Premee Mohamed’s 2020 Beneath the Rising is a standalone cosmic horror novel.
Nick Prasad is poor and brown. Even though he’s quite bright, he can’t even consider going to university; he has family obligations. His friend Joanna “Johnny” Chambers is wealthy, white, and a world-famous super-genius scientist. Despite the vast gulf between them, the two teens have been friends since childhood. Nick is madly smitten with Johnny. Johnny is fond of Nick. But there’s this vast gulf between them …
Having cured HIV and Alzheimer’s, Johnny turns her attention to solving climate change. Solution: replace fossil fuels with an inter-dimensional reactor. Too bad that Johnny has saved the world from climate change by creating a gateway to something much worse.
Earth’s true masters are powerful, malevolent, and for the moment, slumbering in a universe from which they cannot access the Earth. But their servants can walk the Earth (albeit with some difficulty). One of them, Drozanoth, is determined to get its manipulators on Johnny’s reactor. It’s possible this is merely to deny upstart humanity clean energy; the Ancient Ones are many things and pettily spiteful is one of them. Or perhaps the servant has a darker purpose in mind.
Johnny is driven by her desire to save the world from itself. Handing her device to horrors from beyond the stars is just not on. Unable to strike directly at Johnny, unable to threaten her through her friends (Johnny has very few and would willingly sacrifice them for the greater good) Drozanoth turns on Nick. Or rather, Nick’s family.
One house-leveling attack later, Nick’s family flees into hiding. Nick allies with Johnny in a desperate bit to confound Drozanoth and its terrible masters. It’s the only way to protect his family.
Johnny knows that the Ancient Ones have been stymied in the past. If she can figure out how this was done, she might be able to stop them NOW. Johnny and Nick set off on a wild hunt across the Old World, seeking lost knowledge.
The clock is ticking down. Johnny has only a few days to find the solution before the stars are right and the Ancient Ones fall upon a defenseless Earth.
Content warning: large parts of this book are set in Canada.
I’ve read a lot of cosmic horrors over the years. This set of Great Old Ones are inter-dimensional griefers, highly invested in preventing anyone anywhere from enjoying long-term happiness. That’s a novel treatment of ancient evil, perhaps inspired by the internet. The Ancient Ones claim to have destroyed human civilizations in the past ; they have also been foiled any number of times, sometimes with Stone Age tech. What a bunch of sad puppies!
The heart of the story is the vexed relationship between Johnny and Nick. Johnny likes Nick but not like that. Johnny doesn’t like anyone like that. The most important person for Johnny is Johnny. A hint that not all monsters are supernatural beings. I thought the characterization here was spot-on.
Fans of Mohamed’s 2018 novella, The Apple-Tree Throne, will be pleased to hear that this work is just as good as its predecessor, despite the change in genre (from melancholy steam-punk to cosmic horror). Mohamed’s prose is as solid as ever. This is the author’s only published novel so far, but if you find you like her writing, there are lots of shorter works available.
1: Johnny credits the Ancient Ones for the destruction of several ancient civilizations. Some of these were so thoroughly smashed as to be erased from history (history is written by survivors and if there are no survivors …). Other civilizations died recorded deaths. Johnny blames the Cosmic Horrors, but there’s nothing in the records to finger them. Have the Ancients Ones lied to Johnny? Are they boasters and liars? Wouldn’t put it past them.