Monday, January 30, 2012

They Do Exist!

While in Japan, I came across crab creatures that, besides their coloring, seemed identical to the spiders in Breeding Ground. I didn’t stick my arm in to experiment with the consequences of a bite, but check the video out and decide for yourself whether a bite might have inflicted as much detriment as the web-slinging menaces in the book. I think it might have.

As for the story, there’s plenty to talk about, and overall I enjoyed it. I did have problems with the ambiguity of the ending, the blatant misogyny occurring (I think if a guy wrote this, he’d be in trouble), and the fact that the protagonist had more action in a post-apocalyptic world than normal guys get during their best months in a world where women haven’t all exploded. Those problems didn’t stop me from enjoying the ride of this tale, though, and that was what mattered.
So, instead, I’ll spend some time analyzing the monster. The spiders worked. I won’t argue that they were original (they reminded me of the spiders in King’s “The Mist,” which themselves reminded me of actual spiders, grotesque and maniacal), but instead that they were a creative new spin on a horror-inspiring monster. Think of it this way, these spiders incorporate mystery, are unpredictable, and possess a pleasure that spawns from human pain. Readers keep turning the pages to learn more as well as to find out how the protagonist will overcome the fiends.
Just the right amount of mystery keeps readers turning pages. Too much mystery causes me to put the book down in frustration, but just enough, balanced with answers and new questions, keeps me from sitting the book down ever. In this book, readers guess about a plague, are introduced to the monster, are exposed to the monsters habits, are given a likely explanation for the monster, are handed a way of exterminating the monster, and finally introduced to a second monster. This cycle works. Readers never have to wonder about any particular puzzle for too long. They are given an answer and handed the next puzzle.
Besides mystery, the spiders habits are unpredictable and three dimensional. Although they look like an overgrown house spider, on the inside, they are so much more. From the beginning, hints are given, and later elaborated on, that the spiders are telepathic. Instead of dealing with a bunch of pipsqueaks, the heroes find themselves fighting a collective--a more daunting task. Then there’s the bite. I was happy to see an amputation after one hero was bitten because, realistically, my mind would instantly think, Cut it off! Maybe I’ve seen too many zombie movies, though. The bites do act like zombie bites, too, and an amputation isn’t ever enough, so readers get to see another aspect of the collective-type spider: reverse cocooning, which allows one spider to bite a pray and ensures another will get the meal. Readers keep reading just to see what else these spiders are capable of.
Possibly, the most terrifying aspect of the spiders is that they find pleasure in human terror. Maybe that’s what truly makes them monstrosities: they enjoy our pain. Antagonists aren’t necessarily monsters, and maybe that’s because they don’t necessarily enjoy hurting the protagonist or even interfering in the quest. Monsters enjoy this part of their nature, though. Maybe not in every story, and this definitely isn’t the only characteristic that identifies a monster, but it’s usually there, tipping the scales from humane to monstrous. And these spiders have definitely tipped the scales; I’m pretty sure they’ve cocooned the scales and may be feeding on them as we speak, because that’s just how these spiders roll.
So, yes, the book was enjoyable. Was it as tactfully written as Matheson’s works? No. Did it keep me entertained and make me giggle a little? Yes. It had problems. I don’t think anyone will deny that, but it was a fun read and the monsters worked.


  1. You brought up a interesting point that I thought about when I was reading the story, but forgot to mention in my analysis of it. The fact that the creatures enjoy terrorizing us brings them from misunderstood creature, to malevolent being. One, they were telepathic, so they could find out what disturbed someone and literally share it with the rest of the class. Two, they would learn from their encounters and find better ways to torture their victims. All in all, this type of enemy is scary in the fact that they are the spider equivalent of the Borg from Star Trek. Resistance is futile, you’re either food or harboring a potential mate for the Widows. Neither aspect seems pleasant.

  2. Gah, somehow I didn't even talk about the monsters in my blog. Go figure. I agree that the monster were very well done, and gotta agree with Cody about their malevolence being a key fear factor. One of the features that I really liked, which was cool that they expressed this idea early on, was how these creatures just came into existence. Nothing about them was set in stone and if some piece of information changed, that the survivors (and the readers) shouldn't be surprised. Without this bit, an author could get in trouble with changing basic understandings of the monster, but I loved this little warning. Especially when we get the black spiders at the end and they bring up that comment again.

  3. You bring up some interesting points in your piece. Like Cody (above) I thought about the 'Borg' (Resistance is futile). I also thought this story was similar to Matheson's "I am Legend." Like you, I had problems with the ending, but I also had problems with places in the middle (see my blog). Still, I loved her spider creations, and the way she described them was awesome. I had a hard time with her explanation of events and how they came about. In the beginning the protagonist doesn't know (he's relating the story) and in the middle he knows...inconsistencies like that bugged me (pardon the pun). Nice post and creepy video! :)

  4. I find it interesting to hear from someone who was affected by the spiders in such a way. It seems like you really saw what the author was trying to do with them, while I was rolling my eyes at the idea of spiders.
    However, the idea of something being intelligent and able to organize is something that I think scares the human race to know end. We like to think we're so smart, but what if there's something out there that's smarter than us?
    There's the fear factor. :)