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on July 10, 2004
I have several complaints about this book.
First, its dimensions are entirely Euclidean. The thing doesn't fit on any of my bookshelves. I've ordered my gibbering servants to get me one from Ikea, but I'm having a heck of a time putting it together.
Second, I don't like the fact that I'm made into a kind of allegory for conformity and the alienating effects of late capitalism on the middle class. I've always thought of myself as either an old hippie or, perhaps, an ancien regime man of leisure. Think about it -- all I do is sleep and dream.
That said, Mamatas effortlessly nails Kerouac's style without limiting himself -- which is great fun. There's eldritch kung-fu a-plenty, and horrible, unforgettable passages that will blast you out of complacency with their blasphemous, marxist terror.
I wish I could write a book but my giant hands crush typewriters.
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on January 13, 2008
Normally, this is the sort of book I would avoid with a "you gotta be kidding me," snort. The premise-- Jack Kerouac meeting the Lovecraftian Deep Beasties-- sounds like a bad joke, a juvenile wankfest in the land of the lame. And that would have been the end of it.

It's rare for me to find myself slapped in the face with "don't judge a book by it's cover," but this is profoundly one of those times. "Move Under Ground" makes what could seriously have been a goofy, mawkish premise and makes it gorgeous, rich and interesting. The writing is delightful and just plain fun to read. And then if you want to get even more high-falutin', the language is exquisite and works, and makes the whole idea about as awesome in age as one would have thought it could be in high school. And it is truly and utterly awesome. Mamatas is to be commended not only for creating a madly enjoyable read, but for compelling me to actually write a review for it as well. If the idea turns you off at first, take a moment, think again, and seriously, give it a go. You won't be disappointed.
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Nick Mamatas, Move under Ground (Night Shade Books, 2004)

Nick Mamatas does more than fulfill the promise of his first novella, Northern Gothic, in his debut novel. In fact, he's more than fulfilled the promise of any five young new writers. No matter how you end up feeling about the book itself, you just have to admire the guy's hubris at attempting to take two subgenres of fiction that passed the cliché stage decades ago and add in the exceptionally risky practice of incorporating historical characters into fiction. That the result is at all readable would have been a triumph. That it's actually good is nothing short of miraculous.

Jack Kerouac is recovering from a nervous breakdown in Big Sur when he gets a strong urge to go find Neal Cassady, who (if you'll remember from the end of On the Road) ditched him in Mexico. Knowing Cassady will likely be in San Francisco, Kerouac sets out, and soon stumbles upon a sight neither he, nor anyone reading the opening pages of this book who's somehow managed to miss all the synopses, expected to see: R'lyeh, no longer sleeping, rising from the waves. Yes, folks, the Great Old Ones are back, and Jack Kerouac and his longtime travelling companion have to save the world. However, along the way Kerouac realizes that not only is Neal acting strangely-- does he want to save the world, or is he just looking for the ending of his next novel?-- but that the Earth is only a minuscule part of the bigger stakes of a war between Cthulhu and Azathoth...

I mean, come on. You can't read that synopsis and not tell me it's not a recipe for absolute disaster. But Mamatas does things of beauty with both Beat and Lovecraftian literature, spicing the tale with subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to works in both, but keeping it on such a level that the reader doesn't need to have read extensively in either genre to get something out of this book. You probably don't even have to know who Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady are; they're just two guys driving across the country trying to save the universe from descending into utter chaos.

Come to think of it, that sounds rather like the plot for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but believe it-- Nick Mamatas can write rings around Kevin Smith. ****
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on January 27, 2012
As a writer, sometimes I encounter ideas other people get that make me feel like poking them with tiny forks to punish them for coming up with them first, assuming of course, that I would have, which I probably would not. When you read Ginsberg's Howl or Burroughs' Naked Lunch or Kerouac's Dr.Sax, you can feel something seething beneath the surface, like they know that there are foul rotten stinking things at the core of our reality that want to deprive of us of our joy, our bliss and our inner light that will feed off our desperation and impatience and hate to make us forge a world we do not want. That sounds like a certain icthyophobic New England shut in that we all know and love. These things had to come together, like chocolate and peanut butter, or chocolate and raisins, or chocolate and bacon. And Nick Mamatas made that happen. It wasn't a hack or somebody doing a Mad TV caliber impersonation of Kerouac and Burroughs, it wasn't Kerouac: The Legendary Journeys. It was art. Great art. Fun art. Sad art. Dark art. Art with a capital A. Holy the blazing guns of Bill Burroughs, holy the flailing tentacle! Holy! Holy! Holy!
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on May 4, 2012
I've read nearly 200 books so far this year, and very few of them have actually given me pleasure. Many were routine/trite, some were compelling, I gues--I wanted to keep reading--but very few were that kind of full-body reading experience, where you are inside the story as if walking through a thrilling new forest while at the same time realizing you are enjoying yourself and nothing you could be doing at that moment would be more right than reading this particular book in this chair on this street this night.

I can't stand literary pastiche because it seems dead before it's out of the gate--someone else's world, someone else's characters, without the creator's energy and life force moving them around.

You'll have noticed by now that I've said nothing about the book itself, only about how I felt reading it, and how I was prejudiced against it before buying it. Well, look at how many stars I've given it, and really, what more do I have to say?

Nick--write more books.
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on October 24, 2011
This is a book that's based on two very easy truths. Cthulu is fun and imitating the beats is fun. In fact, the only question is why no one thought of this before. Of course, by this point you got Hunter S. Thompson fights Cthulu, Sherlock Holmes investigates Cthulu and Jeeves & Wooster meet Cthulu in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

And the book definitely delivers the entertainment. Lines like "Life wasn't fair because even the soul-raped slaves of the Dreamer In the Darkness couldn't be counted on to keep their promises" and "There was a drift net, just like the one George told me about those years ago, ethereal and rising from the Pacific, dragging its way across America. Whole towns were falling into its haunted tangles, the souls of their resident fools the catch of the day." abound. Kerouac's rapidly shifting style lends itself well to a tale about ancient gods, tentacles beyond the veils of time and monsters that only the hipster can truly see. Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs show up for their cameos and the kind of chaos that you imagine was in their head when they wrote their classics comes forth literally.

What surprised me was how unsettling the whole book could be. Besides holding Kerouac and Lovecraft up to the harsh glare of modern sensibilities (and Kerouac was the squarest of the beats and there were points when his prejudices would make you wonder why he even befriended Ginsberg and Burroughs and the rest in the first place) but there are some truly frightening moments - mass drownings, swims in the Hudson and a New York City transformed into a repository of mutilated bodies. The few Lovecraft stories I read involved the characters being consumed by Cthulu until other characters saved the day at least for awhile. In Mamatas' narrative Cthulu has taken over an only the beats can see it, but there's not much they can do. The unsettling aspects of Cthulu meet the unsettling aspects of exploring the minds of people who are both rebels and products of the time when America could do no wrong and only the Communists were supposedly a threat.
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on March 17, 2011
Like Kerouac and Lovecraft? What, you've never heard of those jerks? What if I said "The Beats save the world against Cthulu"? No, nothing? Go back to the corner drugstore and read V.C. Andrews. But if you've read anything by the Beats or enjoy Cthulu fiction, you will read this book over and over. The adventure of an aged Jack Kerouac making his way back to New York to fight the Unnamed Evil with the help of his cooler-than-thou poet friends is such an enjoyable headtrip, every sentence deserves to be a bumper sticker.
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on September 27, 2011
He captures Kerouac's voice perfectly, and the Elder Gods are plenty scary, and Burroughs as an ice-cold killer is genius. Well done!
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on May 16, 2007
Move Under Ground is one of those rare novels that truly breathes new life into an old this case the Chthulu Mythos cycle of stories. Author Nick Mamatas grabs the mythos and throws it to hell into left field by sticking Jack Kerouac into the mix. Now, that's the kind of plot device that sounds like it came into the author's head after a long night of hard drinking in a seedy bar far off the mainstream footpath...but that's not how it reads. Mamatas brings a sober intelligence and dry wit that makes the improbable plot absolutely believable, and therefore genuinely frightening.

There are few books that cross the line from genre to literature. Mamatas takes an easy step far across that line.
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on June 12, 2004
In lesser hands the premise of Jack Kerouac meets Cthulhu would be just that, a premise, a one trick pony with nothing to see. Not the case here. His use of beat voice and Burroughs-like dreamy metaphor is a perfect match to the slimey beasties of Cthulhu. Move Under Ground is clever and funny, but it's also surprisingly sad and human and profound.
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