Books Are Pretty

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Under My Roof.

It’s really difficult to write a good speculative fiction novel. For every Dune that gets published, there are forty Battlefield Earths out there. (I don’t even like typing the title of that book. It sucks so hard it almost pulled my eyes out of my head when I tried to read it. Now it’s being used to cover up an open sewage pipe in a spare bathroom in my house until the plumber can come out and install a new toilet. Seriously. It’s not often that I hate a book so much I harbor a grudge, but when I do, watch out.)

As much as I hate B*** E***, I love Dune, because Frank Herbert could do what Scientology guy and so many others can’t, which is to create an entirely new world on a different planet with different beings, technology, religion, and economics and do it so well that you feel like you’ve learned something about politics, culture, and economics, when really all you’ve learned is that you can’t write as well as Frank Herbert.

Not to mention how exhausting it is to play God and create a whole new planet. Why bother when you can write a perfectly nifty little speculative fiction book just taking some crappy aspect of the world today and taking it to its next logical step?

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace got rid of the numerical system of naming years, 2004, 2005, 2006, etc., and replaced it a system subsidized by corporations, turning 2004 into the Year of the Whopper, 2005 the Year of the Tuck’s Medicated Pad, and so on.

In H2O, Mark Swartz got rid of all the water, and in Nick Mamatas’ Under My Roof, Daniel Weinberg cracks under the relentless pressure of phony patriotism and the growing “us against the world” philosophy that our current administration is embracing. (In the book, the entirety of Latin America is considered an enemy, and Canada is referred to as the White Menace.*) His solution is to arm himself with a homemade nuclear bomb stuffed into a garden gnome and secede from the United States.

The aftermath of his declaration is chronicled by Weinberg’s telepathic twelve-year-old son, Herbert, who Daniel crowns the Prince of Weinbergia. Herbert, who loves his Dad but isn’t too wild about the turn of events, chronicles the secession, starting with giving the reader a specific recipe for constructing a nuclear weapon to his dismay at seeing his home fill up with refugees, mostly flaky, disgruntled hippies looking for a miracle in the more literal sense.

During the upheaval, Herbert’s mother leaves Weinbergia and goes on a publicity tour, enthusiastically telling of her love for Herbert and her victimization by Daniel, who did not even discuss the secession with her before pulling it off. With the help of the police, she manages to kidnap Herbert, only to find his actual presence isn’t as fulfilling as missing him. For the remainder of the novel, Herbert tries to go back home, while his father busies himself forging alliances with the country of Palau, and the Islamic Republic of the Qool Mart Store No. 351, a convenience store whose employees have also decided to secede. Musad, the leader of the Qool Mart, creates a treaty pledging eternal peace between Weinbergia and the entire Muslim world.

Five years…peace between Weinbergia and the entire Muslim world, as vouchsafed and guaranteed by the Islamic Republic of Qool Mart,” Dad read aloud.

“Wait a minute,” said Whiting, “these people don’t speak for the entire Muslim world.”

“Hyah,” said Barry. “He’s got a point there.” Barry hoped making friends with Whiting would get him out of here alive, maybe even without a prison sentence.

Musad said, “Of course I speak for the entire Muslim world. You, man,” he continued, pointing his chin at Barry. “You made it so.”

“We have video,” Richard said.

Musad reached up to the security monitor and punched a button. The real-time footage on the screen went black and then a moment later was replaced with the same scene, but daylight, with Musad and Barry, only the latter in other clothes, chatting.

Video Barry waved a copy of Newsday in Musad’s face and, his voice tinny as a thought from both the mic and the fact that the playback was on the small security speakers, said, “Why did your people go crazy this time? Bombing our soldiers just for trying to protect your freedom to sell me this newspaper!”

“So, you don’t want the newspaper?” Musad-on-tape asked.


Mamatas deftly satirizes both public and private life, with the fetishizing and commercialization of 9/11 and eternal war, as well as skewering parents who become so wrapped up in their own agenda their kid gets pushed by the wayside.

Under My Roof is a funny, biting young adult novel about rebellion in a country populated with people who would like to rebel, provided the revolution doesn’t wipe out what they’ve Tivo’d.

*Slogan: We will become your overlords, but we’ll be very polite and charmingly self-deprecating about the whole thing.


Under My Roof
By Nick Mamatas
2007 by Soft Skull Press
Softcover, 151 pp
ISBN: 1-933368-43-8

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