Diana’s had a tough time of it lately, but finally a stroke of luck comes along: after a long search, she finds the perfect apartment. It’s affordable. It’s furnished exactly the way she likes. There’s even a jukebox with all her favorite songs. Maybe she should have been more suspicious about how perfect it was, because once she’s moved in, she discovers that the apartment has an extra inhabitant: a monster who goes by the name Vom the Hungering and who tries to eat everything in his path. Before Diana knows it, she has acquired a small menagerie of eldritch horrors from the beyond, and she learns that the universe is infinitely more complex — and dangerous — than she ever imagined.
Chasing the Moon is an unabashedly zany comedic fantasy that combines Douglas Adams-style humor and a protagonist who could be the sister of Bridget Jones with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft. It reads like a Twilight Zone episode with unusually expensive special effects and a team of writers who were smoking suspicious substances. It’s hard to imagine the words “cheerful” and “apocalyptic” applying to the same novel, but Publishers Weekly’s cover blurb is 100% correct: Chasing the Moon is just that novel.
The early story focuses mostly on Diana as she gets settled in the apartment with Vom the Hungering, who soon informs her that he has 2,014 stomachs and an eating disorder that causes him to eat everything he sees, except for broccoli. As the novel progresses, more monsters appear, some of whom want to devour the Earth while others only want to eat the Moon, which may or may not bring on Ragnarok and the heat death of the entire universe.
The novel has a plot, sure, but the jokes play a much more important part in making Chasing the Moon a success. The sense of humor here reminded me of that brilliant bit in one of Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels about a truck driver who’s always complaining because, no matter where he goes, it’s always raining. He’s come up with fifty words for rain, and he has a notebook to prove that, really, it’s always raining wherever he goes. People make fun of him and call him “old Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head” because he never stops complaining. Eventually it turns out the guy is unwittingly a Rain God and, well, the clouds really just want to make him happy and “to be near Him, to love Him, to cherish Him and to water Him.” It’s this kind of hilariously goofy humor with a supernatural twist that makes Chasing the Moon tick. Maybe I just picked up this book at exactly the right moment, because I just couldn’t stop grinning and chuckling and occasionally laughing out loud at the jokes.
Now, it may be more accurate to say “variations on a joke”, because if Chasing the Moon has one weakness, it is that it’s a one joke book. That joke involves people acting normal and/or pissed off at horrors straight from an intense Call of Cthulhu session who act completely different from what you’d expect. Occasionally Vom & co. fight over who gets to ride shotgun when they’re out and about. At one point, Diana bops a monster on the nose (or nose-like appendage) with a rolled up newspaper, as if admonishing a wayward puppy. The real running gag of this novel is that the monsters act like a combination of untrained pets and constantly bickering six year olds on a sugar high, and after a while, Diana gets over the gibbering waves of fear and treats them accordingly. Don’t get me wrong: this book is one of the funniest I’ve read in ages, but that doesn’t change the fact that some variation would have been welcome.
To make up for some of the recurring jokes, A. Lee Martinez has great comedic timing and a wonderfully sly tone to his prose, as if he’s secretly telling you a joke about someone while they’re looking away. Here’s an example from early in the book, about an annoying and pompous character who is responding to a simple “Lovely night, isn’t it?”:
Greg nodded in that familiar, rehearsed, faraway manner. It was meant to be wise and thoughtful, but came across as ponderous and slow-witted. As if his brain were a rusty collection of gears that had to simultaneously process the question and crank his neck.
I’ve seen A. Lee Martinez referred to as the “American Pratchett.” Now, I’m a major Terry Pratchett geek. Major with a capital M, actually. I’ve read every Discworld book, most of them multiple times, as well as more or less everything else Pratchett has written. I’ve met the author a few times. Much as it pains me to admit it here, I even regularly play an online Discworld game and have been doing so for over a decade. So when people call any author “the American Pratchett”, I tend to get a bit skeptical, to say the least.
After reading Chasing the Moon, however, I would actually agree that there’s something to it, as long as you’re talking about the Pratchett who wrote, say, the first few Discworld books, when the setting wasn’t so fully realized yet and the characters hadn’t acquired as much depth and it was still more about getting as many jokes as possible onto each page rather than about social commentary and serious themes. In other words, before Pratchett became a writer who occasionally got “accused of literature,” as his bio used to say.
If you’re in the mood for an early-Pratchett-style, somewhat goofy comedic fantasy that’s heavy on the laughs and light on depth, then Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez is a great choice. As mentioned before, it’s a bit of a one joke show, but that didn’t spoil the fun for me because, hey, the joke is a good one. Maybe the best compliment I can give this novel, though: I am planning to read everything else A. Lee Martinez has written. If you pick Chasing the Moon up at the right moment, you’ll have a blast with it.