David Wong (pseudonym of author and Cracked.com senior editor Jason Pargin) is back in action on another brilliant and ridiculous adventure in an undisclosed American small town that’s infested with scary, scary things. This Book is Full of Spiders. Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It is the hilarious, twisted, and heartfelt follow-up to the cult classic John Dies at the End. Both novels follow David and John; a couple of twenty-something college dropouts working at a video rental store by day, and battling inter-dimensional monsters by night. This time around, the monsters are a wild horde of parasitic spider-like fiends sometimes called “spider creatures,” sometimes “spiders,” sometimes “those f*cking spider monsters.”
One day, David wakes up to one of these terrifying, parasitic non-spider/spider critters attacking him in his bed. Turns out it’s only one of many terrifying, parasitic non-spider/spider critters looking to inhabit human hosts. As the spiders spread and find hosts panic ensues – panic, followed by fear, followed by a citywide quarantine. David, John, and David’s girlfriend, Amy, soon find out that there are even scarier monsters afoot, including human villains with nefarious plans!
Without going into spoiler-y details I’ll say that Spiders combines some of the best themes and plot devices from all your favorite mass hysteria-based storylines (ie: zombies, epidemics, witch hunts, etc.) laced with justified and drug-enhanced conspiracy theory paranoia. It’s sort of Dawn of the Dead meets A Scanner Darkly meets The Crucible meets Beethoven. (did I mention there’s an awesome dog?) And, if you like it when books get meta-fictional, stick around for the epilogue – you’re in for a real treat. Yes, this book is technically a sequel, but don’t freak out. You do not need to read John Dies at the End to understand what’s going on. In fact, as stated in the book trailer for Spiders, the main character actually gives you a pass on not reading the first book.
“If you don’t know who I am, that’s perfect. That means you didn’t read the previous book in this saga which, to be frank, doesn’t paint me in the best light. No, don’t go read it now. It’s better if we get a fresh start. So, hello, stranger! I’m pleased to have this fresh opportunity to try to convince you I’m not a shithead.”
I read Spiders first and then went back and read John Dies and I can tell you from experience that you’re in good hands either way. As a stand-alone story I think Spiders is the way to go.
If you’re not up for reading either one of them, you’re still in luck! There is a film version of John Dies at the End, directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-tep, etc.) It premiered at Sundance earlier this year and should get a wide release very soon. But while you’re waiting, if you want something similar, I’d say you rent The Hidden and The Cabin in the Woods. These books are sorta like that.
Fair warning, there’s a good amount of swearing in these books, some decidedly weird drug use, a lot of un-erotic male nudity, and people getting shot in the face.
Structurally speaking, Spiders is… a novel. As compared to what, you ask? As compared to John Dies at the End. A little history for you: Wong published his debut online in serial between 2001 and 2005. Every Halloween he added more to the saga until he revised and collected it into a single story. What that means is John Dies at the End has three separate climaxes, while This Book is Full of Spiders has a single explosive one. As a fan of the traditional novel plot structure I found that Spiders has a more effective and cohesive storytelling structure. Then again, some insatiable blog reading-types may be into the meander-y, episodic feel of John Dies at the End.
There are some really cool philosophical questions and unconventional narrative devices that Wong played with in his first book, he revisits them in Spiders, but with smoother set ups and better executed reveals. The bad guys are also more complex, the rules of the supernatural elements are more consistent and constrained, and all of the clever stuff lands dead on.
In my humble (correct) opinion, the biggest improvement between John Dies at the End and Spiders is Amy. (Relax, Whovians. Wrong time travel franchise.) Amy is smart, interesting, and eager to kick some ass, but in Spiders she ventures off by her badass (though justifiably terrified) self and hacks the planet like a mothafuckin’ genius:
Amy glanced around at the computer workstations and suddenly had a revelation that made her feel like Neo in The Matrix, the first time he realized he had gained the power to stop bullets.
So, ignore the subtitle Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It. Go get This Book is Full of Spiders – seriously touch it, pick it up, read it.
Ali Fisher is a correspondent for Tor.com and lives in New York.
Disclaimer: Ali Fisher is a Macmillan employee.