Novel * Jonathan L. Howard * Lovecraft Nazis * 2017
Generally speaking, when I begin a new series I like to give each entry some space before diving back in. That I am not doing so this time – and I don’t mean for this to sound how it’s going to sound, but here we are – is not because of the quality of the series in question. Like the first book, Carter & Lovecraft, After the End of the World is flawed but fine. I didn’t read this hot on the heels of the first book because I was just so besotted with the world I couldn’t wait. No, I did a thing that might not sound all that surprising, considering. I went to the library! It was great, they have all these books just lying around for you to pick up and take home. For free! What a world. Seriously, though, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve had a library card and I couldn’t really tell you why. Part of the reason, I guess, is that I like amassing a library of my own. My partner is the same way (actually worse), so we both hoard books, which has led to upsettingly disorganized bookshelves which are frankly being asked to do more than they bargained for. The thing about the library is, though, it’s easy to accidentally pick up the second book in a series without realizing it, which is why I had to circle back and go to book one. So here we are, and Jonathan Howard can take his sweet time publishing book three because I am not exactly dying with anticipation over here.
After the End of the World picks up fairly close on the heels of Carter & Lovecraft, which means the state of the world has drastically changed. The conceit of the first book was that there is a vast, undulating universe out there which can be “folded” to create a different reality. Or something. As I said of the first book’s ending, it gets vaguely metaphysical and it’s hard to really discern what the hell is happening. I doesn’t actually matter all that much. The end result of Dan Carter’s latent mystical powers is that the world has fundamentally and concretely changed. The first novel largely took place in Providence, Rhode Island (a town I visited for a couple of hours once and enjoyed, although what do I know). The sequel takes place in its mysterious doppelganger, Arkham. Well, the first bit anyhow. The idea is that everyone’s favorite racist garbage human, H.P. Lovecraft, was familiar with the “unfolded” world and changed the course of history. Something about the Necronomicon. Look, once you start digging at the hows and whys of this world, the answers are difficult to come by. The important thing is this new world is bad, and Carter and Lovecraft would like it to go back.
Mostly, it’s because of the Nazis. In this version of the world, World War Two never really got off the ground. Even before the United States got involved, Nazi Germany managed to end hostilities by apparently nuking Moscow in 1942. In this alternate history, the Holocaust never happened (instead, Hitler just forcibly moved all the Jews to Madagascar) and instead they moved their Nazi genocide to Russia and its satellite states. As a result of this, the US didn’t become the dominant power of the 20th century, and is basically second banana to the Nazis. None of this sits particularly well with Carter or Lovecraft, although at first blush it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole hell of a lot either of them can do about it. Until they do. Mostly because, in this world, the Nazis are a lot like the Nazis in the Indiana Jones movies. Which is to say they’re way into spooky, evil, supernatural shit. And if I told you the Nazis were trying to harness the power of the unknowable ancients, well, what else are you reading this for?
The first novel in this series attempted to differentiate itself in the oddly specific subgenre of Lovecraftian horror by taking on the guise of a noir mystery. Dan Carter is the hardboiled private investigator who gets sucked up into realm of Weird Shit by a mysterious stranger. To his credit, Howard does not really try the same trick in After the End of the World. The problem is there isn’t really a replacement gimmick. There’s the whole alternate-history angle, but I guess I’m just plain not sold on the world that’s been offered here. While both of these books are obviously connected, the shared world seems incongruous, as if the author had no real concrete plan in place for what the series was supposed to be. I think the key mistake was to move the series out of the world we know in to the “unfolded.” It’s like if Stranger Things just moved entirely to the Upside Down. It’s inherently less compelling.
It doesn’t take long for Dan Carter to be thrust back into the Weird Shit, although in both books he needs a third party to force him into these situations. On the one had I get it. The author is trying for a more realistic, concrete approach to the fantastical. It’s pretty clear he’s trying to ground his protagonists with real-world concerns like, you know, paying rent. So Carter needs a day job, and that’s his first priority. The whole trying to reconstruct the world as he knows it is a secondary concern. Which, I don’t know. If I were instrumental in undoing reality I would probably put a little more effort into figuring out how and why so I could fix it. Instead, Carter goes back to his P.I. job in New York and shrugs it off until the mysterious Henry Weston basically shoves him into a situation where he can get something done. Of course Weston’s motives are a mystery, but he’s clearly an agent of some inhuman power. Regardless, Carter and Lovecraft end up in the Aleutian Islands where the Nazis are up to no good, if you can believe that.
Look, I don’t want to come off like I’m trashing this book. As I said of the first one, and as I mentioned above, it’s totally fine. The story moves, the dialog is snappy, and there is fun to be had. I enjoy Emily Lovecraft quite a bit, even if she does brush up against the sassy black lady cliché now and again. Still, given the other characters in this series, someone needs to have some sass. Once again the banter sometimes feels a little forced, and there are some clunky moments of writing, although nothing as egregious as in the first novel. Mostly I’m just not sure where any of this is going. By the end of After the End of the World, Carter and Lovecraft don’t have much more in the way of answers. Emily can fuck with the Necronomicon now, I guess, and the Nazis have been temporarily thwarted in their schemes. Henry Weston, the inhuman agent, has revealed himself. But going forward? Who knows. This could be a trilogy, or it could be a never-ending serial. While I like surprise and discovery as much as the next person, there’s something aimless about this series that bothers me. I guess I’ll find out when the next one comes out. And I make it back to the library.