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Literature / Underneath A Merfolk Tale

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Underneath – A Merfolk Tale (2016) is a Urban Fantasy novel by author M. N. Arzu.

When an injured merman is found washed up on a beach in Maine, three groups are set in a path of collision: The Military, who along with the United Nations want to know what's going on. The Press, who get a hold of a video that may or may not be a hoax; and The Merfolk, who had been happily hiding behind The Masquerade for centuries.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Alien Among Us: Play straight. The Merfolk in the story are descendants of an alien species. Their underwater city is actually their damaged ship.
  • Astral Projection: A form of extreme telepathy would allow one of the parties to "go" to the side of the other, effectively letting them see, feel, and even read deeper thoughts from the other person.
  • Classified Information: Ray's DNA results.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Scott, when telling Chris about his parents.
    • To a lesser degree, Matthew, when briefly telling Alex about his past.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: Play straight with the fact that merfolk swim and dive naked. On the ground, and on their city, they do wear clothes.
  • Fainting Seer: When Chris is attacked, his brothers and father feel it as if they had been hit in the head, almost fainting.
  • Fate Worse than Death: What Merfolk think awaits them if humans find out about them.
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  • First Contact: The United Nations is treating this as a First Contact mission.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Scott asks Chris how to shift his tail into legs.
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: Merfolk disguise themselves as humans when they're living on land. Besides a cold body temperature (3C° below normal) nothing gives them away. A closer inspection would reveal a whole other set of organs and biochemistry, plus shapeshifting abilities, though.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Scott goes all the way to Maine in search of others like him.
  • Internal Reveal: Several of them: Neil Thompson thinking he's rescuing a drown man, instead of a real merman. The hospital staff revealing to the world that the merman video is real. Kate revealing to Julian she knows who the merman is. Drake revealing the truth about merfolk to Forest. Chris telling Gwen and later Andrew who he really is. White knowing the Brooks secret by the end of the story.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: Stress and sedatives will trigger involuntary shapeshifting, like changing skin into scales, or shifting their lungs from needing air to needing water.
  • Limb-Sensation Fascination: Scott's first transformation is fascinating to him.
  • Masquerade: How Merfolk live on land, having lucrative careers and moving humanity along their technological path.
  • Mermaid Problem: Invoked in universe. Dr. Forest infers that to solve the Mermaid Problem, merfolk would need to shift their tails into legs. Otherwise, their reproduction organs seemed to be "locked".
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Dr. Forest points out that "Ray" has a problem with being naked. When Gwen says that makes no sense, since as a merman he swims naked, he's at a loss to explain why it would matter. Of course, since all the Brooks have been raised human, it's ingrained in Ray that nakedness in front of strangers is bad.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Merfolk can transform at will, dive up to 3 miles, live in a domed city, and are descendants from an alien species.
  • Poke in the Third Eye: What Matt does to Scott when he first realizes someone's listening to his conversations with Chris.
  • Psychic Radar: How Merfolk search and feel each other. They can camouflage to others, too, according to Matt.
  • Puberty Superpower: Merfolk are born with legs, and their first shift into their tail happens around puberty.
  • Really 700 Years Old: it's not said exactly how long merfolk live, but it's around 500 to 600 years. In fact, merfolk reach adulthood until they turn 28, and even then, older merfolk would still consider them children.
  • Seashell Bra: Averted. Though the story centers around mermen, it's implied that mermaids swim as naked as their male counterparts. However, merfolk are not comfortable being naked on land.
  • Secret Keeper: by the end of the story, Forest, Andrew, Gwen, and possibly Higgs.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Major White to an extent. He know who they are, and his bosses know, too. They're gathering intel by the time the story ends.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Chris is locked to his Merform because of his injury. If he shifts, chances are he would lose his tail/legs.
  • Sirens Are Mermaids: When trying to define what to call their newly found merman, Dr. Forest's team seems to go through their options: merman, triton, siren.
  • Skepticism Failure: Kate and much of the press treats the internet videos as an elaborate hoax, going as far as believing the story is about a rich kid with a prank gone wrong, not an actual merman.
  • Telepathy: How Merfolk talk to each other. They can only read other Merfolk minds, and they have ranges depending on age and experience.
  • The Medic: Gwen and Higgs.
  • The Reveal: Drake revealing the truth about Diana's real identity.
  • Thermal Dissonance: Merfolk core temperature runs colder than humans by 3°C or about 5°F. This is how the military finds out about Scott and the Brooks via thermal cameras.
  • Underwater City: or The City, as it's referred to in the story. Merfolk breathe air and walk instead of being a water-filled place. The "problem" with the City is that it has strict rules, especially on population control, which makes some Merfolk take their risks with the surface.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Merfolk can change between their merform and their human form. They can also do partial shifting, being it breathing water in a human form, shrinking their tails, or changing facial characteristics or any part of their skin into scales.


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