Wednesday, January 30, 2013

'Spider World' by Colin Wilson

3 / 5 Stars
‘Spider World’ was first published in the UK as a two-volume set: ‘Spider World: The Tower’, and ‘Spider World: The Delta’. A third volume, ‘Spider World: The Magician’ was released in 1992, and the fourth (and apparently final volume), ‘Spider World: Shadowland’, in 2003.

In the US, a mercenary Ace Books broke the first volume down into 3 individual mass-market paperback volumes: ‘Spider World: The Desert’ (September 1988), Spider World: The Tower’ (January 1989), and ‘Spider World: The Fortress’ (July 1989). Fortunately, Ace did not mutilate ‘Spider World: The Delta’, releasing it intact in February 1990 as the fourth volume of its particular incarnation of the series. All the Ace volumes featured cover illustrations by Luis Rey.

The Spider World stories are set in a future Earth where some calamity has caused invertebrates, such as insects, arachnids, centipedes, and other creepy-crawlys, to grow to sizes considerably larger than their current dimensions.

Flies are as big as a man’s fist; dragonflies are a foot long; centipedes can reach a yard in length; some wolf spiders are as big as ponies. Even some plants have mutated into carnivorous species capable of capturing and digesting a full-grown man.

The protagonist of the series is a boy named Niall, who lives in a desert burrow with his family. They are one of an ever-dwindling band of humans who have managed to escape discovery and extinction by the overlords of this new earth: a race of telepathic spiders, similar in size and appearance to giant black widows.

Every day, as they struggle for sustenance against the ever-hungry and ever- lethal animals of the desert, Niall and his family keep watch on the skies overhead. 

For the Spider Lords, in their far-off City, send out scout spiders in balloons. Their mission: locate the last remnants of humanity and make them slaves and victims of the Spider Lords. For the Spider Lords have a special liking for human flesh…

I won’t disclose any spoilers, save to say that over the course of the four US volumes of ‘Spider World’. Niall learns how, and why, the Spider Lords came to rule mankind. 

As Niall grows in age and wisdom, his goal of simple survival is transformed into something more ambitious: wrest control of the Earth from the Spider Lords, and restore humanity to its place as the rulers of the planet.

Throughout the series, on the whole, Wilson’s writing is clear and well-paced. There is plenty of action and danger for Niall and his compatriots, and plenty of revelations with each new chapter. 

The only real weakness of the Spider World series comes with volume 4, ‘The Delta’, where the narrative becomes too encrusted with detailed expositions about Wilson’s pet philosophy, a unique brand of humanism he dubs ‘New Existentialism’. This philosophy derives from a peculiar mélange of old school ‘occult’ doctrines, such as Theosophy and Rosicrucianism; modern academic disciplines, such as existentialism; and parapsychology. 

In Wilson’s philosophy, Man is hindered by his inability to recognize that he possesses an innate mental power, something Wilson refers to as ‘Faculty X’, that, once engaged, enables him to see the world without the blinders of self-destructive emotions and attitudes. When in possession of Faculty X, Man can enter a state of acute awareness of the world and its surroundings, and participate in this fully actualized world in ways otherwise unavailable to the Unenlightened. 

Throughout ‘The Delta’, various confrontations between Niall and the forces of the Spiders are couched in terms of our hero’s struggle to define and implement his understanding of ‘Faculty X’. As a consequence, the narrative loses momentum, as the reader is forced to wade through rather lengthy segments of text dealing with the subtleties of New Existentialism.

Taken as a whole, the Spider World series is a worthwhile read, provided that readers are aware that the narrative will grow increasingly didactic, culminating in some degree of trudging through the contents of  volume 4.

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