Nelson, Blake (2007). They Came From Below. NY: TOR/Tom Doherty Associates. 299 pages.
OK, I think I’m just going to have to stop expecting Blake Nelson to write another Girl. It’s unfair to him and it’s unfair to me; we both just have to realize that that moment of brilliance can never be reproduced. That said, Nelson’s new novel, a semi-fantasy, semi-science fiction, is pretty fucking cool. When I describe the premise it’s going to sound a little lame, but, believe me, this book works.
It’s the beginning of another summer and Emily is heading for Cape Cod to spend time with her MIT professor father and hang out with her summer friend, Reese. The two girls are hoping to slip back into their routine of pizza slice specials at the local pizza parlor, days at the beach, and evenings scamming for guys. After a mysterious glowing object is washed up onto the beach and Emily’s father is called to consult on its appearance and two rather unusual boys appear in town, the girls and Emily’s father become involved in an alien invasion of sorts. Only these aliens are from the sea. Turns out, these new guys have morphed into humans in an effort to rescue their “alien” friend, the glowing blob that came ashore after an environmental disturbance down below.
In Nelson’s semi-deadpan style, this sci-fi/fantasy-lite doesn’t hit you over the head with sci-fi/fantasy details or environmental awareness didacticism, the way it could in the hands of someone less capable. It’s the descriptions of Emily’s interactions with these aliens and their unintended effect on humans that really captivates. There are some high-speed car chase moments in the spirit of E.T.; however, even these aren’t super-cheesy. I think the thing is, you can read this book and really believe in it, which is an accomplishment in itself. In Girl-style, Nelson leaves the ending a little open; however, as with Girl, we never know if the story will be continued by the author, himself, or by us readers, in our heads.