Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: The Hatching

I guess I know now what it takes to bring me back to blogging--scathing contempt for a book that I bought at half of half price and still feel like I overpaid for it. It's not exactly the most noble of sentiments, but I'll take it.

'The Hatching' is a book that brings to mind nothing so much as Sarah Hagi's quote, "Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man." The author, 'Ezekiel Boone', is actually Proper Literary Writer Alexi Zentner slumming it in the horror genre under a pen name, and it's blatanly obvious to all concerned--not because this is a Proper Literary Work that just happens to be in the horror genre, but because this is really obviously not the work of a young hungry author who's swinging for the fences in his debut novel. It's a flabby, underplotted little potboiler that does nothing to earn the already-greenlit sequel, hardcover status, and promotional push that it was given because of his proven track record under another name in another genre, and it's no stretch to say that I really want to make him go back and do another couple of drafts to see if he couldn't try a little harder.

As the cover gives away, the book is about a global invasion by a giant colony of murderous spiders (as opposed to a murderous colony of giant spiders) and the book starts off with a little atmosphere as said spiders flood out of the jungles like army ants devouring everything in their path. But then the book jumps to China, and Minneapolis, and India, and Washington, and California, and a different part of California, and Scotland, each time introducing a new set of characters whose reactions to events will no doubt be highly important to the next book 'Skitter' (coming in May, as the ending helpfully reminds you) but many of whom have literally no connection at all to actual events in this book.

Except for the characters in China and India, whose role in the story is to die messily in ways that the American characters can find out about and realize that Something Terrible Is Coming. The more I think about the way that a story that makes a point of having a sprawling cast of characters from around the globe has absolutely no point-of-view characters from two of the countries where the majority of the plot actually happens, the more annoyed with it I get. It's lazy, it's othering, it treats the lives of foreigners as disposable and only of importance to Americans as canaries in the mine when a global crisis hits, and it's utterly inexcusable in a book where so damn little actually happens.

And let's not bury that lede any further--the book is about 300 pages, and the author only decides to stop generating atmosphere and introducing characters on about page 220. The vast majority of the book is "People get increasingly nervous about impending spiders," with the actual spider invasion never getting any further than LA before the author goes, "Ooops! Out of room! Come check out my sequel, 'Skitter' to find out what actually happens in this story!" It is indefensibly slack plotting. It is insulting to one's audience to write a book this lazy, this slapdash, this reliant on regurgitating tropes done better by other writers (I guarantee you that the pitch for this series said, "World War Z, but with spiders") and then not finish it and demand that people pay twenty bucks for a second hardcover to get the story you couldn't be bothered to fit in the first time around. This is the Peter Jackson's Hobbit of killer spider books, basically.

About the nicest thing I can say about it is that the main characters are all written so shallowly that I genuinely couldn't tell for much of the novel who was written in just to be killed by spiders in the next scene.

(Okay, no. I can also say that he has a gay couple in there, at least one half of whom is not written as flaming and stereotypical, and he has a black female character in there who is a Marine from a wealthy family, and the President in the book is a woman as well. So we've got some nods to representation, which is nice. But none of them are given particular depth and the book would be better off narrowing its focus to one of them or expanding its focus out to show what the heck is actually happening in China and India while all the Americans dither and worry.)

I have no doubt that this author can do better. He's going to get the chance to show someone that he can do better in the sequel. But oddly, that's what frustrates me the most. Because a first effort like this should not be automatically rewarded with a second chance.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking World War Z before you even suggested it. Well, that saves me twenty bucks!

Gagan said...
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