too late.
As the trip develops Kerouac and Cassady meet dharma bums famous and obscure, regularly travelling through sewers to avoid the shoggoths and madness soon everywhere above. Only hipsters, beats and well-mothered families are immune to the Old Ones’ call, but not the slavish appetites of the demented insect horde. The almost-traditional Lovecraftian apocalypse is cleverly reimagined as a violent Beat picaresque — somehow, by using a style and form nearly fifty years old Mamatas makes the Cthulhu Mythos not just new, but consciously contemporary in a way which many more frantic and overwrought latter-day tellers of tales squamous should note.
Perhaps the key lies in the explicit if not entirely innovative linkage made between the Dark Gods and the Tangiers nightmare of William S. Burroughs, who becomes the third mind in Kerouac and Cassady’s troubled and homoerotic partnership. Armed with bullets and bug-spray, the decadent and born-old Burroughs is shown to be their purest heart, a committed magic warrior who long ago had no choice but to face the darkness that Kerouac had always been in flight from.
Mamatas has plenty of fun speaking in Kerouac’s voice and moving through his world as it cracks beneath the cold hard glare of Cthulhu’s eye. Subject wins out over style as Kerouac’s long, meandering sentences and digressions are bitten into shorter, choppier chunks to match the tight relentless pace of the pulp paperback shudder-novel. This emergent, experimental offspring of styles takes vivid shape and forms a unique new outlook capable of challenging both American writing’s elder gods and its hippest heroes. Kerouac’s prejudiced and unreliable narration serves as a critique of the Beat generation and does its history a favour, offering a fantastic but subtle explanation of the process that could have turned the desolate, angelic figure of Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s prime fictive alter-ego) into a living, broken and embittered refutation of his own best ideals.
Move Under Ground’s most chilling section is the epilogue, detailing nothing more sinister or otherworldly than two days in Jack’s life circa 1968, just a year before his death. Absent while the movement he had begun enjoyed its tricky apotheosis and the despised ‘fags’, fellow subterraneans Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg are being teargassed and shot-at in the name of peace, Jack is a caged and destructive child. Even here Mamatas is too smart to be judgemental: the alien memories of what has been sacrificed so Jack’s imperfect dream can survive is too strong, its karmic toll on his country’s soul too dear.
|Posted on Friday, February 25, 2005 - 04:07 pm: |
Nearly ten months after release, MUG is still talk of the town, as in this review from the March issue of The Believer:
Review of Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
Central Question: What’s the difference between having no desire and having desire for nothingness?
It seems unlikely that anyone would attempt to create a pastiche of the styles of Jack Kerouac and H.P. Lovecraft, and much less likely still that it should be anything beyond a really clever genre exercise. Yet this is exactly what Nick Mamata accomplishes in his first novel, Move Under Ground. He forces Kerouac (as a character) into Lovecraft’s cosmos and makes it work.
A reader might ask why. But in this post-whatever era, most are resigned to accepting clever genre exercises for their own sake. So beyond why, the question is raised: how? It’s hard to imagine the intersection of two twentieth-century literary figureheads with such directly opposed ideas about existence. Lovecraft’s writing can be easily interpreted as being, as Michel Houellebecq recently put it in these pages “against life,” and I’ve always thought Kerouac’s writing to be a frenzied celebration of being for the heck of it.
It helps that Mamatas has Kerouac’s voice and personality down cold, from the bebop prose and poetic eye to the sexism and strange helplessness. Ole Jack is Move’s narrator, and the book is to be taken, presumably, as one of his autobiographical novels. Thus the frame is familiar: Kerouac joins Neal Cassady (and later, William S. Burroughs) for a cross-country journey full of kicks and wisdom, except this trip is spurred by the rising from the Pacific of the dead city R’lyeh and the awakening of the Elder God Cthulhu. Instead of rediscovering America, Jack and company must save it from the abyss.
The America of their travels is in bad shape. While Lovecraft himself does not appear, the monsters he created in his fiction—the unpronounceable, indescribable, unknowable horrors from beyond that made him legendary—are seizing control and warping reality. They are welcomed by a cult that has spread across the United States. The only people immune to it’s Call are “the bums and tramps and beatnik kids [who} seemed to have souls.” Another mindless sect is also on the loose, the cult of personality that pestered Kerouac after the publication of On The Road. Jack begins and ends Move in hiding from a public that doesn’t understand him. The coincidental fallout of the two cults can be quite amusing. Around Denver, Kerouac meets a beatnik who fails to recognize him. When he asks her to read him some of the book she’s engrossed in, it turns out to be the very one he’s narrating.
The book is shot through with Buddhist mysticism, which provides a necessary and logical link between Kerouacian joie de vivre and Lovecraftian oblivion. If the merciless truth of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror reduces mortal men to psychic shambles, it must, Mamatas seems to say, take someone as enamoured of life as Kerouac (balanced by Buddhism) to resist. And resist he does.
Move Under Ground is not Jack Kerouac writing about H.P. Lovecraft’s universe; it’s Nick Mamatas writing as Kerouac against Lovecraft’s view of the universe. When Kerouac literally looks into the sky and sees that the universe not only does not love him, but actually contains forces that actively hate him—the point where most of Lovecraft’s narrators throw in the towel and the story ends—he begins to become infected with an uncharacteristic misanthropy. But that’s all.
--Kevin Dole 2