And the Devil Will Drag You Under by Jack L Chalker

(7.0/10)

Asmodeus Mogart was not a bad fellow, as demons go. Having gotten in trouble back in the home office, he had been assigned to duty on Earth. There he toiled, doing the kinds of things demons do and turning into something of a drunk. Then a rogue asteroid threatened to crash into Earth and destroy all life on the planet - demons included! There had to be a better way. Mac Walters and Jill McCullough, holding a private wake for their world in a Reno bar, were more than startled when a strange-looking little drunk told them they could save the world. All they had to do was enter five alternate universes and steal a demon-guarded jewel in each. Clearly, the man was crazy. But they had nothing better to do than go along with the gag. Then they each found themselves, naked and alone, on a hostile alien world!

I unearthed this 1979 Jack L Chaucer book and was attracted by the title – apparently a homage to a song written for the musical Guys and Dolls called ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’. The world is coming to an end, with an asteroid hurtling towards it and only an alcoholic demon and a quest through alternate universes standing in the way of complete annihilation.

Mac and Jill, two ordinary humans, are drawn to the demon, Asmodeus Mogart, and are convinced by him that the only way to stop the asteroid is to help him gather together five jewels from five other demons in alternate universes, which would then provide enough power to save the Earth. Every universe turns out to be an experiment, created by demons with these jewels, or amplifiers, and the different worlds that Mac and Jill pass through have similarities to their own Earth, but operate under different rules. One has an active God figure who immediately punishes any sin, another has had human development capped at stone age level, and so on. In each, Mac or Jill has to work out a way of obtaining the jewel from the resident demon, whilst bound by these rules.

And The Devil… is an entertaining read, attempting to bring in thoughts on power, how people are changed by it, morality, humanity and freedom, but as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think Jack L Chalker hit as hard with these themes as he could have done. The switching between different worlds adds a range of backdrops, but the novel remains relatively shallow as a result, with Mac and Jill never really becoming fully rounded characters and Asmodeus forming more of a heavy handed comic relief element rather than a central force. More could also have been made of the demons who create and direct the 70 trillion ‘projects’ or alternate plains of existence, and the impact on Mac and Jill of finding out that they and the entire Earth was created as an experiment (echoing slightly another 1979 release – A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

It’s worth giving this a look as an example of older fantasy, but it doesn’t quite live up to its title.

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