Ezekiel Boone’s “The Hatching” was a thoroughly enjoyable pulp fiction novel about the global emergence of a prehistoric species of carnivorous spider and humanity’s desperately ill prepared response to this invasive threat. It was just a really fun escapist creature feature full of thrills and spills with enough eight legged action to send any self respecting arachnophobe scurrying for cover. Alas, lightning hasn’t struck twice with its sequel, “Skitter” and what you have is a book that manages to be light on scares, heavily reliant on exposition and cut out and keep characters. Following the events of the first novel, millions have died and the world is bracing itself for what follows next. The initial wave of spiders has died out, leaving egg sacs secreted throughout the world and humanity bracing itself for their inevitable return. Set against a biological countdown, the characters face hard decisions about how to best combat the impending threat and save humanity.
It isn’t that “Skitter” is a badly written book; it’s just that it reads and feels much like the state of the spiders throughout, dormant and lacking life. Its predecessor worked as there were frequent arachnid set pieces that broke up the story and kept you guessing and on edge as to where and when the next horror was to take place. Unfortunately the absence of the spiders for much of the novel highlights the limits of the first novel’s approach. The spiders are a background threat for most of the novel and Boone is reliant on his human characters to take the strain.
And herein lays the problem as the absence of the spiders means that Boone fills the spaces with more characters. That old adage about less being more certainly feels true in this context as multiple characters briefly appear, disappear or reappear across multiple locations. Some get the briefest of introductions whilst others get three or four pages of exposition heavy background filler. Add into the mix the returning protagonists from its predecessor and you end up with something that feels rather soap opera-ish in its execution. This feeling isn’t exactly helped by characterisation that can best be described as gossamer thin. Much as the title implies, this is a novel that feels very light on its feet and doesn’t make much impact.
Whereas The Hatching played around with those morbid fears about something that has more than four legs along with healthy doses of body horror, this feels curiously restrained. In its predecessor, the spiders had a healthy interest for fresh meat and also a biological imperative to perpetuate the species by laying eggs inside random people thus allowing their distribution far and wide. Whilst this was very effective first time around, here it feels almost like a secondary consideration to the human and political cost of the aftermath. The visceral undertow of the initial novel has been replaced by lots and lots of fragmented exposition with only the slightest hint of dread terror.
Admittedly there is one scene about half way through the book which does strike the right note of visceral terror as the new spiders hatch and have the lovely habit of paralysing, cocooning and eating you alive but its brief and can’t make up for the acres of talking that seem to populate this novel. The spiders, rechristened “Species X” or some such, are the foot soldiers to mysterious glowing sacs that sporadically populate their conquered territory. It all feels a bit like a blockbuster remake of “Kingdom of the Spiders” mixed in with “World War Z” in its execution and delivery.
I can appreciate that “Skitter” is the middle part of a trilogy but it reminds me of those novels you pick up at a train station or airport for a quick read. It’s effectively a disaster novel masquerading as a horror novel written for people who don’t like horror. I’m sure it will sell loads and get heaps of 5 star ratings but it feels curiously restrained and insubstantial compared to its predecessor. Things don’t really get going until the last 20% or so but by then it is too little too late as the second wave hatch in a couple of throwaway scenes and the characters debate whether the nuclear option is the best route after all.
I think that the best thing I can say about “ Skitter” is that if you are in the market for a novel that doesn’t tax the brain cells, has about as much terror as a piece of puff pastry and is a comparatively easy read then “Skitter” might just be the ticket for you. Me? I found this to be a huge disappointment with a title that evoked body horrors connected to something else entirely.
Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up. Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack is discovered, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a weapon to defeat the spiders. But even if they succeed it may be too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol. Every country must fight for itself. And the spiders are on the move...