The Scarab Chase

I've been teaching and studying at college for too many years, and The Scarab Chase is a rollicking, riotous satire riding rough-shod over academia's sacred cows--learning, "academic discourse", know-it-allness.

The Scarab Chase takes place at Urban U of Boston (Umass Boston, where I was an undergrad), and follows the fortunes of several characters, especially Ted Small, historian, Egyptologist, garbologist. Ted, like all academics, survives by means of his pet theory, which he's very proud of: that garbage dumps are living things, that morph and flow and finally extend death tendrils and strangle and submerge the cultures that produced them.

Ted has published the theory, and his "pal" Bill Binderbag has his own theory: there's a black hole in space headed our way, going to swallow up the earth. Bill has framed Ted (he wants his job) for the Black Hole Theory, since the Federal Department of Moods is about to prosecute the author of the Black Hole theory.

Ted's in a pickle; how to defend himself against a theory he didn't write. He hires a mad Russian lawyer who terrifies Ted, and the case is on.

There's an even bigger threat, though, which Ted knows about: Urban U was built on top of a garbage dump (this is an actual real fact), and the dump is about to swallow up the university. Already cars and people are disappearing inexplicably.

But wait, there's more! Ted understands the garbage because he has studied Egyptian garbage dumps, and now he knows the real secret: Urban U's underground is constructed just like the insides of a pyramid, and the dump lies below that. Ted needs the help of a former lover who now hates him, as well as a need to grow to a deeper understanding of love, in order to save both himself and the university.

The book is full of Egyptian mythology and history, as well as lots and lots of distorted facts and fractured chronologies. It's got jazz, illicit lovers, campus intrigue, a corrupt chancellor, mad professors galore spouting nonsensical theories and threatening students. It's a race to the finish; will the university get swamped in its own garbage dump, or is the black hole theory more than a theory?

Sound ridiculous? It is--but for fans of satire, and for those of you who have a love/hate relationship with academia, this is the story.