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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Hatching

26th Apr, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Originally published in hardback by Gollancz in 2016, Ezekiel Boone's The Hatching is the first volume in a trilogy. I guess you could describe the book as creature feature horror, with bloodthirsty spiders in the driving seat of the plot. It's written in short, punchy chapters, each titled with the place where it is set, so we range from China to a survivalist community in Desperation,California, from India to a writer's castle retreat on a Scottish island, but the most important venues are the White House and the American University in Washington. There's a large cast as well, some of whom make it to the end of the book and may prove vital to the progress of the series, and others who are just there so that we can put a human face to the rising body count.

It opens in Peru, where a billionaire and his entourage of body guard and ex-centrefolds are trekking in the jungle and get attacked by a horde of spiders. Abandoning the entourage, Henderson makes it back to the good old US of A on his private jet, only to be eaten from the inside out on crash landing in Minneapolis. Meanwhile we have mysterious seismic activity in India and the Chinese are throwing nukes at their own people. Spider expert Professor Melanie Guyer receives a ten thousand year old box uncovered by archaeologists digging at the Nazca Lines in Peru, and it contains an egg sac of spiders that miraculously hatch out, only to prove carnivorous and blood crazy. Shit is about to hit the fan big time, and when it does our trusty professor is centre stage, not only owing to her expertise but because ex-husband Manny is chief of staff to President Stephanie Pilgrim.

The book is a fast paced romp of a story, with the short chapters and abrupt changes of venue and character perspective creating the sense of a global tragedy unfolding. There are some tense moments, with fights against the spiders and plenty of graphic violence as the critters go about their business, so the squeamish should probably sit this one out, along with the arachnophobes.

Another plus is the diversity of characters, each of them well drawn and with their own personal concerns, all of which are eclipsed by the nature of the catastrophe. One thing that did niggle me was the emphasis on the characters' sex lives. No sooner have we met Professor Guyer than we learn that she is sleeping with her graduate student Bark. Ex Manny is sleeping with his boss. Special Agent Mike forgets about his unresolved feelings for his ex-wife as soon as he sees Melanie and starts planning to bed her, and Melanie dumps Bark to give him a free run. Pretty much all of the other characters at some point start lusting after somebody else, and it all gets a tad tedious at times, so that you start longing for somebody who is asexual just to break the monotony. That apart I was taken with most of the characters, especially the survivalists, who are given a fair shake instead of simply portrayed as gun nuts - there is a solid reason for the lifestyle they've embraced, and the novel's plot shows that they could indeed have the right idea. Also interesting with an eye on the future is writer Aonghas Càidh, girlfriend Thuy, and grandfather Padruig, as self-sufficient as the survivalists in their isolated castle stronghold.

One problem I did have was with spider outbreaks occurring almost simultaneously around the world. There's the box sent to Melanie and the spiders on the rampage in the Peruvian jungle, with concurrent outbreaks in China and India. Of course this could all be a comment on how quickly such things can spread in our interconnected world, a lesson Covid has taught us all too well, but at the same time it felt a little bit like a plot convenience, or as if there's something that still needs to be explained about the spread of the spiders, some explanation for their resurgence in the modern world.

Sadly, after the promising start no more billionaires are eaten from the inside out, but the book ends on a cliffhanger and there are two more volumes waiting in the wings, so we can always live in hope (said with tongue firmly in cheek, or perhaps not). It's a fun read if you like your horror straightforward, short on atmosphere but long on action, and with liberal doses of gore.




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