Last night, I finished reading This Book Is Full Of Spiders, Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, the sequel/follow up to John Dies At The End. John Dies at the End became on of my favorite books after I read it last year. I’m still psyched to see the film version when it releases to VOD in December (assuming that actually happens.) As a result, I was pretty amped up for the release of Spiders.
While I enjoyed Spiders, I was also disappointed in it. What made John great were three things. First, it was raw. While some literary critics assailed John, the lack of focus, the gritty and loose word play, and the unpolished writing are part of what makes the story great. You’re not listening to an English professor tell you what the seventh ring of hell is like, you are there, living it with a guy who doesn’t quite know how to describe what he is seeing.
Second, it was absurd. The Washington Post, in it’s review of Spiders, made favorable comparison’s to the late Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams classic tale depicted a universe that was totally askew, and how the only slightly askew Earthman Arthur Dent reacted to being dragged through it. Similarly, John introduces us to a world that exists beside, above and under our own – with shadow men attempting to control and manipulate us – and how two unlikely slacker heroes came to save the world. John was engaging. The mystery behind the soy sauce, Wong’s ability to see and interact with the paranormal, and the idea of shadow men who could simply make a person disappear – as if they had never been born – all gave the book a creepy, sinister, but simultaneously inviting feel.
Finally, John was hysterical. The absurdity could make you smile, twitch, or howl with laughter. To this day, one of my favorite passages from any book is this:
“Something coming back from the dead was almost always bad news. Movies taught me that. For every one Jesus you get a million zombies.”
With John, Wong had mixed the bizarre and familiar into a warm, tasty stew that went down smooth and left you hungry for more.
With Spiders, however, the stew is a little less tasty.
The two main characters, John and David, survived John by accidentally doing the right things, despite their inherent laziness. Their unique ability to interact with the supernatural allowed them to be equal in power to the shadow men, despite their flaws. They are portrayed as skilled opponents to the netherworld while simultaneously bungling their way to saviorhood. They seem, at all times, aware of their faults, but determined to succeed despite them.
The David and John of Spiders, however, are less savant and more idiot. They bumble through with less bravado, more self-doubt, and a lack of clarity on both their cause and their ability. There is also significantly less discussion of the nature of the enemy with which they are fighting. It’s as if Wong felt the urge to write a zombie story, and only a passing urge to tie it to the world he created with John.
The book also has less grit than John. It’s almost as if Wong, desperate to please critics and move units, has transferred his own fear of failure to his characters. They are cautious where they should be bold, which also sums up Wong’s book.
Wong is certainly still funny, and the book is almost certain to have you laughing out loud. As just one example, a favorite passage of mine describes the ragtag band of misfits trying to make an escape in an armored monster truck.
John made the engine of the monster truck rumble to life, and a hundred miles away a seismologist saw the needle on his machine twitch. Amy mumbled, “I cannot imagine the penis of the guy who designed this thing.”
The situations are just as absurd, the humor is no less funny, but there has been a seismic shift in the attitudes of our two leads – and the author. It is as if the characters, the author, and the book are all struggling to live up to past glory. David and John still save the world, but it seems less worth saving than it was last time.