The Webby Writings of Richard Lewis
Some of us are old enough to remember Richard Lewis, a standup comic who achieved moderate success on the American cultural landscape, wrote a few books, and appeared in several movies and TV shows.
Forget about him. This is a different Richard Lewis. In fact, he’s not any Richard Lewis that you’ll easily track down. He doesn’t even appear on Wikipedia’s disambiguation page for “Richard Lewis”! He is said to really be a British suspense novelist named Alan Radnor, about whom I’ve found little information. All I need to know about him is that he wrote two magnificently delightful and silly horror novels about spiders.
Spiders came out originally in 1978. It chronicles the efforts of Dr. Alan Mason to contain the spider swarm that killed his father and threatens to wipe humanity off of the main British island. You see, once upon a time there was a military science project that tried to create voracious spiders that can wipe out entire countries and then die out, leaving the are safe for conquest. This was a Bad Plan, and of course the attempt to wipe out the creatures when the project was scuttled failed. Now, after wiping out all of the fauna in the area of the remote lab, various types of spiders are breeding and eating their way toward London!
The Web (1981) picks up several years after Mason’s solution seemed to have finally destroyed the leggy threat. The spiders are back, with a new type in the mix, and they’re resistant to the approach previously used to destroy them! Although Mason reappears, this time out we follow the enterprising reporter John Lever, who uses his friendship with a local constable to get access to the Prime Minister. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but isn’t concerned about it so neither am I. A new biological weapon will need to be created quickly to take care of the fresh crop of beasties.
Lewis doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about spiders, but these aren’t about accuracy. By volume, they’re approximately 60% fatal spider attacks, and let’s be honest–the kills are why we’re here! Each attack is prefaced by the introduction of a victim, immersing the reader in their thoughts and dreams, spending several pages to paint a portrait only to have them go down in a Zerg rush of spiders. In books that are only around 160 pages each, the effect is to have very little plot nearly drowned out by all the mayhem. It’s kind of glorious.
Friends, you know that I’m all about the Big Damn Spiders. Would I be telling you about these books if the spiders were normal sized? Well, yes. I likely would. However I’m quite pleased to tell you that the while the majority are within the standard range, and a bunch are about the size of toads, there are a very few–the rulers–which are essentially immense blobs that can’t really move under their own power. Each spider has its purpose. Some paralyze, some bind in webbing, and in the second book some turn people into rage zombies!
They’re quick, fun reads, and the only downsides are some chauvinism and thin characterizations for the leads. Nearly every victim is more fully realized than is either hero! If you have a taste for