Saturday, December 31, 2005

Book Number 50

Cinquante, Fünfzig, Cincuenta, 五十

In any language it is great to have made it to this goal. I had, in all honesty, attempted to finish the year with a "classic" novel of importance but I underestimated the amount of effort it would take to finish. I will hit you with that one in 2006.

And so...

Spider World: Shadowland (2002) by Colin Wilson


I got turned on to this series of books by my friend Conan a few years ago. The series is a kind of fantasy but set an a futuristic sci-fi setting. In this future world, a comet has passed close to earth. Humans have been reduced to a pre-industrial existence and many of the natural creatures of the world are mutated or gigantic. In fact, spiders are the dominant species and live in the old human cities in well developed societies. They have astounding willpower that they are able to project on to other beings in order to control them.

The hero of the series is a human called Niall. The first 3 books track him from living with his family in a cave in the desert with his family and hiding from the giant spiders. He then comes to the main city of the spiders and gains entry to a huge tower that contains the past knowledge of man. He then has to journey to a vast Delta where the he has to discover the source of the Spiders amazing powers.

As Shadowland begins, Niall has learned to control his mental energies with the help of a willpower-focusing amulet. This in turn has helped him ascend to become the ruler of the Spider city. His brother has been poisoned by the Magician, a hated enemy of the Spiders, who lives in an underground city called Shadowland. Niall must travel to Shadowland and discover the secret of the Magician and save his brother.

The first three books were written in the late 1980's and, I felt, decreased in quality as the story went along. The first in the series, The Tower, was such a great read. The author introduced a really cool world and the story of the Spiders was engaging. The next couple of books were still excellent but didn't quite maintain the level of the first.

In the forward to Shadowland, Colin Wilson explains how by the end of the third book he had tired of the story and it was not until 10 years later that he was urged to write the final chapter in the series. I did a little research into Colin Wilson, who turns out to be a fairly interesting guy. He is known as an intellectual and existentialist thinker from Britian and has written a huge number of books. He seems to have common themes running through his works (from this summers NY Times):
In books on sex, crime, psychology and the occult, and in more than a dozen novels, Mr. Wilson has explored how pessimism can rob ordinary people of their powers.

"If you asked me what is the basis of all my work," he said, "it's the feeling there's something basically wrong with human beings. Human beings are like grandfather clocks driven by watch springs. Our powers appear to be taken away from us by something."

Mr. Wilson has spent much of his life researching how to achieve those moments of well-being that bring insight, what the American psychologist Abraham Maslow called "peak experiences."

Those moments can come only through effort, concentration or focus, and refusing to lose one's vital energies through pessimism.

"What it means basically is that you're able to focus until you suddenly experience that sense that everything is good," Mr. Wilson said. "We go around leaking energy in the same way that someone who has slashed their wrists would go around leaking blood.

After reading this article I see now how the series is a platform for his views on optimism. Niall finds the "thought mirror" which allows him to concentrate his will to such an extent that he is able to defeat the Spiders who instinctually use their superior willpower to incapacitate th humans to eat them. Throughout his journey, Niall falls into difficult situations where he finds himself thinking pessimistic thoughts but then pulls himself together after realizing that positivity will win the day.

It is a good thesis but in this novel it can, at times seem preachy and repetitive. Take, for example, this quote from near the end of the book:

Could man ever realize that he was the chief cause of his own misery and misfortune, that a mere habit of negative-seeking, and a lack of the courage to dare to abandon it, had trapped him in a destiny of conflict and self-mistrust? Could he ever grasp, as Niall could now grasp clearly, that an enormous optimism was justified?

I would highly recommend that you take a look at the first book in the series as a start. It is a fascinating and well written group of books that stands up well as a genre piece.

Spider World: The Tower (1987)
Spider World: The Delta (1987)
Spider World: The Magician (1992)
Spider World: Shadowland (2002)


Jarrett said...

congrats and happy friggin Western New Year!

Olman Feelyus said...

Congratulations! For most of the year, you were the carrot out in front of me, keeping me motivated, keeping from giving up entirely. I could see that by your steady rate that 50 books was totally do-able and it kept me in the game.

Nice find on the Wilson book. I totally agree with your assessment. The first one is so magical, and creates such a cool world. But it all seems to sort of end too quickly and easily in the next two books and seems to be all over the place. I'd like to read this last one for sure, though.

Wilson is an interesting guy. I found another book by him about a psychopath that looked pretty freaky as well.

Crumbolst said...

Congrats on hitting fifty!