The Hatching
Ezekiel Boone
Gollancz, 303 pages
Review: Henry Northmore

There’s a rich tradition of ‘when animals attack’ stories in horror and sci-fi. We’ve been besieged by insects, rats, dogs, sharks, crabs, you name it. From classy classics such as Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds to the splatter fiction of Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, if it slithers, crawls or scurries it has probably risen up in defiance and attacked the human race.

Ezekiel Boone’s animal of choice is spiders. Even the word is enough to evoke terror in some, sending shivers scuttling down their spine. Apparently over 35% of the population suffer from arachnophobia. And Boone wants to dial the fear up one more notch as an ancient species of carnivorous spiders threatens to engulf the world. A black tidal wave of voracious creepy crawlies devouring everything in their path. It spreads like a living, flesh eating disease. Starting deep in the Peruvian jungle, then China becomes infested, India is next, how long before America is consumed by this eight legged tsunami?

Beyond the initial fright factor Boone turns his arthropods into a credible danger, with an intriguing life cycle, threatening to overwhelm humanity by sheer strength of numbers. How do you fight back against a swarm of bugs? Shooting bullets at a seething mass of spiders is an almost futile act.

Of course Boone isn’t the first to use arachnids as his villains. There are too many monster spider movies to mention with Tarantula (1955), Earth vs the Spider (1958), Arachnophobia (1990) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002) among the minor classics across the years. However Steve Altan realised he could never beat the primal terror of Jaws but proved with his Meg series that you don’t need to be the best if you can write exhilarating action sequences.

The Hatching takes too long to hit high gear and certainly isn’t as engaging as some of the best in its field (James Herbert’s The Rats is probably still the benchmark in this snapping, snarling subgenre). Boone has a predilection for clichés (including the sexy female scientist who just happens to be a world expert on spiders), he juggles too many characters, with a scant few pages devoted to each, some are invariably thinly sketched. With two more volumes planned you get the impression several are being set up for the sequels (especially Aonghas on a remote Scottish Island and survivalists Gordo and Amy in the California desert). Inevitably as the first part of a trilogy – Skitter will be available in May 2017 – it ends on a cliffhanger with hints of an even bigger, nastier danger on the horizon.

Apparently the television rights have already been sold (and it would make a great TV show if someone treated the material semi-seriously rather than the cheesy, trashy adaptation of James Paterson’s similarly themed Zoo). You don’t read animal amok novels expecting high art. And in that respect The Hatching lives up to expectations, it’s no masterpiece but it’s a decent page turner with enough breathless energy to drag you though the weaker sections.

This review was originally published in Shoreline of Infinity Issue 6.