Rating: 5 out of 5
Premee Mohamed’s cosmic horror novel Beneath The Rising bowled me over. Right from the start we’re presented with a highly unusual friendship of sorts. Joanna “Johnny” Chambers was born to a wealthy family, and possesses an inhuman level of intelligence; every aspect of people’s lives has been touched by her creations and inventions. Nick Prasad is the same age, but he was born to a poor family and he’s nothing more than… ordinary. Yet somehow, no matter how long they go between visits as she country-hops and he works stocking groceries in a store, they always come back together again. Nick has a feeling he’s kind of in love with Johnny, but he’s also aware that he doesn’t really know what love is at this point in his life (they’re just past high-school age). One night Johnny builds a device the size of a shoebox that can deliver endless energy. But it changes everything. Suddenly she and Nick spot a dark being in the distance watching them, and then it threatens Nick, wanting him to get the device for it. Before long, there are horrifying creatures entering our world, and Johnny may be the only one who can stop the invasion that’s coming from another dimension–with Nick’s help.
The book immediately establishes itself as being in an alternate timeline from ours by mentioning the day two planes almost crashed into the World Trade Towers. Most of the changes we see are due to Johnny. Her solar panels adorn roofs around the world, she has a drug that treats dementia, and she cured HIV. As the book goes on, there are other little signs of the results of her genius. It’s fascinating.
Just when you’re starting to think that no matter how brilliant Johnny may be, there’s no way she could have done all that she has, more detail comes on board. And in a world where there are people who’ve been alive for a thousand years, hidden spells that can lock the Ancient Ones out of the world, and frighteningly powerful beings can walk into our world, it begins to make sense. Everyone thinks Johnny is the ultimate scientist, but she may be more magician than scientist.
Johnny and Nick end up racing around the world to find what they need to prevent the Ancient Ones from overrunning and destroying our world. Everything is arrayed against them: the police, since they’ve been tagged as runaways. Members of various secret orders, who have a few bones to pick with Johnny. Deadly creatures that will do anything to stop them.
The relationship between Nick and Johnny is what really makes this book. I don’t recall ever seeing a cosmic horror novel in which so much fascinating space is spent on a friendship. From the time they met (when they were both shot during a hostage crisis–they have untreated PTSD), to the upcoming end of the world, their friendship has been a delicate thing. They have in-jokes and they enjoy ribbing each other–something I’ll guarantee Johnny can’t get from anyone else. They’re tied together by a couple of near-death experiences. At the same time they’re torn apart by class, intellect, racial, and wealth differences. Add to that the weight of being virtual children who have to save the world with very little help… yeah, it gets pretty hard on them.
This is such a wonderful book. I really hope to read more by Ms. Mohamed someday!
The familiar song of envy and resentment and adoration and excitement of having Johnny back in town.